In What Belief System?

There’s apparently a twisted sort of commemoration to Robin Williams making the rounds, a frame from the Disney cartoon, Aladdin, of the jinni being freed from the lamp with the caption, “You’re free, Jinni!” It’s a clear allusion to Mr. Williams’s voiceover of the jinni, with the implication that suicide is freeing. I heard one psychiatrist complaining “Why are they making my job more difficult?”

That piqued my curiosity. In what belief system would suicide be considered freeing? If you don’t believe in an afterlife, death is not freeing. It is oblivion. That’s not freedom it’s just nothing. An end. Except for those who are left behind with pain, disbelief, and, maybe, guilt.

I don’t believe it would be considered freeing in Hinduism which teaches reincarnation. I’m no expert on Hindu metaphysics but my understanding is that they believe that we are born and reborn until we are freed from the circle of birth and death by a genuine understanding of the nature of things, referred to as mokṣa. When you have attained mokṣa, you would be completely at peace. Therefore suicide is ipso facto evidence that you have not attained mokṣa and are, consequently, not at peace, and not freed from the circle of birth and death. Since they also belief that your actions in this life affect your next life, I see no way that suicide would be seen as freeing by Hindus.

Many Christians believe that suicide is a sin worthy of eternal damnation, the opposite of freeing. I can imagine circumstances under which that might not be the case but it would nonetheless produce a term in Purgatory, for those Christians who believe in progress after death (one of the oldest Christian beliefs, attested from the First Century onwards).

I don’t condemn suicide. It is not for me to condemn. I think it is always sad and painful.

Under what belief system would suicide be freeing?

32 comments… add one
  • It could be freeing from pain, physical or emotional, removing oneself from a slow death by inoperable cancer, say, or the burden of a guilty conscience. (This, like all other comments I’ll make, is dependent on whether or what kind of afterlife one meets after the act.) It could be freedom from responsibility, or concern. No longer would you have to make decisions and live with the consequences.

    It could free one from one’s enemies – think of a prisoner.

    It could free one from the burden of dishonor, in some beliefs.

    And think of suicide bombers and the like, who look to simultaneously shuck off this mortal coil, and all the pain and misery and doubt that comes with it, and thereby attain immortal glory in the presence of the divine.

    Freedom from the disappointment of and with the world. (I believe U2 may have been reaching for that with “In the Name of Love” but I haven’t ever bothered to decipher the lyrics.)

    Ultimately, freedom from fear of the future. Death doesn’t scare me, per se, but Alzheimer’s disease does. Should I ever come down with that condition, and if treatment remains ineffective, at some point I would likely kill myself. I’d rather lose myself all at once than lose it a little at a time, with just a mockery of who I was left behind.

    All that said, the Robin Williams genie tribute is just stupid.

  • That’s the point, Ellipsis. Whether you should think it were freeing or not would depend on your belief system.

    If you believe that when you die there is just nothing, suicide might be escape but I think that viewing it as liberating is a stretch. Free to do what?

  • PD Shaw Link

    I haven’t paid attention to the praise for Robin Williams, but when this issue has come up in the past, the belief system appeared Randian, radical individualistic. A person leaves life on his own terms, owing nobody anything.

    To point out that the suicide harms loved-ones(*), is to be told that a person can only be responsible to himself. The suicide is freed of all attachments, religious, social or familial.

    (*) For example, exposure to suicide creates a risk factor for suicide. Each suicide will create more work for the shrink.

  • I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Robin discussed the whole issue with his wife.

    Margaret Marshall at Lansdowne took her own life when she was 86. She had been a flapper in the 20’s. She was in huge pain, was going deaf and was nearly blind.

    Everyone knew, and supported her decision. Lord, her husband was an attractive man. Raised in Sutton Place, a graduate of Princeton, and VP of Johnson & Johnson.

  • Those Marshall women do not screw around when it comes to picking husbands.

  • Her daughter was married to the CFO for BART. (That’s Bay Area Rapid Transit.) She liked Marin Co.

  • Her daughter is married to an extremely successful Baton Rouge businessman who has developed a training program for real estate agents.

  • He’s wildly funny. He and Lyman got along like wildfire.

