Thursday, 15 March 2012

Religion and Suicide

Religion may play a role in determining whether someone will take their own life, suggests new research that shows suicide rates are higher in Protestant countries than in Catholic ones.

Researchers from the University of Warwick in England analyzed data from Prussia in the 19th and 21st centuries, as well as modern data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

"We used the 19th century data because at this time virtually everyone adhered to a religious denomination and religion pervaded virtually all aspects of life. In Prussia, both Protestants and Catholics were non-minorities living together in one state and the two religions give a basis for comparison," lead author Sascha Becker said in a press release.

"The results were quite striking, in the 19th century suicide rates among Protestants in Prussia were roughly three times as high as among Catholics."

To broaden their perspective, the researchers also looked at data from 10 OECD countries in which either Protestants or Catholics still made up more than 85% of the population in 2000. The suicide rate in Protestant countries was 15.5 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 8.9 suicides in Catholic countries.

"Even today, countries that are majority Protestant tend to have substantially higher suicide rates than those which are majority Catholic, suggesting that the relation of religion and suicide remains a vital topic," said Becker, adding that the two religions' views on individuality and sin could be a factor.

"When life hits hard, a Catholic can rely on a stronger community which might help him to cope. Secondly, Protestantism stresses the importance of God's grace alone and not by any merit of man's own work, whereas Catholicism allows for God's judgment to be affected by man's deeds and sins. As a consequence, committing suicide entails the prospect of foregoing paradise for Catholics but not for Protestants," Becker said.

What's more, Catholics believe in confessing sins, and suicide is the only sin you can't confess.

"Suicide is affected by all these factors — the structure of the religious community, strongly held views about God's grace, and the impossibility of confessing the sin of suicide," Becker said. "As a result, we conclude that religion matters in life and death."