In the Foreword to this revised & expanded edition, professor Nicholas Wolterstorff rightly observes that this text is more than just an effective suicide prevention manual. The book contextualizes preventive therapy in a theoretical analysis of the dynamics of suicide by means of a psychological, historical, theoretical and practical approach. Each individual needs to maintain balance between the dimensions of individuation & attachment. The authors show the way out of the traps of engagement & enmeshment. The illusion that breeds nihilism and the cure are identified most compellingly by comparing classical Greek literature with the Bible; striking attitudinal contrasts emerge about life, human worth and the nature of the Divine. By restoring hope, Covenantal Therapy counteracts the bleak view of life as a meaningless struggle. The history of the rise & fall of civilizations mirrors that of the despairing individual who moves towards self-destruction. Combining their knowledge of psychology & history, Kaplan & Schwarz investigate Greco-Roman, Biblical & Post-biblical perspectives on suicide in order to better understand the phenomenon in contemporary culture. A brief survey of religion and suicide in the introduction acknowledges the work of Durkheim, Alvarez, Bayet and Fedden.
Part One proceeds from Hamlet's famous words through those of inter alia Dante, Kant, Voltaire, Madame de Stael, John Donne, David Hume. The authors accept Durkheim's three varieties, i.e. egoistic, altruistic and anomic; the first is associated with insufficient bonding to society, the second with inability to differentiate self from surroundings whilst the third results from confusion or disruption of societal ties. Suicide in Homeric, Classical Greek & Hellenistic thought is explored through the figure of the 'epic hero' and the writings of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, the Cynics, Epicureans & Stoics. Next, Kaplan & Schwarz examine Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. The Hebrew account of creation differs markedly from the Greek as do the concept of the soul/body relationship and the meaning of heroism. It's evident that Christianity absorbed strains of Greek thought at an early date: the body/soul dichotomy, asceticism, an intense preoccupation with the next life that may devaluate this one, and the centrality of martyrdom which often promoted the active pursuit of it. John Donne's reflections on the crucifixion show insight; in Christianity two schools of interpretation exist. The positive emphasizes the altruism of the sacrifice whilst the morbid resembles Greek myth's death fetish. William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience is recommended.
Part Two deals with individual case studies in Greek literature and Biblical narratives, contrasting the fatalism of the famous tragedies with interventions in scripture; the authors warn against rigidity of thought and the irreconcilable extremes of dialectical thinking. Narcissus & Jonah represent cycle versus development; other interesting subjects are Camus versus Ecclesiastes, Sphinxes & riddles, Sophocles, Euripides and the personalities of the pantheon, all in dire need of therapy if not euthanasia! In the first Addams Family movie, Dr Gretha Penterschloss diagnosed Gomez's nervous ailment as "Projection," whereupon both he & Morticia eagerly enquired whether it were Unpleasant. 'Deeply,' she replied triumphantly, to their perverse delight. I agree; what lurks in the collective subconscious is indeed sordid and disturbing. However, probing the mud at the bottom does not clear the water. Freud ought to be recognized as a genius of diagnostics, not as a healer.
Part Three explores marriage/family case studies on polarization versus growth as reflected in Prometheus & Pandora and Adam & Eve, the suicidogenic structure of the Greek family evident from Oedipus & Electra, the life-promoting structure of the Biblical family as revealed through Ruth/Naomi and the story of Isaac. Different approaches to sibling rivalry emerge in Oedipus' curse and Jacob's blessings on his sons. Part Four addresses contemporary confusions about life & death with an analysis of Dr Kevorkian's views, the Hippocratic Oath and the beautiful Physician's Prayer of Moses Maimonides. The penultimate chapter sets forth the Biblical case against 'rational suicide' by comparing the words of Job with those of Zeno the Stoic. The expression itself is evaluated through the work of James Werth, the Terri Schiavo case and current trends in bioethics, e.g. Peter Singer.
In the final chapter, the authors convincingly argue the case for Covenantal Psychotherapy as antidote to suicidal impulses. Commencing with the interface between mental health & faith, they address Freud's hostility to religion and modern psychiatry's foundation on Greek thought in which the lack of hope promotes suicide. As a loving father, the God of Israel does not demand the impossible, explicitly tells mankind to choose life and intervenes when hope seems lost as in the cases of Moses, David, Jonah and Elijah. Hope shields the soul against both fatalistic determinism & the delusions of the doomed hero. Covenantal therapy seeks to transform the family & individual by rekindling hope through phases of separation, protection and integrated development. Where the family cannot be healed, the person must be removed & protected from its destructive influence. Time is linear, life is meaningful and the law of cause & effect is subject to Spirit. As the rainbow was given as a promise and symbol of hope, there's another promise concerning the Oedipus affliction, in the book Malachi: 'I will send you Elijah ... he will return the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.'
Figures & tables help to elucidate the text. There are 15pp of bibliographical references, a general index and one of selected classical texts plus scriptural indices for the Tanach, New Testament, Babylonian Talmud, Midrash and the church fathers. Since so many psychologists, following Freud, have disdain for religion it's unlikely that Covenantal Therapy will reach a broken world via that avenue. My hope is that healers in other disciplines, counselors and individuals who care about others study the work and apply the remedy in order to save life and infuse it with purpose again. This book is a Balm of Gilead to heal the wounded soul.