Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Suicide vs. Sacrifice

The Forest of Suicides in Dante's Inferno
Dante groups into one of his deep circles of hell two types of sinners - suicides (those who took their own lives) and squanderers (those who wasted their resources).

These are both guilty, according to Virgil, of sins "against self".  One of the squanderers Dante meets was a man, who, when alive, would mockingly throw coins into the river, and who once gathered all of his goods into his house and burned it for the shallow entertainment of his friends.

Like suicides, these sinners deliberately and maliciously waste what was given to them.  They pervert the true ends of their gifts, and refuse to affirm the purpose for which they or their riches or talents were made. 

Anthonly Esolen (whose translation we are reading) points out how we are all tempted to distance ourselves from ourselves, to become not only god and not only the creator - but to become our own god and our own creator. 

This is the source of that elusive "unreality" that I've been trying to describe. 

Shakespeare has Olivia say in Twelfth Night, "Ourselves we do not owe", meaning "Ourselves we do not own."  But we like to think we do.

This is probably the most common type of wrong-headedness that you'll see, both among Catholics and secularists.  We want to manipulate our lives; following God's call, giving ourselves over to that challenging and frightening feeling of stepping out of the boat and onto the water, where He's bidding us to follow, is just too much.  We'd rather medicate our pain, adjust our lives, and find artificial and contrived substitutes for Reality.  Thus the bad music at Mass; thus the bubble-wrapped children of the cautious Christians; thus even the pop nihilism of our day.


And yet, these same acts of suicide and waste are close in a way to honorable things. 

A man who dies while trying to save another is noble and heroic, even if he knows that such a sacrifice might result. 

A man who gives his money to the poor and follows Christ, renouncing all worldly possessions, is likewise noble and heroic, knowing full well the reason and the Person behind his sacrifice.

When we sacrifice our better selves to our baser selves, it is no sacrifice.  It is squandering or suicide. 

When we sacrifice our baser selves to something beyond ourselves, it is a great act of love. 

1 comment:

Scott W. said...

Permit me to throw in some Chesterton on Suicide vs. Martyr:

About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some free thinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe.