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Was Robin Williams’ suicide a sin? Faiths softening stance

First Published      Last Updated Aug 12 2014 03:51 pm

As Americans mourn the death of comedian Robin Williams, a few have reiterated the view that suicide is a "sin."

Indeed, that was a long-held idea handed down among various faith groups throughout history.

In the fifth century, "St. Augustine was unequivocal: Suicide is self-murder and an unforgivable sin," The Salt Lake Tribune wrote in a Special Report on suicide May 13, 2006. "Much the same revulsion at suicide is clear in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and every other religious tradition. It was even a felony in some U.S. states until 1963."

Now, though, that stance has softened among some contemporary believers.

"Today's clergy are still firmly opposed to suicide on principle but are more likely to see the forces that drive people to end their lives as compulsions or mental demons in the form of illness, depression, drugs, addictions," the story noted. "The issue is further complicated by technology's ability to keep people alive long after nature would have, spawning debate about the end of life, the right to die and faith vs. reason. The nature of sin is no longer so clear."

To read the whole article, click here.

Like other Christians, Mormons have tempered their views of suicide with psychology.

"I feel the Lord also recognizes differences in intent and circumstances," LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard said in a 1987 speech that was later published as a book. "Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on Earth."

That statement is echoed in guidelines The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spelled out for its lay leaders.

"It is wrong to take a life, including one's own," states "Handbook 2: Administering the Church." "However, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter."

Catholics have changed their perspective, too.

"After Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church's position gradually evolved," the Rev. Charles Ruby, founder of LOSS (Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide) in Chicago, said in The Tribune piece. "It took suicide out of the moral realm, where it didn't belong anyway, and moved it into the medical realm."

Peggy Fletcher Stack