Suicide and the Logic of Utility
What gives us our worth? How we answer that question will shape how we live. And maybe how we die. Monday we discussed Aaron Kheriaty’s alarming article in First Things about America’s suicide epidemic—and how the Church can counteract one of its leading causes: Loneliness. The kind of loneliness that leads to depression and self-destruction. But Kheriaty zeroes in on other causes as well, cultural factors that I want to address today. Kheriaty begins his article with a chilling story, about a straight-A California high school student jumped in front of a commuter train. “His suicide note provided no clear reason for his act,” Kheriaty wrote. “There were no apparent signs of mental illness, and he was not a bullied misfit. His death followed two other student suicides just three weeks prior, one from the same school, and one from a nearby private high.” It’s heartbreaking. And I’ve seen a similar cluster of teen suicides even here in Colorado Springs. But it’s part of a national trend. “Let these numbers sink in,” Kheriaty writes: “Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults.” As I mentioned Monday, social isolation is certainly a factor. But Kheriaty sees another factor—one I think is critically important. “In a meritocratic age, we are valued for our usefulness,” Kheriaty says. Rich kids and poor kids alike “are increasingly told that they are valuable only insofar as they contribute to a productive society.” And so, parenthood, belonging to a church, civic involvement, “have receded in significance before the SAT and earning power.” And here’s where Kheriaty nails it. “When the useful replaces the good and efficiency becomes the highest value, human beings are instrumentalized.” People become “subject to a logic of utility.” So what happens to students when they don’t nail that SAT or make the varsity team? What happens when they don’t see themselves as useful? Or when they reach their lofty goals only to find that they’re exhausted and empty? That they did not find meaning in their achievements? While this utilitarian view of the universe can sap the individual soul, on a societal level it has grave consequences—from the Gulag to Auschwitz to Planned Parenthood clinics to so-called “right-to-die laws.” As Kheriaty reminds us, the law is a teacher. And right-to-die laws send a clear and satanic message: When life becomes too painful, or when you no longer feel useful, well, kill yourself. Small wonder, as Kheriaty notes, “two British scholars [have] published a study showing that laws permitting assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington have led to a rise in overall suicide rates in those states.” Part of the reason, no doubt, is that “publicized cases of suicide tend to produce copycat cases.” Just a few weeks ago, for example, the Washington Post reported that web searches for how to kill yourself shot up dramatically when Netflix began airing its suicide drama “Thirteen Reasons Why.” Folks, this is another example of why worldview matters—and why we devote our ministry here at the Colson Center to helping believers understand, defend, and proclaim the Christian worldview. A worldview that asserts that each and every human has value not because of what he or she can produce or do, but because we’re made in God’s image. As Chuck Colson said years ago on this program: “Human beings are of such inconceivable worth that God sacrificed His own Son to save us from sin—not only the sin of underestimating each other’s worth but also of ‘fall[ing] short of the glory of God.’ “That is an estimation of human worth beyond our comprehension. … Each of us is destined to live for eternity. As C. S. Lewis put it, no one has ever met ‘mere mortal.’” That’s a message every despairing soul needs to hear—and experience.