Re: Sin and Suicide

Robert, I appreciate your response. I wrote my original column to respond to what I see as two common criticisms of Christians, one coming largely from outside the orthodox segments of the Christian faith, the other from inside. First, the argument that comes largely from external (typically Leftist) critics of Christianity is that Christian opposition to homosexual behavior creates a “climate” conducive to suicide. I think this is frankly absurd. Of course individually targeted bullying certainly can lead a person down that dark path (but let’s never forget that the suicide itself is an act of independent will), there’s no allegation — to my knowledge — in any of the recent suicides that some sort of Christian thug was taunting anyone. Nor is there any evidence that any serious Christian endorses bullying and other kinds of thuggish behavior. Lacking this evidence, what is the Left’s argument? That the mere existence of people who think homosexual behavior is wrong makes it more likely that a person who identifies as gay will kill himself? In a vibrant democracy, debates are often intense, and religious debates can be the most intense. Yet do we see a connection in other communities between intense religious debate and suicide? Lots of communities are publicly criticized for many reasons, but I’m not aware of any spike in the suicide rate accompanying public debate — even intense debate.

Regarding the argument within orthodox Christianity, there is often quite strong disagreement over the extent to which members of the church should speak out against sinful behavior. Many Christians believe that saying “this is wrong” — whether the “this” in question is homosexual behavior, divorce, heterosexual extra-marital sex, or anything else scripture clearly prohibits — comes across as judgmental and alienates the rest of the community. After all, it seems as if the one cardinal sin of contemporary American discourse is judgment. My argument is that speaking out against sin is not in fact judgmental, and that speaking the truth can often spare those who heed appropriate moral warnings a lifetime of heartbreak or poverty (especially in the context of divorce and single parenthood).

I quoted the study regarding high (very high) rates of suicide attempts in urban areas because if the Left’s argument is correct — that cultural stigma contributes to suicide — then urban America, which accepts homosexuality and has the lowest density of evangelical Christians — shouldn’t see the suicide attempts its seeing. After all, if you’re gay and living in Manhattan, San Francisco, Philadelphia, L.A., and Chicago, you’re most likely never or very rarely interacting with evangelicals. In fact, these cities themselves go out of their way to celebrate the presence of their gay communities. Yet the suicide rate persists. Why?

My argument is that sin affects the conscience in ways that can be quite profound — and that effect often exists regardless of the existence of any external moral critique. Within orthodox Christian theology, it’s understood that the “requirements” of God’s laws are written on the human heart. In other words, people do, as you put it, “naturally process a given behavior as sinful,” at least until hearts are hardened or consciences corrupted. I know this argument is singularly unpersuasive — and indeed laughable — to people who don’t share the orthodox Christian faith (many Jews would also agree with this analysis, relying on Old Testament scriptures that contain the same concepts). But what distresses me is that Christians — often seeking approval and respectability in mainstream circles — act as if they don’t even believe their own scriptures. Look, if we really believe the Bible is true, why not make the moral arguments it asks us to make? If the Bible is true, isn’t our culture worse off when we stigmatize truth and de-stigmatize sin?

Finally, regarding the origin of homosexual desire, I have no idea whether it’s genetic, environmental, or a mixture of many factors. I’ve certainly never known anyone who says they chose to like men more than women. The article you linked was interesting mix of science and pseudo-science (hair whorl as an indicator of sexuality?). Sexuality is a very complex thing. But the source of the desire is largely irrelevant, and Christians do not believe the temptation itself is wrong. While every human being has sinful desires of various kinds, any sinful act itself is an act of human will for which we are fully responsible.

Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have a civil debate about these issues — especially on campus. Sexuality is not only intensely personal, it’s now fully wrapped up in identity politics and the culture of grievance that dominates academia. Christians, however, should not be intimidated or shamed into silence. With full awareness of our own brokenness, complete realization all goodness comes from God alone, and with words seasoned with humility and grace, faithful Christians must exhibit the resolve necessary to make their voice heard.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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