  • CStanley Link

    Well whatever the philosophy is, it’s the same calculus used by supporters of voluntary euthanasia, isn’t it? And that seems to be gaining traction.

    I suspect it’s people who are agnostic on afterlife (if there is one, they don’t believe in hell so that’s not a concern) and utilitarian about life. A life with mostly pain has no value, so it should be ended, this is freeing, in that context, even though the individual no longer has the ability to enjoy the freedom,

  • They met when Lyman and I catered Reagan’s memorial service at Lansdowne in the November before we got married.

  • I’m a great repository of stories.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I will be somewhat surprised if Williams was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

    I have two uncles who killed themselves after receiving fatal diagnosis late in life. I don’t condemn it or approve it, but feel it was all a sad misfortune.

  • So, even.

  • Om namah shivaya.

  • The woman who ran the cathouse I worked in, NYC, sang opera.

  • I wouldn’t loan that kid my car keys.

  • steve Link

    As I recall, Japanese beliefs about suicide influenced by Shinto and Buddhist beliefs are a bit neutral. It was ok for warriors to commit suicide when they lost. I have always been unsure if that was really driven by honor or just avoiding nasty treatment as a prisoner, which I guess would be freedom of a sort.


  • Am I discovered yet, Mr. Dave?

  • “Free to do what?”

    There’s also the freedom to not HAVE to act. And the freedom to not be acted upon.

  • Does anybody want a cat?

  • One’s a fat-butted bitch, but she has a real pretty face.

  • My recollection is that Shinto is conflicted about suicide. On the one hand after death you return to nature so it’s neutral on the subject. On the other life is a gift from your ancestors so suicide is a sin.

    Buddhism would largely take its cue from Hinduism. Suicide is a futile and temporary respite at best.

  • I’m a great repository of stories.

    Of course you are. You’re a Southerner. It’s a life view.

  • TastyBits Link

    @PD Shaw

    Most of the people talking about Robin Williams are trained seals spouting nonsense they know nothing about. It is just another feelgood issue.

    I could go on and on, but until you have been caught in the utter hell of a depressive episode, you really cannot understand why somebody would say, “I want it to all go away.” Having a bad sunburn is not the same experience as being severely burned.

    Chronic depression is not like being sad because your goldfish died or losing your job. You hate your life, and each and every moment it is a burden to drag yourself to the next moment. Living is nothing more than an existence.

    When you look at somebody in the midst of a depressive episode, what you think you see and know is an illusion. The body is only a shell. Inside is confusion, dread, fear and loathing, deadness, who knows what.

    You demand that this hulk continue to exist for your pleasure. You want a dancing fool that is required to meet the standards you have set, or you will medicate this thing until it becomes what you deem acceptable.

    You have a pet that must continue to exist for your pleasure. You will send it to a trainer to learn the appropriate responses. You will remake your “loved one” in your image. Essentially, you will eradicate their being and replace it with an acceptable version.

    Taking pleasure in somebody else’s suffering is sadistic.

    I do not condone, encourage, or excuse suicide, but I can understand. I have assured my doctor that I will not go back to that hell, but I have given up a lot. Others may think it was/is an easy choice, but they did not lose anything.

  • Maslovian self-actualization, right before your eyes.


    Saw her in concert, too, in Dallas.

  • Y’all been set up.

  • So now what?

  • Janis, I’ve got too many cats already.

    TB, well put.

  • Ben Wolf Link

    The one thing no one ever asks us is whether we want to be brought into this world, it’s just thrust upon us and anything other than the image of absolute joy in living is considered deranged. Because others are terrified of death is not a reason for clinging to an empty existence and it is always empty. There is no greater value or meaning to our lives and nothing we ever do will alter that. Why the method or planning of an inevitable death freaks people out is beyond me.

  • jan Link

    The one thing no one ever asks us is whether we want to be brought into this world, it’s just thrust upon us and anything other than the image of absolute joy in living is considered deranged.

    That’s your belief, Ben, but not one necessarrily adhered to by others. There are those who see life as a voluntarily “contract” made in the afterlife, inbetween lifetimes, dealing with parent choices, obstacles, etc. that souls are to derive their lessons from in a current life.

    This is not a proven scientific fact. However, as what happens after death is a big question mark, this is one of the philosophical explanations out there that is quit common — among many others.

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