Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


What religions really say about suicide

  • 15 June 2018


It has been a bad month for celebrity news, with several high-profile suicides bringing the difficult topic to the forefront of people's minds, reawakening painful memories for those who have lost a friend or family member in similar circumstances.

On 5 June, Kate Spade, an American fashion designer, was found by her housekeeper in her Manhattan home. Her husband Andy subsequently released a statement describing her struggle with anxiety and depression, something she'd apparently worried would harm her business reputation.

Just a few days later, hotel reception was called to enter the room of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (pictured) in Kaysersberg, France, after a worried friend noted Bourdain had missed both dinner and breakfast.

Amid the outpouring of shock and grief in the wake of the latter's passing, one blue-tick Twitterer attempted to capture five minutes of shameful fame, surfing the waves of media interest in the celebrity chef's demise. Quipping a last-word barb at Bourdain, he declared that religious people believe hell or purgatory is his afterworld destination — divine punishment for those who commit suicide.

Many people immediately objected to such a simplistic summary of religious beliefs about suicide, including Jesuit priest Fr James Martin, who replied that it 'is usually the result of depression, which is an illness. And God does not condemn the ill', citing John chapter 9 verse 3. Misrepresenting complex religious doctrine is, unfortunately, ubiquitous in our modern world; religious illiteracy is rife, particularly among journalists and public commentators.

However, while we can scoff at ignorant tweets, the loved-ones left behind by those who commit suicide can be haunted by the dark thought that hell is where their friend or family member now suffers in torment.

It was the theme of Robin Williams' 1998 movie What Dreams May Come. Based on the book by Richard Matheson, the main character arrives in heaven, after which he discovers his wife has committed suicide due to a mental breakdown caused by the loss of her children and then of her husband in separate car crashes. He is determined to undertake the impossible and rescue her from the hell in which she is keeping herself.


"What all the great religious traditions have in common is the acknowledgement that hardship and suffering are hard-wired into this mortal existence, but there is also help, love, forgiveness and strength to sustain us."


Williams himself sadly committed suicide in 2014; he had been struggling with mental and physical ill-health including