As a young boy, I accepted everything the Catholic Church taught as absolute truth. One such “truth” was that all those who committed suicide went to hell for eternity. And so when I was informed that my step-grandfather had hung himself, I struggled with visions of him burning in hell. I wondered why he did not foresee his fate and also pondered on why God isn’t more compassionate.
Apparently, the Catholic Church has modified its position on suicide in recent decades. “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives,” one Catholic Internet source states. “By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
Although it mentions a number of suicides, including Abimelech, Saul, Ahithophel, Zimri, and Judas, and also tells us that Jesus was tempted by Satan to kill himself while fasting in the desert for 40 days, the Bible does not directly address suicide or the fate of the suicide. However, inferences are made from various passages, including the commandment “thou shall not kill,” that it is clearly morally wrong to take one’s life. A Protestant Internet source states that it is a serious sin against God, but if the person had accepted Christ beforehand then his sin will be “covered by the blood of Christ” and the sinner will be saved, although he will likely have to “escape through the flames,” as set forth in 1 Corinthians 3:15.
Christian orthodoxy has conveniently and self-servingly interpreted the book of revelation to be closed— revelation that came through “prophets” and “seers.” Such prophets and seers still exist, although the old Hebrew and Greek words today translate to mediums (including clairvoyants) and out-of-body experiencers (including near-death experiencers). By going beyond the self-imposed limits of the priesthood—by studying more recent revelation, properly tested and discerned—we get a better, more sensible and more just idea as to the plight of the suicide in the afterlife environment.
Beyond the evidence that consciousness continues after death, the most important lesson coming to us from sources outside of orthodoxy is that we do not face a dichotomous afterlife—the humdrum heaven or horrific hell of orthodoxy. Rather, there are many levels, planes, realms, or conditions on the “other side,” as Jesus apparently intended to teach when he said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” The Greek word from which “mansion” came is said to better translate to a way station or intermediate stopping place.
A recurring message coming through most Eastern religions and metaphysical teachings, such as theosophy, as well as from many spirit mediums is that our spiritual consciousness in this world determines our degree of “awakening” and immediate place in the afterlife, and that we continue to evolve from there to realms of higher vibration. In the lower astral planes, where the spiritually challenged initially find themselves, there may be a “fire of the mind,” something akin to a nightmare, but it is not a physical or eternal state. Moreover, it is reported that many souls in the lower astrals are “earthbound” and do not realize they are “dead.” The idea that one cannot understand he or she is dead is difficult to comprehend until we stop to think how often our earthly consciousness drifts into unreality. For example, when we become absorbed in a good movie or novel, we are not constantly reminding ourselves that it is not “real.” We escape into the fiction, identify with the characters, and feel the emotion.
Another important lesson coming to us in alternative revelations is that we are not judged by God or some high tribunal. We judge ourselves. There is no cheating in this respect as our spiritual consciousness manifests in an energy field, which we call the aura, with what might be called a “moral specific gravity.” A spiritually-challenged person would have a low vibration rate, one much closer to earth conditions, and would not be able to tolerate a higher vibrational level other than that for which his or her moral specific gravity permits.
In her 1995 book, Beyond the Darkness, Angie Fenimore tells of attempting to take her own life when she was unable to deal with her despair, and then having a near-death experience (NDE). After seeing every moment of her 27 years pass before her in an instant, Fenimore awaited the “brilliant white light” and family reunions that she had heard others talk about as part of the initial death experience. “But for me there was no blaze of radiance, no arms waiting to usher me into the Divine presence,” she wrote. “There was only blackness, as though I were suspended in outer space, unbroken by a single glimmering star.”
Fenimore then found herself among a number of other souls, all of whom seemed to be in a “thoughtless stupor.” Through some form of telepathic intuition, she understood that they also had taken their own lives. She then felt a whoosh and landed on the edge of a shadowy plane where the darkness extended to the limits of her sight. “It had life, this darkness, some kind of intelligence that was purely negative, even evil,” she continued the story. “It sucked at me, pulling me to react and then swallowing my reaction into fear and dread. In my life I had suffered pain and despair so great that I could barely function, but the twisting anguish of this disconnection was beyond my capacity to conceive.”
Fenimore sensed that she was in a state of hell, but the word “purgatory” then came into her mind. She observed people of all ages seemingly wandering aimlessly about while self-absorbed, “every one of them too caught up in his or her own misery to engage in any mental or emotional exchange.”
After observing more depressing sites, Fenimore heard a voice of “awesome power” asking, “Is this what you really want?” Needless to say, it is not what she wanted, and she thankfully returned for a second chance at life.
NDE researchers Drs. Craig R. Lundahl and Harold A. Widdison reported on a somewhat similar NDE by a woman named Karen. Going through a divorce, she tried to kill herself by taking a bottle of tranquilizers. Her heart stopped but was revived with the use of a defibrillator. During the period she was thought to be unconscious, she was aware of being enveloped in total darkness. It was pitch-black all around, yet there was a feeling of movement,” she recalled. “My conscious self assured me that I was in the form of a spiritual body.” She then heard a male voice tell her that she had a choice to stay or go back.
While many people who have undergone the near-death phenomenon report a positive experience, including seeing a comforting light and being greeted by deceased relatives, NDE researcher Dr. Kenneth Ring reported on a study involving 24 NDErs who had unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Not one of the 24 saw a comforting light or was temporarily reunited with loved ones, and, generally, there was a confused drifting in a dark or murky void.
