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Suicide: The Next Civil Rights Frontier

One staple of conservative conversation these days is the parlor game of cultural prognostication: What will the lunatics come up with next?

We’ve only tapped the surface of sexual deviancy, so God only knows what’s in store for us there. Diaper-wearing men diagnosed—back when the notion of “disordered behavior” meant something—with paraphilic infantilism? “Dommes” walking their leather-clad coprophiliac slaves on a leash? (I saw an article entitled, “Coprophilia: Symptom, Cause and Treatment” at a website on depression. I thought, “Awww, how cute; so 2012.”)

After last summer’s gay marriage ruling coupled with this year’s transgendered march through the institutions, you can only imagine the flavors of sadomasochistic fetishism lining up to take their turn at the bat. The natural response of “eww” that used to guide social behavior is a microagression, so it’s only a matter of time.

Identity holds a lot of promise for potential wackiness. Did I, as a disabled black lesbian, mention that you all owe me several degrees of reparations? (Write that check to the guy linked to the byline you see in your hate as a perfectly abled white male heterosexual.) Then there’s body manipulation. Those with body integrity identity disorder (there’s that cute word again) will finally have their day. A fun office pool might be to wager in what year two people surgically sew themselves together, sans middle arms and legs, in some Jungian-Gnostic attempt to reintegrate humanity’s primal binary disintegration of male/female. You see shades of the horror movies “The Human Centipede” or “Tusk”; I see an Anthony Kennedy ruling circa 2022.

This is all somewhat tongue in cheek—somewhat—but to turn to a rather serious and sad topic, cultural trends breeding the above also suggest a seismic shift in attitudes on suicide.

What’s Wrong with Suicide, Anyway?

I became an Army chaplain in part because of rising suicide rates in the military. Suicide prevention training, like so much of chaplain training, operates under a very palpable paradox defining our moment in cultural history. On one hand, we live off the residual fumes of a Christian past and enjoy certain assumptions about human life and dignity. On the other hand, we are not permitted to appeal to the source of those assumptions.

This leads to a middle-road approach that makes no one happy. The result is a mushy spirituality ticking off both the atheist soldier and the Christian who recognizes its inherent, New Agey unorthodoxy.

In this context I sometimes pose the issue this way, challenging colleagues with the question, “Why exactly are we as a nation, or the Army in particular, against suicide? What’s wrong with it?” The cynical answer is that the Army has a huge financial investment in a soldier. But obviously that answer doesn’t satisfy the deeper issue.

The answer begging to be said but that can’t be spoken is, “Because we’re basically a Christian nation, and…

 if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.


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