On my birthday last year, January 29, 2013, I saved an article from USA Today. It’s been sitting on my desk under a pile of other documents since then, awaiting my attention. The title is “Have we lost the will to live?” The subtitle: “Suicide is up. Around the world, it is way up. And it explains why mass murderers do what they do.” The author is Rebecca D. Costa.
The article briefly references a number of recent attacks on innocent civilians and concludes the perpetrators had one thing in common: “Long before they reached for a weapon, they lost their desire to live. And it is this unnatural state that enabled them to commit unimaginable acts. Once a person makes a decision to die, the most abhorrent atrocities become permissible. There are no longer any consequences to fear: no arrest, no jail, no trial, no families of the victims to face, no remorse, no mothering. Dead is dead.”
Conversely, the article proposes, would-be murderers from the past were different. After aiming his gun at President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth ran. So did Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Even disturbed killers like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson went to great lengths to keep their crimes hidden. Why? “Because the drive to survive – to thrive, to propagate – is the strongest instinct among all living organisms. Self-preservation is a fundamental urge in nature. But in recent times, this instinct has gone awry.”
Supporting this premise is the observation that antidepressants are now the most prescribed drugs in the USA, climbing almost 400% in the past two decades, particularly among preschoolers and adolescents. In addition, an estimated 1 million people in the U.S. report attempting to commit suicide each year. One such attempt succeeds every 14 minutes.
Suicides have also risen around the globe, having increased 60% in the past 45 years. “We have a widespread affliction on our hands that is affecting the entire human race. An affliction we understand very little about. An affliction we continue to sweep under the rug and blame on guns, the economy and every other thing. An affliction that has become a preamble for mass murder.”
In case the reader hasn’t figured it out by now, the author makes one main point of the article crystal clear: “Today, fast-firing assault weapons grab international attention, but that is not what makes people like Adam Lanza (perpetrator of Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings) so dangerous or what gives us reason to fear more such attacks; it’s the fact that Lanza had no will to live. That’s not a problem that can be solved by gun control or arming school guards.”
“If we have any hope of curbing tragedies such as Columbine and Sandy Hook, we must not allow rhetoric or short-term mitigation overshadow the opportunity to address the real culprit behind mass violence. Thriving, happy, connected human beings don’t use guns to harm others, no matter how plentiful. They don’t fashion fertilizer or airplanes into bombs. And they don’t need the government to regulate these things. Nature has designed us so that the will to live acts as a deterrent against anything that threatens our continuation – including opening fire in a public place. Fix this, and it won’t be long before gun control is superseded by self-control. And at the end of the day, isn’t this a far more lasting alternative than surrendering hard-won liberties?”
Regardless of your (or my) personal opinion regarding gun control, the question begged has to do with the real root cause(s) of the absence of a will to live. Is it biological, psychological, physiological, societal? Is it hereditary or environmental? Is it curable or a hopelessly de facto lifetime reality for those affected? Or is it simply a demonic manifestation of the power of the devil in the lives of real people?
Whatever the answer(s) might be, Christians could add to the USA Today article this biblical explanation for the problem the author identifies: “Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And the concluding remedy: “Resist him, firm in your faith … and the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:9-11)
That explanation is not a magic wand. Nevertheless it hopefully encourages individuals, families, churches and humanitarian or governmental organizations to do everything humanly possible to protect the sanctity and safety of the life of every human being. That becomes ever more critical given the reality of living life in the midst of individuals who no longer have the will to live.