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Suicide and the Sociological Theories

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The society we live in determines and dictates our social characters and beliefs. The social and societal forces potentially affect our course of action and daily activities. Our personality and personal choice are highly influenced by the social forces within our living areas. This covers from our socio-economic to political actions that are dictated by the surrounding we reside in. The society has a power to influence individual’s decisions. For instance, in choosing our marriage partners, we tend to believe that the power of ‘love’ is the sole foundation (Clinard, & Meier, 2011). However, the research has established that it takes more than the mere emotional attachment. The choice of our marriage partners is influenced by social forces. Some of these forces that have a say in our personal choices include economic and financial power, religion, family background, education and other social determinants. This research paper focuses on suicide as a social issue and the sociological theories that attempts to explain this social vice. In particular, this paper attempts to determine the differences in the rate of suicide between the Protestants and the Catholics.

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A number of studies have shown that there is a significant difference in the rate of suicide among different religions. Comparing the two largest religions (Catholicism and Protestantism), it is observed that religion has a hand in the differences in the suicide rates. A study by Professor Becker and Ludger Woessmann demonstrated that there is a strong link in the rate of suicide between different religions, in particular the Catholics and Protestants. According to the research findings, it was revealed that Catholics are least likely to commit suicide as compared to the Protestants (Kornblum & Smith, 2011). The two professors further attempted to explain these differences using the self-selection theory which religion philosophy is founded on. As Professor Becker explained, the fact that Protestants are more prone to committing suicide than the Catholics, “but, whether that is because they act from a religious perspective is a different story. People might say that they become Protestants, not to commit suicide, of course, but they might elect to become Protestants for all kinds of reasons that happen to correlate with suicide behavior” (Berrios &Mohanna, 2010).

The research was aimed at establishing whether this high rate of suicide among Protestants was coincidental or causal. In the findings, they realized that such higher cases of suicide were causal. According to the findings, it was revealed that Protestants are three times likely to commit suicide than the Catholics. They draw a conclusion that Catholicism, as opposed to Protestantism, had the potential of reducing the rate of suicide among the faithful (Clinard & Meier, 2011; Kornblum & Smith, 2011). Although their study failed to offer a substantial explanation for these differences in the rate of suicide, they proposed three hypotheses to explain the role of religion in suicide.  

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The first hypothesis was founded on the individualism and communism theory of religion as explained by the founder father of sociology, Emile Durkheim. According to Durkheim, in his Suicide text of 1897, Protestants were more likely to commit suicide because of their religious ideologies that emphasized on individual autonomy or individualistic theology. Contrary to Protestantism, Catholicism places greater value on communism as they were communitarians (Berrios &Mohanna, 2010). Being an individualistic religion than congregation, during hard times or troubling moments, Protestants often find themselves alone without the support of fellow faithful. On the contrary, the Catholics believed in the power of congregating as a group and living as a community in times of trouble and tempting moments (Clinard & Meier, 2011).

Secondly, Woessman and Becker related the differences in the rate of suicide between these two religious groups on the variations in understanding of grace. The same hypothesis was held by sociologists who asserted that Catholicism teachings emphasized on the rewards and good fortunes that come from good work and punishments as the rewards for sinful acts. Protestants on their part believed that good deeds do not necessarily earn God’s grace (Berrios & Mohanna, 2010). As a result, sociologists believed that Catholic teaching and beliefs regarding suicide are more internalized and stricter than those of the Protestants hence, lower rate of suicide.

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Finally, it was hypothesized that Catholic’s regular confession of sins before the Catholic Priests, Pope, or Cardinals had a role in the differences in the rate of suicide between the Catholics and the Protestants. Protestants on their part do not recognize any form of sacrament. According to the Catholic religious ideology, it is only suicide that could not be confessed and get forgiven by the priests. This made catholics who believed in the power of confession as a way of avoiding Hell’s punishment to be least inclined to committing suicide (Berrios & Mohanna, 2010).

In conclusion, this research emphasizes on the power of social forces in our daily actions. For instance, religious difference contributes to the differences in the crime or suicide rates in the society. Even in the modern society, we realize that there is a significant difference in the rate of suicide. Globally, research revealed that when compared, men are often involved in suicide acts than women. These differences are explained by social, political, economic and communal factors. From the psychological point of view, women are stronger than their male counterparts, as they have stronger psychological and stress barriers that makes them withstand suicide attempt. It is from this point of view that we assert that the differences in the rate of suicide are explained by social forces. 

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