Communicating through Gladys Osborne Leonard (one of England’s most famous mediums) Claude Kelway-Bamber, a British pilot killed during World War I, told his mother that nothing can kill the soul. “You see, therefore, a suicide, far from escaping trouble, only goes from one form of misery to another; he cannot annihilate himself and pass to nothingness,” Claude stated.
In her 1964 book, Post-Mortem Journal, Jane Sherwood, an automatic writing medium, related information coming to her from a spirit known as “Scott,” a pseudonym for a spirit later identified as Colonel T. E. Lawrence, aka “Lawrence of Arabia.” Scott told of encountering one of his old friends in the afterlife, one who had killed himself. “He was in a kind of stupor and I was told that he might remain in this state for a long time and that nothing could be done about it,” he penned through Sherwood’s hand. “We watched over him and were loath to leave him in the misty half-region where he was found…Until he regained consciousness, there he had to remain; had we forcibly removed him, his poor body would not have been able to stand the conditions of our plane.”
Now and then, Scott went back to visit his friend, finding him still in the same quiet coma. His astral body was in such bad shape that Scott almost dreaded his awakening. Scott went on to say that such long-lasting comas are common with suicides. “It is really a merciful pause during which some of the damage to their emotional bodies is quietly made good.” Scott and others attempted to help their old friend, but his condition was such that progress was slow.
Scott further communicated that there is a belief that suicides remain in a coma until the time when they would have normally died, but he had no way of verifying that. “This is one of those propositions which are impossible of proof, since no one can say when their hour would have struck had they not anticipated it. It is a fact that this state of coma lasts for varying periods, but there is also a long period of unconsciousness in many who have come by violent deaths. A suicide differs from such a one because his emotional state is usually far worse and takes much longer to clear, but a long period of coma may supervene on death in either case.”
Eventually, Scott added, the suicide awakens and takes on the task of fitting himself to enter his own appropriate sphere of being, and this is where others can assist him.
Lillian Bailey, another renowned British medium, also received messages about suicide. One spirit communicated through her that the suicide will have to live through that which his physical body would have had to endure. “He will see the whole thing happening. He will be consciously living with the same problems, although there will be no one condemning him and there will be beauty all around him.”
The spirit added that even though the suicide may feel he was justified in taking his own life, he is still a “gatecrasher” and that things are not ready for him in the spirit world. “It is very difficult to tell you how wrong it is. He can’t go very far. He can only reach a certain ‘half-way’ stage. His dear ones may not be able to get to him— something like Berlin’s Wall…”
Red Cloud, the spirit guide of Estelle Roberts, still another of England’s great mediums, communicated that the person who commits suicide undergoes a premature birth into the spirit world. “He cannot immediately reach the plane of consciousness to which his evolution would entitle him had he fulfilled his allotted span on earth. Instead he remains suspended between the earth and the astral plane, which is the first stage beyond earth. In this state he is deprived, for the time being, of the company of his loved ones in the spirit world, unable to cross the barrier raised by his premature birth. Only when he has advanced in his evolution to the required degree can he rejoin those he knew and loved.”
Many similar messages have come through other mediums as well as from people undergoing past-life regressions. “…the karmic law points at suicides with a shrug: they merely have to do it all over in the next incarnation,” offered Dr. Hans Holzer, a long-time paranormal investigator. “Nobody can cheat or escape earthly commitments.”
Clearly, however, a distinction needs to made between suicide (self-destruction) and an act of noble self-sacrifice for a greater good; and if there is any justice in the cosmos it seemingly would not be fair even to treat all who commit suicide alike. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines suicide to include “omitting to do what is necessary to escape death, as in avoiding the obligation incumbent to preserve his life.” Since there are indications that Jesus could have avoided crucifixion, either by not incriminating himself or by fleeing from his captors when there was time, should he be classified as a “suicide”? Hardly. What about martyrs who could have avoided execution by repudiating their faith? Is the battlefield soldier who puts himself in harm’s way to save his comrades committing suicide and should he be treated like more deliberate suicides? Certainly not.
What of the terminally-ill person who ends his life so that his loved ones will not face further financial or emotional burden? How is he or she different from the battlefield soldier?
And what of suicide bombers? If they truly believe they are doing God’s will and see themselves as martyrs to the cause, are they judged harshly, or, if we do judge ourselves, do they judge themselves harshly? Of course, they are also guilty of murdering others, which would certainly outweigh any virtues claimed for their act, though some might argue that they are no different from Samson of the Bible, who knew he and others would die when he unseated the support columns and brought the temple down upon himself and the Philistines. It certainly seems, however, that there can be no moral equivalence between the defiant actions of a tortured prisoner, as in the case of Samson, and unprovoked attacks upon the innocent, as with modern terrorists.
Underneath their supposedly idealistic objectives, most suicide bombers seem to be driven by hatred, anger, envy, pride, fear, frustration, even lust in the case of those who expect to be greeted by 72 virgins. If they see their afterlife as being better than their current condition, it would appear that their reasons are more self-serving than altruistic, although there may very well be some altruistic motives mixed in with the selfish ones.
The case of the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II may be somewhat different. History has suggested that they were driven, to the extent they had any choice, by a sense of honor and loyalty to their emperor and country. If the kamikaze pilots and the modern suicide bombers were all victims of “brainwashing,” should they be punished severely in the afterlife for having been “simpleminded” and for not having been stronger in resisting more powerful minds?
As with many things, when it comes to suicide, there are no easy answers.