DEPRESSION & SUICIDE A SIN?

DEPRESSION & SUICIDE A SIN?
by Ron Steelman
June 19, 2018

Kate_Anthony
(Photo from Today.com)

I happened to see an article in Time magazine about the untimely deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. One point author Belinda Luscombe makes in her article is that the way we often look at those who are extremely successful is through the lens of one of the seven deadly sins: “Envy.” We wish we had what they have (had). That got me thinking about the other deadly sins. I think there’s something worse than envy. 

You remember the whole list, right? In Christian tradition the sins are pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. As an actor I once played the character Gluttony in the play Doctor Faustus, not the opera Faust, but the original play by Christopher Marlowe (I don’t know why they cast me in that role??). I’m not really an expert on the “seven deadlies,” but let’s say I’ve experienced them all at some point in my life.

While reviewing the definitions of these sins, I discovered the original meaning of the word, “sloth.” It comes from the Latin & Greek word “Acedia.” From Wikipedia: “It’s been translated to “apathetic listlessness; depression without joy. It is related to melancholy: acedia describes the behavior and melancholy suggests the emotion producing it. In early Christian thought, the lack of joy was regarded as a willful refusal to enjoy the goodness of God. . .” Good grief!

This primitive, religious belief that depression and suicide is a sin, is something I’ve been wrestling with for years. It continues poisoning our thoughts. I have had various friends and relatives who have gone into severe depressions, some of them in such pain that it led to them taking their own lives. I don’t know anything about the nature of Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s depression. However, it makes me so sad/mad that not only are they gone now, but that they are condemned as sinners in the eyes of the Christian God, and by many Christians who today still harbor this ill-informed belief.Smile_No_Hell_Black

As a modern society/culture we must grow beyond these ancient tribal beliefs and work instead to understand the hideous nature of depression and seek help for those who suffer from it. Too often we try to fix the blame, instead of fixing the problem. Once you fix the blame you are done. That’s easy; you can walk away.

But if you begin with a little empathy and compassion, maybe you can help to fix the problem. Depression is a human problem. It is part of the human condition. It is not a sin, not something about which we should be judgmental. Sorry, we do not get to be vindictive Gods who can send people to hell because they are depressed and not worshiping us properly. Be kind.


Excerpt from the June 25, 2018 Time article by Belinda Luscombe
THINGS ARE NEVER WHAT THEY SEEM:

“Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition,” wrote Graham Greene in his second autobiography, Ways of Escape, a book which the chef, author and travel show host Anthony Bourdain, who died on June 8 at 61, kept on his nightstand.

The full Time Magazine article – June 25, 2018:

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FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE

FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE
By Ron Steelman
5-20-18

Here are 10 things I thought were worth sharing this week:
(I have stolen this opening line from the blog posts of a writer/artist whose blog I follow, Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like An Artist.”)

1.  As an actor I was trained in classic repertory theaters. I acted in over a hundred professional productions including Shakespeare, many classic plays, and numerous modern American classics. However, the comedies were my first love. You can keep the tragedies and the dramas and the histories. Which leads me to this quote from a 95-year-old comedy genius:

                       “Laughter adds time to your life.”
                                      – Norman Lear

We don’t have hard proof of this, but a few years back there was an article with some anecdotal evidence about how long famous comedians lived. Their lives consisted of writing, testing and performing jokes. If they laughed, then they knew the audience would. The article is here in Psychology Today. Also, studies show people can learn to embrace the absurdity of life at any age, see Scientific American.

2.
  Having spent a good deal of my life as an actor, I wouldn’t encourage my children to go into the theater. I’d just have to tie them up and keep them in the attic until they came to their senses (you know I’m kidding, of course). But I saw this recently and it has something to do with being human.
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3.  There’s so much I didn’t know about poet Walt Whitman and his classic poem, Leaves of Grass. For example:  “(the) responses to different aspects of the poem – its understanding of nature, its celebration of sexuality, its advocacy of a radical equality and democracy.”  This is from a book review of Poet as Prophet: The Religious Whitman and His Disciples, by David E. Anderson.  He begins with a little historical perspective: “Before the twentieth century there was a long tradition of the poet as prophet and seer, and poetry as a form of religious language.” 

walt-whitman-wikipediaFrom Wikipedia:Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Although the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first, a small book of twelve poems and the last, a compilation of over 400.”

But enough of me. Read David E. Anderson’s review here.


4.
From my “I Love Quotes” Department:

‘I get tired of God getting credit for all the things the human race achieves.’
– Lorraine Hansberry, “Raisin in the Sun” (words ascribed to Beneatha)


5.  
“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”
     – Leo Rosten, “The Myths by Which We Live”

6.   Ricky Gervais – Religion Explained in Two Minutes.

We should not be pushing religion on children. That may sound shocking at first, especially if you were brought up going to religious services every week as a child. But listen to his logic. 

 

7.  The following title made no sense to me until I read this short article. Grief and mourning is something we all deal with, both the religious and the non-religious. You may have never thought about it, but we all lose family and friends and we need to find ways to deal with it.

 

8. “When I Think Of Death”– Maya Angelou

“When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. 
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.'”


9.  On Being 72

Mark_Twain_Tonight_Album_CoverToday I’m actually 72!

