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Creation 29(4):31, September 2007

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Can Japan ban hara-kiri?


Twice as many suicides1 occur in Japan than in the USA, even though Japan’s population is only half that of the United States. Fears that the problem has escalated out of control have prompted the government to launch a campaign ‘to stop people taking their own lives.’2,3

Composition of images from Webphoto and services <www.webphoto.it>. hara kiri

But some doubt such a campaign can be effective.

‘I think it will be impossible,’ said Yukio Saito, director of the Japan Suicide Prevention Association. Saito identifies untreated depression as the single most important factor behind his country’s high suicide rate. ‘What we need is more face-to-face counselling for depressed people, real befriending like the Samaritans in the UK,’ he said.

But an article in the UK’s prestigious medical journal The Lancet reports that substituting the Samaritan spirit for the samurai spirit won’t be easy. Not only does Japan have a long history of celebrating suicide as an act of sacrificial devotion (e.g. WWII kamikaze pilots; samurai retainers under feudal warlords) but also ‘no strong religious taboos against suicide exist in this strongly secular society’.

The Lancet article is right about that. The contrast between the value placed on human life in Bible-based societies compared to others is very stark. (E.g. how many Christian suicide bombers are there?) Anyone with a biblical worldview knows what Elijah (1 Kings 19:4) and Jonah (4:3) both knew, i.e. the Creator should be the giver and taker of life. Strictly speaking, no-one can ‘take their own life’, for our lives are not our own (Jeremiah 10:23), but belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)—we are here to love and serve Him, in fruitful labour (Philippians 1:21–22).

It was very perceptive of Yukio Saito to notice that what his country lacks is an organisation like the Samaritans. But how likely is it that a nation of people not familiar with the famous parable (Luke 10:25–37) can spawn such selfless behaviour? If the Japanese government is serious about reducing suicide, they would do well to make a logical comparison of suicide rates of Christian vs non-Christian communities—and explore why they are so different! What’s required is a nation-wide change to a Christian worldview. (Incidentally, the Japanese government’s concern makes good practical sense, and echoes the ancient wisdom of Proverbs 14:28, ‘A large population is a king’s glory, but without subjects a prince is ruined.’)

Sadly, evolutionary teaching in the West completely undermines the biblical worldview, creating a popular mindset accepting of suicide, euthanasia, abortion, etc. One has only to look at non-Bible-based cultures to see what that slide away from the authority of God’s Word can lead to.

Posted on homepage: 13 October 2008

References and notes

  1. Note re title: Japanese define ‘hara-kiri’ (seppuku) as referring to a particular style of ritualised suicide, but here it’s used as a euphemism for ‘Japanese suicide’ in general. Return to text.
  2. McCurry, J., Japan promises to curb number of suicides, The Lancet 367:383, 4 February 2006. Return to text.
  3. Measures include expanding counselling services at schools and businesses, and erecting more automatic barriers on subway platforms ‘to deter the legions of “jumpers” who end their lives in full view of their fellow commuters.’ Return to text.