Political suicides: when protesting takes lives

A Christian Science perspective: A response to Tibetans’ use of self-immolation in protest to oppression.

Recent episodes of self-immolation – the centuries-old practice of setting oneself on fire as a form of self-sacrifice – are raising many questions, including those concerning desperate human conditions and the loss of hope and the valuing of life that can drive someone to such an act. In protest of the conditions in Tibet under Chinese rule, more than 25 Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the past year. As reported in an Opinion piece on this website, some Tibetans chose not to celebrate last month’s festival of Losar, the lunar New Year, in light of these events.

A Monitor editorial put it this way: “The moral question over the use of suicide – either by fire or hunger – being employed for a moral cause remains difficult to answer." I’m probably not alone in feeling it beyond my reach to grasp a despair so deep that it could lead to self-immolation, or the solid conviction that embraces it as right and beneficial. But I can respond as a citizen of the world, and, like others, reach out in prayer for what I know to be true – that God, divine Love, always has been, ever will be, and is today an ever-present, ever-available comfort to each of us, including the loved ones of those who have immolated themselves.

If we feel helpless in the face of such events, like the Psalmist, we can affirm in prayer that God “ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations” (66:7). I find it useful to keep my prayer simple with the strong, vast spiritual facts about God and everyone’s relationship to God; to pray to understand more of the allness of God and what God knows about His-Her own nature and creation – meaning every man, woman, child, and creature. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded the Monitor, wrote, “For God to know, is to be; that is, what He knows must truly and eternally exist” (“No and Yes,” p. 16).

Letting the allness of God’s goodness enter my heart with trust that its power is the only governing force, I understand that God, divine Love, knows each one of us as His child, indestructibly linked to the allness of good. As God is the Mind of each of us, we can know, too, that this goodness belongs to everyone eternally and can never be taken away from anyone, even in the midst of devastating events such as self-immolation. Although it may be difficult to release the sadness of such events, praying wholeheartedly to accept these spiritual truths reveals that our only real Life is God, untouched by any destructive element. Contrary to what material evidence is saying, we are cared for in this Life forever. In the allness of Love, there is no other power waiting in the wings to impel tragedy of any sort. Love preserves and values its own likeness, which is our only real identity.

These spiritually logical facts, cherished in prayer, must hold true for those contributing to desperate conditions as well as for those who feel oppressed. Our prayers that acknowledge the power of Love to safely and tenderly maintain its creation can help preserve what is enriching and worthy about culture, religion, and language. It opens dialogue where needed and awakens those in government positions to work toward policies that bring about more freedom and rights for everyone involved.

Although much overturning is needed on the human scene, divine Love can restore hope and transform life. Why? Because right now Love holds each one of us dear and precious, and always will.

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