Robin Williams death has raised awareness of suicide and depression. The tragedy reminded many of us that taking one’s life is often a tragic result of a disease, not a lack of character or morality.
But many Americans are likely to take a different view. Half of Americans believe that suicide, whatever the circumstances, is wrong.
That’s one of the findings from American portion of the World Values Survey. The scientific survey gave people a list of actions. Respondents rated each one on a ten point scale from “never justifiable” to “always justifiable.” 46 percent said suicide is NEVER justifiable.
Why do so many Americans believe this?
The answer is that opinions are often shaped by how people resolve conflicts between the religious tradition and scientific theory.
The WVS asked people whether or not they agreed that “we depend too much on science and not enough on faith.” Those who agreed with this statement were much, much more likely to believe that suicide is always wrong. Three-quarters of those who completely agreed that we need to depend more on faith said that suicide is never justifiable. This falls to only one-third among of those who disagreed.
In an excellent review of religious views of suicide, Salt Lake Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack noted that suicide has long been viewed as a sin in Christianity,Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and, well, pretty much every other religion. But among religious thinkers and clergy, views are changing as as modern psychology shows that suicide is very often the result of addiction and depression.
Still, there is a conflict between faith and science. How people balance faith and science shapes whether they see suicide as a sin or a symptom of a disease.