Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not Even Heaven

A friend briefly mentioned euthanasia today. It got me thinking about the difference between Catholicism and certain forms of extremist Islam, for example. In those sects, suicide can be seen as a means of glorifying God because, well, you're going to paradise anyway, and it's a way to get there. Under this logic, however, we might just baptize infants and then slaughter them. More souls to glorify God in heaven, right? But no. Because we do believe in merit and in degrees of heavenly glory, and an infant who dies without any personal meritorious actions does not, on the objective level, glorify God as much as a great saint with a lifetime of charitable deeds. And yet, in letting them live, we are risking that they go to hell.

This is where I think Catholic teaching about life is really beautiful, that even though we speak of heaven as the state of glorifying God immediately in vision, we still may not sacrifice a lesser good, ever, to obtain the greater. We can forgo them passively, but we cannot actively destroy, for to destroy any good is to destroy The Good in general. We do not kill the baptized child, for the chance of even a single kind deed in a lifetime is worth more than all the risk of hell. We do not allow euthanasia or suicide so that suffering people can go off and glorify God directly in heaven, because the value of being grateful for even one more moment in body cannot be destroyed. Far from diminishing the value of this life and putting it all on the next world, we say that a kind deed or a sunset is incomparably and non-transferably valuable, that not even heaven itself is worth destroying or rejecting the possibility.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't Catholic teaching allow for Just War? In war, killing of both the baptized and unbaptized is a given even when situations allow numbers killed to be relatively small. Isn't there an inconsistency here? I'm hoping not to get back a line of ecclesiastical sophistry but an actual treatment of the issue because I just don't see how we can simultaneously say that "the value of being grateful for even one more moment cannot be destroyed" and "the chance of even a single kind deed in a lifetime is worth more than all the risk of hell," on the one hand, and then, on the other, commission soldiers to destroy lives to protect state interests.

But my more important opinion here is that, yes, I agree that suicide should be worked against. But in any society like ours where suicide is not glorified even when accepted, it is a choice that most of the time is made by someone suffering some mental illness because of which they are not able to see another viable option. The Church's official condemnation of suicide, then, has the moral effect not of prevention but of doing harm to families who remain behind trying to understand what cannot be understood. So I fully support prevention methods and support for people at risk. But I do not accept that there is sin in suicide that results from mental illness.

I know the individual Catholic has not authority to change the Church's position, but I assume you can discuss the matter honestly without merely repeating the official position?


A Sinner said...

But a "Just War" has to mean a defensive war. As such, it falls under self-defense. And even in war, the moral law is not suspended; soldiers are firing in self-defense. The whole point of Catholic "Just War" teaching is that if it were ever really followed, no one would ever fire the first shot. The aggressor is considered wrong, but defense is obviously acceptable.

This isn't so much about suicide as it is about the accusation that the Church just makes people (especially, like, medieval peasants) care about the next life instead of this one. But that's not true. Not even heaven is worth rejecting moments in this life. We aren't allowed to just send people off to heaven and act like it's okay.

I agree with what you say about suicide, but euthanasia is usually a different question that isn't necessarily about mental illness but about a "rational" choice by a suffering terminally ill patient to die. Forgoing treatment is one thing, but euthanasia is quite another. And killing baptized infants or getting involved in suicide-bombing terrorism even more different, obviously