Monday, January 04, 2010

new conversations on suicide or looking away, in silence ?

The suicide of a committed believer, an influential evangelist, over the festive season in Stellenbosch, unsettled us all. Again. Of course, on the one hand, it was the reality of death in itself, especially this time of the year. On the other hand, perhaps it was the fact that he committed suicide. He was suffering, for years, with depression and, in the words of a young medical student who shared at his funeral, 'our medical system failed uncle Ben'. This is a thoughful euphemism from her, because in actual fact medical facilities in and around Cape Town seemingly turned the family away, before his untimely departure. Apart from this critical, young voice most pastors speaking, however wanted us to 'look away' from how he died and focus on God. Well-meaning and inspring. Is it enough ?

His death however raised, as in many other silent cases, amongst others the issue of the relationship between spirituality and science. After a long conversation with a medical doctor, I am convinced even more that serious ongoing reflections and conversations need to be nurtured and maintained on issues of mental health, the pharmaceutical, as well as the private medical industry. Apart from the fact that people of faith still spiritualise these matters (often simply because this is the only language they know and which empowers them), leaders in faith communities often fail to adequately comprehend the complexities of medical conditions and ethics. Are we able to accompany people, in these trying times? I think we need a new conversation and language on these, which will hopefully, open up the old texts (and new ones !)which we read, in a new way. This could mean the death of the well-known, worn-out dogmas and cliches; it could also mean the birth of new voices sharing good news.
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