Researchers from the University of Warwick in England looked at cause-of-death data in 19th and 21st century Prussia and found that Protestants were approximately three times more likely than Catholics to commit suicide. Trends were similar to those noted in the year 2000, when predominantly Protestant countries were noted to have approximately double the number of suicides as predominantly Catholic countries (15.5 per 100,000 vs. 8.9 per 100,000, respectively).
The study’s lead author, Sascha Becker, hypothesized that fear of going to Hell may deter Catholics from committing suicide. After all, suicide is the one sin for which Catholics can’t ask a priest for forgiveness (because they’re dead after they commit it). In contrast, Protestants tend to believe they’re saved by grace. Thus, they reject the idea that their sins (like suicide) or their good deeds have any bearing on their eternal disposition.
Can you believe that the Protestant notion of grace could actually disinhibit a person’s fears of suicide? As nutty as the human mind can be, I actually believe these hypotheses are plausible. Even if YOU don’t think this way, I can almost guarantee that somebody, somewhere thinks this way.
Becker went on to hypothesize other factors that might be playing a role. For example, Protestants may feel more isolated from their church communities compared to Catholics and their feelings of isolation could contribute to their increased rates of suicide. This theory has been held by other authors, as well, including sociologist Emile Durkheim, who cited in his classic text Suicide (1897) that Protestants are more individualistic and Catholics are more community-oriented.
Having grown up Catholic and now being Protestant, I actually disagree with the second hypothesis (about Protestants being more disconnected from their religious communities). Perhaps I’m an exception, but I actually feel more connected to my church community in the Protestant sphere than I did growing up Catholic. But, to be fair, that could have more to do with differences between my Catholic family of origin and my husband’s Methodist family. Or maybe it’s because I now live in the Bible belt.
Getting back to the suicide data… at least on the surface, it looks like Catholicism has an edge over Protestantism. However, I still can’t help but wonder about other things. Do Catholics and Protestants tend to have equally close, personal relationships with the Lord and Savior while they’re alive? I.e., do Catholics live better, with more peace, joy, and “fruit of the Spirit” than do Protestants? And what proportions of Catholics and Protestants suffer with guilt, shame, and depression while they’re alive? I would like to see comparative data on these things, if they’re even measurable. I’d like to know which religious view point helps you live better, not just live longer.
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