The Sickness Unto Death



Jackson Township Ohio very nearly became the location of our next school shooting. Instead however, the 13-year-old-middle-school student chose to take his own life. This event is a demonstration of the fact that often the line between suicide and homicide is razor thin. I believe this is particularly the case in those inclined toward such heinous acts as mass killings. Both mass killings and suicide share a fundamental commonality: the desire to sever oneself from the world; the latter is directed inward, while the former is directed outward. As such, I cannot help but believe there is a fundamental link between the record-setting instances of suicide, and the phenomenon of mass killings.

These killings, both suicide and murder, while caused by the evils of particular people, are symptomatic of the deeper cultural and moral rot existing beneath the surface of our otherwise prosperous nation. I would suggest that Alasdair MacIntyre’s thesis in After Virtue speaks to the heart of the moral rot in our culture. We have divorced ethics from the other branches of philosophy. That is to say what is “Good” no longer has any intrinsic connection to “Being” or “Truth.” “Good” has been reduced to either an emotional reaction or a social construct. That is to say, something is good either because it feels good, or the culture has determined it was good. Such feelings and emotions have no intrinsic connection “being,” i.e. metaphysical truth.

MacIntyre notes that this separation is not new, tracing its roots back to the enlightenment and culminating in the person of Fredrick Nietzche. However, the practical implementation of such a doctrine has limited due to the scarcities of life and the limit of our technology. For example, while Locke may have believed that marriage was something artificial to man (as were all relationships), the practical necessities of work and the household necessitated families staying together. However, modern society with its economic prosperity and technological advances have mitigated some of those necessities, leaving people with the false sense of being able to construct their own reality. Such beliefs have weakened our fundamental social structures (e.g. family and community), resulting in an increase in isolation and loneliness. Individuals today, divorced from nature and community, are left to create themselves and their reality anew from conflicting yet equally unfounded beliefs.

Without a foundation in nature, many today have placed their hopes in things which both fail to satisfy and easily decay. Wealth, popularity, sex, power, etc. are all but sand upon which people have built the castles of their lives. Further, some fail to hope even in these ephemeral realities. Instead, they wander through life dulling their pain through the innumerable distractions and addictions the world offers. In particular, the meteoric rise of technology in recent years has further separated human action from reality. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras was lead to research the phenomenon of technology addiction when confronted by a patient who could not tell whether or not he was in a video game.

Such a divorce from reality and lasting goods prevents the human person from attaining any true hope. When hope never existed, or fails, the result is despair, which as Kierkegaard recognized is a “sickness unto death.” In most cases, such death is a metaphorical one, i.e. being dead inside.  For some though, especially those afflicted by other psychological maladies, despair does lead to physical death as well. Dissatisfaction with the world can lead one to throw his life away. Most often, this action is turned inward and produces a suicide.

Rarely, however, despair can be turned outward against the world causing, a sort of suicide in reverse. In such cases, rather than simply wanting to destroy one’s self, the individual seeks to destroy the other, which in turn destroys the self. Murder/suicides are the horrific end of too many domestic violence situations. Many active shooters have elected to take their own life, rather than be captured by the police. Even those who have survived, have indeed thrown their lives away. Though they still live, the lives these attackers knew before is forever gone, which is, of course, their goal.

One cannot say that the culture “caused” anybody to commit such acts. The choices are still their own. However, in the complicated milieu that is our culture, a person may be more inclined toward such actions due to a lack of meaning in life which fails to produce the hope necessary to avoid despair. If this thesis is correct, no legislation is capable of stopping mass shootings any more than it is capable of stopping the problem of suicide. Our culture needs to rediscover a meaning of life that produces lasting hope. For those of us blessed by the grace of faith, we recognize that ultimately, the only source of hope is Our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is Truth, Being, and Goodness itself and, as such, the only true stone foundation of our lives. We cannot be afraid to share this Truth with our world, which is crying out for a Savior.



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