Ask Jennifer Michael Hecht Anything

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 6 2014 @ 3:00pm

From her bio:

Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, philosopher, historian and commentator. She is the author of the bestseller Doubt: A History, a history of religious and philosophical doubt all over the world, throughout history. Her new book is Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, out from Yale University Press. Her The Happiness Myth brings a historical eye to modern wisdom about how to lead a good life.  Hecht’s The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology won Phi Beta Kappa’s 2004 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award “For scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity.”

Popova loved Stay, insisting that the book is “more than a must-read — it’s a cultural necessity”:

Hecht argues that, historically, our ideologies around suicide have set us up for “an unwinnable battle”: First, the moralistic doctrines of the major Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam condemned suicide as a sin that “God” forbids, one more offensive than even murder because you were stealing directly from divinity with no time left for repentance — a strategy based on negative reinforcement, which modern psychology has demonstrated time and again is largely ineffective. Then came The Enlightenment, whose secular philosophy championed individual agency and, in rebelling against the blind religiosity of the past, framed suicide as some sort of moral freedom — a toxic proposition Hecht decries as a cultural wrong turn. Reflecting on such attitudes — take, for instance, Patti Smith’s beautiful yet heartbreaking tribute to Virginia Woolf’s suicide — Hecht makes the case, instead, for two of history’s relatively unknown but potent arguments against suicide: That we owe it to society and to our personal communities to stay alive, and that we owe it to our future selves …

The Dish featured the arguments of Stay here and Hecht’s ideas about atheism here and here, part of a thread asking, “Where are all the female atheists?” Let us know what you think we should ask Jennifer via the survey below (if you are reading on a mobile device, click here):


[SURVEY NOW CLOSED]