(Editorial Comment from host RJ Evans on his American Heathen® radio show – Air Date 04/29/11)
“Pray for me.” These words fill me with horror. For they are the last written words of a southwestern Minnesota girl by the name of Paige Moravetz, age 14. What was supposed to be, by all appearances, a sleepover with her girlfriend Haylee Fentress, turned out to be a secret suicide pact between two best friends, a date with finality. Bullied by students at the middle school they attended, two beautiful little girls fought to hold onto their dignity. But, in the end, they felt they could no longer bear the weight of life’s cruelty. Instead of reaching out for help, the two girls decided life wasn’t worth living. Their decision, and the haunting last three words Paige Moravetz wrote in her suicide note, have possessed me for this past week. I know the desperation of false hope.
When I was a teenager, the same age as Paige and Haylee, I too decided that life wasn’t worth living. But, in my case, the pain had nothing to do with being bullied. Nevertheless, my pain and their pain, and the pain of millions of other teens, was/is very real. Suicidal thoughts, actions… they somehow become the ultimate panacea. Regardless of circumstances, our immature minds at that age cannot comprehend the finality of death, the absoluteness of the end of life. Fantasies of death… of looking down from some supernatural perch to see throngs of people, who did us wrong, being forced to live with the guilt of our passing and their transgressions against us… This is somehow very comforting to our young minds. Add to this euphoria, an all-powerful being who embraces the downtrodden in a heavenly abyss, void of pain and suffering, and the enticement to surrender to life’s challenges becomes palatable, and for some, easy. This begs the question: Is religious belief sentencing children to death?
When I was 14 years old, thoughts of suicide were never far from my mind. In fact, it was more than that. I continually dreamed of escaping the pain of my childhood dysfunction by taking myself out. I was a believer back then. The idea that jesus, that a god, had a wonderful place for me… I would imagine the look on my parents face as they looked down at my empty shell lying peacefully in a coffin. I wanted to look down and see them crying, to see them feeling guilt and shame. I wanted them to suffer as I suffered. I wanted all the kids who had picked on me, ignored me, shunned me… I wanted all of them to feel my pain, my suffering. I would imagine the scene at my funeral, and all the folks who really loved me blaming all those who discarded me. All the while, I would also imagine being comforted by my jealous, vengeful, and all-powerful god. This powerful and compelling notion, a dream of being held tightly in the arms of an all-powerful being, of the living forced to endure my pain in their lives… It made it very easy. Yes, it made it very easy. My first fist full of over the counter sleeping pills almost did the trick. And, then a second, and then a third, and then a fourth… Or, how about the time I slammed 100 extra strength Tylenol with a can of Hawaiian Punch, a quick get out of life free card on the way to an everlasting life with the only one who loved me. Yes. Jesus was the answer to my pain. Death wasn’t death at all. It was simply a way to escape the ravages of my life. Jesus would comfort me. Heaven awaited me.
The Bible says nothing against the act of suicide. You won’t find a single scripture that forbids it. Yeah, you’ll find one that suggests it isn’t a good idea. But, it is just a suggestion after all. In fact, the Bible touts death as good. Yeah, it’s bad if you die at the hands of god. But, when the just die, well… it was simply their time, god works in mysterious ways, and heaven awaits those who are just. Children are just, aren’t they? Indeed, their innocence precludes them from being damned. Unless, of course, they smite their parents. However, Jesus loves the little children and heaven is a wonderful place. What about life? Well, it’s ok, but there are so many wicked people in the world. In fact, we’re all born wicked, sinful, broken. Confusing isn’t it? When one considers how confusing it is for adults, and the myriad of interpretations of the bible bantering about… Imagine how confusing it is for a child.
What did Paige believe? What did Haylee believe? Did they believe in life after death? Were they taught about jesus and god, heaven and hell? Did they embrace the indoctrination and use it to justify their escape, as I did? Did they envision themselves looking down from some heavenly perch watching throngs of people who did them wrong hanging their heads in guilt and remorse for being so cruel and uncaring?
Paige wrote on her Facebook page, “I’m so nervous and I just want to get it over with. I love you, Paige.”
What was she nervous about? I know what Paige was nervous about. I was anxious to get it over with as well. Although I didn’t know what to expect, I knew what I had been taught about Jesus, and that was all. The questions that went through my mind back then were numerous. Would it hurt to die? Would god greet me when I was dead? Would he be mad or would he hug me? What would heaven really be like? Or, would I go to hell? Does Jesus love me? What will my folks think and do? And, on and on and on and on… The questions were endless. Nervous? Yes. And, it’s to be expected. But, not for the questions as much as the built-in natural process of survival. Self-preservation. But, can self-preservation be trumped by religious conviction? Unfortunately, it’s too late to ask Paige or Haylee.
Children are impressionable. They are easily manipulated. If they are taught that there is life after death, they will believe it and hold onto it. It is this idea… life after death, and the idea that a god exists who will embrace them, love them, and shelter them from harm… these are reasons for a child to run away from life when life seems unbearable. Given the right circumstances children, and adults, will use their religious belief as a utopian safety net, sparing them the pain and cruelty of life. Their threshold for reality is lowered. Whether it’s to fulfill a passion for martyrdom, or escape life while punishing those left behind, death by suicide is an allure that cannot be minimized. Religion feeds irrational thoughts, and reality loses its importance. But, in reality, heaven and hell are not options. They are toxic ingredients of the poisonous brew that is religion.
How did I survive attempts to end my life? It wasn’t jesus or god, or any supernatural entity that kept me alive. It was medical science, skilled human beings, self-preservation, and a lot of luck. Fortunately for me, I managed to survive long enough to mature and see through the heavenly charade. But, I can’t stop thinking about two little girls who, if they only understood the gravity, the finality, the reality of death, the fiction of religion… If they had only taken one moment to reach out, to ask for human intervention, human compassion, human love, the touch of a human hand, a human embrace…
The only hope we have my friends… the only hope children have… in reality… is us.