I grew up in Columbus, OH, and when I was 18 or so, I transcribed a track from the 1959, 33- rpm Broadway album of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight. I had performed in ten plays while in high school, several times playing old men. I had my old geezer voice perfected. Therefore, it did not seem out of character for me to mimic Mr. Holbrook’s version of the famous Twain speech.  I made my own recording of “How to be 70” on a small reel-to-reel audio tape ( I wish I still had that recording). That was one of two audition recordings I sent to a performing arts college in San Diego, CA, hoping to get accepted. Although San Diego was way out there on the left coast, I had visited my aunt and uncle there and various relatives several times, so I was not worried about leaving Columbus at all. I loved California and surfing life. I have to admit that I never surfed myself. My cousin Mike did.  I figured I’d try it if I got back out there again (and got the nerve). My bag was packed and waiting by the front door. I received the acceptance letter and I was thrilled. Then I read a little further in the letter. They offered me a “1/2” scholarship. Trouble was, my Dad had been out of work for an extended illness and my parents couldn’t afford the other “1/2.” So long Southern California, Hollywood, and the beach. So long slick new cool surf board (not). Anyway, it was heartening to learn that somebody was willing to pay me to act. Kinda. At least “1/2” worth.

I learned so much about acting from Hal Holbrook, and so much about timing. He also taught me a lot about Mark Twain.

So even though I’m two years past 70 now, I could listen to masterful Mr. Holbrook play Mark Twain any day of any year. Enjoy.

Mark Twain Tonight – How to be 70 (couldn’t find the video, but here’s the audio)

 

10. Here are two clips. One is from a Mark Twain Tonight performance by Hal Holbrook. The other is Michael Eisner ( the Disney guy) talking to Hal Holbrook at 90.

 

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Prayer Won’t Stop the Gun Violence

I’m now following a new blogger who I think offers an interesting premise: Love Over Religion – Why I Left Christianity (and that’s the title of her book. . .now on Amazon). Excellent. She was following me (so we know she has excellent taste), and I decided to really sign up and follow her blog when I read her post:  “Guns II.” Take a look. Tell us both what you think.

Love Over Religion

Dying Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

Dying Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard
by Ron Steelman

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” is a theatrical maxim that refers to the difficulty an actor has playing a death versus a scene that’s supposed to make the audience laugh. These words have been attributed to at least half a dozen famous actors clear back to the Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean who died in 1833. Nobody knows for sure who first uttered this witticism. As a professional actor for many years, I can attest that it’s true that comedy is harder than dying. . .at least on stage. However, we must all die for real as our final curtain comes down, yet most of us refuse to talk about dying. For superstitious reasons that is considered taboo. No one wants to die. That’s universal. It’s the superstitious folk that believe even mentioning death may actually bring about our early demise.

Most Humanists I know have removed these superstitious fears from their psyches. Humanists look at the world through a naturalistic view. Yes, some of these old superstitions die hard. But once you let them go, you enjoy a great sense of freedom.

An example of this is evidenced in the American Humanist Association’s essay: “Humanism And Its Aspirations”:

“Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.”

I love that last part:  “(we) are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.” This is exciting to me because we are constantly learning more and more every day about our natural world, forcing many previously held beliefs to give way to actual facts. It’s also stated in such a positive way: “yet to be known,” as opposed to “unknown.” This inspires us to learn something new every day. New facts and the truth are very important to me. Supernatural beliefs are no longer a part of my thinking.

Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson's "Carnac the Magnificent"

Clearly, if you had a religious upbringing, you may accept teachings such as “life after death,” or “reincarnation,” or many of the other supernatural beliefs conjured by religions. This fear of death, though, and the hope that there’s something after it, is quite understandable. After all, we want to live forever. But there is no proof of these religious claims and those who promote them can offer only anecdotal stories or parables.

Yes, I’m just like everybody else; I also am not happy that life is so short. It may be helpful to note that this unhappiness has been with us for a very long time. The following passage is from Dialogues of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a Roman philosopher and statesman, from his essay entitled “The Shortness of Life.” *

“The majority of mortals, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of nature, because we are born for such a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live.”  

So the only remedy to living a life that is shorter than I’d like, is to make the most of my life while I have it. I saw the following in the online newsletter of the American Humanist Association, “Humanist Network News.” This is one of Six Humanist TV Shows (short video clips) they recommend watching. I’d like to highlight the clip from the HBO show Six Feet Under.

“Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under premiered in 2001 and immediately made waves, illustrating the process of death and grief in a frank and humane way. The show covered the life and eventual death of every member of the Fisher family, owners and proprietors of Fisher and Sons Funeral Home. Disdaining of simple answers to profound moral questions, Six Feet Under sought to blur the lines between life and death, and dealt with mortality with compassion and a wicked sense of humor. The show was characterized by sometimes incredible twists and turns in plot and compelling, emotional performances from the cast.

One scene in particular stands out . . . as a profoundly humanistic moment. Trying to comfort a bereaved client, Nate Fisher (forced reluctantly into the family business he left home to avoid) offers an incredible answer to the question, ‘Why do people have to die?’ His response: ‘To make life important.’”

Video: “Why Do People Have to Die?”    (0:48)

I am encouraged by the Secular Humanist philosophy to be good and do good,and to enjoy as much as possible this one life that I have. I’ve found it to be true over and over that many people, when learning about Humanism, say that it is what they’ve always thought. . .but they just didn’t know there was a name for it.

There are many different and heady definitions of Humanism. Below is the definition of Humanism from the American Humanist Association’s “Humanism And Its Aspirations”:

“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

“The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.”**

Dying is never easy, but living a happy productive life is the best revenge!

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* quoted by Fred Edwords in his essay
“Life Is To Be Lived Now – A Vital, Personal Humanism” (1986) 

** from Humanism And Its Aspirations – Humanist Manifesto III