Working as a teacher, I find myself indirectly always staying on top of the latest pop-culture and “teen” programs. This is sad because whenever I take the slightest interests in my student’s lives, immediately topics of sex, cursing, and overall lewd behavior are associated and I’m completely dumbfounded by their interests.
Last year I can definitely remember the 13 Reasons Why phase that swept through the school. Essentially the show recounts the horrible suicide of Hannah Baker and the box of cassette tapes detailing the 13 reasons thatf influenced her suicide. The box eventually lands to her close friend, Clay Jensen, and he discovers the High School around him and his part in her death.
The response from “conservative ” Christian outlets was very much a letdown. I saw and read a few op-eds with titles like “13 Reasons Why Teens Need God” and just supported their overall opinion with Bible verse after Bible verse. Nothing is entirely wrong with that, but I felt Christians dropped the ball to really embrace why mental health is a growing concern for many teens and young adults. Take for example The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the age of 10-24. That’s a huge age gap and near number one rank. Obviously, there is a growing need for the Church to help reach out to individuals struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Perhaps this is why teens and young adults can view the conflict of science vs religion when such grave matters are seen as being handled strictly at a spiritual level and not at a clinical aspect. It’s not like God denies or hates medicine. Nor is it that prayer is ineffective. Both science and religion can work hand in hand by assisting the person to overcome their sense of purposelessness or anxiety. We (Christians) should all be careful of indirectly perpetuating the culture’s misleading narrative on the war on science with religion when we advance a “Bible-only” perspective to address dire problems such as suicide.
At its core, no matter how the topic was depicted, the show discussed the growing need to address sexual assault amongst teens and young adults. Now, in today’s “#Me Too” movement the topic seems to be discussed, but leading up to the shows release last spring, our culture had begun discussing the issue at a federal and college level.
In 13 Reasons Why the character Jessica Davis, a former friend of Hannah Baker, was raped at a party by her boyfriend’s best friend. As the show progresses, Hannah reveals clues about what really happened and Jessica soon discovers about the incident. From there it becomes an emotional roller coaster for Jessica feeling betrayed, engaging in problematic risk-behaviors like alcohol and drugs to escape the horrible truth of the event.
As Christians, we should know that rape and its many forms (date rape, marital rape) is a huge intrinsic evil (an action opposite or opposed to natural law) and is against loving our neighbor. Fundamentally, rape is a threat to the dignity and worth of a person because the perpetrator forcefully violates the freedom and respect of the human person (CCC, 2356). As a result, Christians need to be aware of instances when such acts take place and handle them with love and charity. Advocacy is an important part of helping restore social justice!
The hardest part about the show is the on-screen suicide of Hannah Baker. There is a bathtub, her body laid in water. Cold, lifeless, soul yearning meaning in her own meaningless world. A very sad and graphic scene that was.
In contemporary society, I can’t think of any issue, besides abortion, that generates so many intense emotions than the end of life and human autonomy. This issue is becoming increasingly popular at the state level in America and is one of the biggest bioethical issues at the moment. Some feel that people have the right to kill themselves to relieve suffering and anguish. This ultimately creates a question of what is suffering and how much should be tolerated.
We need to understand that life isn’t a suffer-free life. Nowhere do we read that life will guarantee us to be impeccably unharmed.
Moreover, Catholicism displays the uniqueness of man created in the Image of God. With that, human life is bestowed a certain sacredness. As a result, Catholics see life from conception to natural death as the God prescribed way for life to begin and end. With that said, a human abridgment of life is a rejection of God’s love and love of self. Although, we like to think of those who’ve committed such an act as the “unforgivable sin”, we should ask God for his abundant mercy to reach for them. We as Christians should reaffirm the sacredness of life towards those who battle severe emotional instability such as suicide. This isn’t as easy as it sounds either!
I know from experience speaking to those with suicidal thoughts is hard. I can remember speaking to someone for about 2 months and trying to be there for them while they self-harmed themselves. All I could do is extend encouragement, suggest resources to help them overcome their sickness, and be someone positive in their life that truly wanted the good for them. There were days without cutting and I offered positive praise, but unfortunately, at times, they caved into temptation.
Speaking to this person made me realize how we’re called to perform acts of mercy. Remember Christ said, “you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matt 25:40 NRSV).” Although it may seem difficult, we should embrace those who suffer because it’s a part of loving our neighbor. It’s the way Christ showed us to be servants to others.
With that said, 13 Reasons Why is a good depiction of a radical individualistic culture that seeks a deeper purpose for their lives. Aside from its blatant desperation in need of higher love, the characters’ fixation on low-quality pleasure and temporal escapes leave them finding peace and comfort in things of the world rather than The One who created its foundations.
Need help or know someone who could benefit from suicide resources?
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline-Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours every day
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