WTC Jumpers and the Afterlife

The other day, one of my cow-irkers was rambling on about how everyone who jumped from the WTC towers on 9/11 is currently in hell because by jumping they committed suicide. Now, I don’t expect to find positive proof of this, but I am curious if any religious group (other than fringe whackos like Phelps) says that the folks who jumped are suffering eternal damnation.

Jehovas witness are a safe bet—though they think everyone except them is going to hell, so that’s not worth much. shrug

Dang. We’re in GQ. First four tries to write a response deleted accordingly.

I have to leave now because it’s not professional for me to sit at my desk and cry.

Tell them to look into the concept of “Purgatory.” They’ll want to know about it before they get there.

Weren’t they jumping to save themselves?? I think the alternative to burning to death or getting crushed by a falling building was to jump and hope to land on a nice soft tree or ??

So no, they aren’t in hell right now.

This is NOT a direct response to the OP, but it could be argued that jumping from a burning building is not suicide. There’s at least a minute chance you’ll land in a passing hay truck or something… no man survives 3000 degrees fahrenheit. Some men do survive 20,000 foot falls.

JWs don’t believe in hell. They believe that, at the end of the world (which is going to happen before the generation of 1914 has passed… erm, soon), JWs will be resurrected and 144,000 individuals, who have already been selected, will go to heaven. Non-believers won’t go to hell, they just won’t be resurrected.

I would argue that if the choice is staying in a 1500 F inferno - which will surely kill you - or jumping off the 110th story, you might actually live slightly longer after the jump than you would in the burning building. So staying is suicide and jumping is actually choosing to live as long as possible.

Anyhow - I think the Catholics, at least, recognize that crazy people aren’t responsible for their actions, so if a crazy person kills themself then it’s not necessarially instant damnation. So if you’re driven crazy by being burned alive it might be an excusable offense. Likewise, *intent * counts for a lot in these situations. If you’re jumping with the intent to kill yourself that’s hell for you - if you’re jumping without thinking through the consequences, just to get away AWAY AWAY form the flames, then that might not count against you.

I went to Catholic school.

If you posed this sort of question to a Nun she would answere that they when the jumper saw the ground fast approaching they probably felt sorry they jumped and thus God forgave them their sin.

The Jewish interpretation is that someone who commits suicide while “of unsound mind” is not held guilty of suicide. And, of course, everyone who commits suicide is (at least temporarily) considered to be of unsound mind. Hence, a neat legalism to get around the ancient concept of suicide as “sin.”

However, the notion that someone would be punished in some perverse afterlife, because when faced with the certainty of burning to death, they jumped… that notion is sick.


You nailed it for Catholics. Mental health has recently (well, recently for the Church) been recognized for some “non-sinfull crimes”. Not sure the actual term, but you get the idea. I haven’t seen anything in the Catechism about jumping from buildings on fire, but I’d suspect God would appreciate the effort.

God bless the victims of 9/11.

Here is a fairly recent piece setting out mainstream contemporary Catholic thinking on (conventional) suicide victims.

It doesn’t address the WTC situation, but it’s fairly obvious that, if you accept this view of conventional suicide, you couldn’t possibly believe that the WTC jumpers were lost to salvation.

Joseph Heller is Jewish, isn’t he? That sounds very close to the premise of Catch-22. (But in a nice way. Catch-22 is usually cited as a way of trapping people. Here, to the contrary, it’s used to cut them some slack.)

I was trying to think of some way to phrase this. You nailed it, CK.

Conventional, orthodox Catholic speaking.

The people who jumped from the WTC had no options that didn’t include a horrible death. Staying in the building meant burning to death, which would have been tantamount to suicide, anyway.

Catholic teaching has long been that suicide is sinful because it’s a rejection of a precious gift, life, that God has given us. But on 9/11, none of the jumpers WANTED to die! Given any possible way of living to see another day, I’m sure all of them would have taken it.

Since there was no conscious choice to throw their lives away, I can’t see how ANY of them could be thought of as sinners. And I’ve never heard a single Catholic clergyman suggest that those people did anything wrong.

No way. These people were murdered. When the planes hit the towers, their fate was sealed. Those below the impact had a prayer of getting down the stairs, those above the impact were beyond hope from that moment. They had no life to give up. In addition, the extreme stress of the situation was more than a person should be expected to bear. Personally, I think most suicides are forgiven as a product of temporary insanity but I leave it to God to decide. I believe in a just and loving God, and to think that the WTC jumpers would be punished for speeding up their deaths after having been already murdered is not consistent with my concept of God.

Postscript: Those of us who are Christians worship a man who, while experiencing a slow, horrible death, called out “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

It seems to me that Jesus knows and understands better than any of us what it’s like to be trapped, in pain, and facing with certain death. He also knows first-hand what it’s like to feel alone and abandoned by God. So, I don’t think Jesus would have any trouble forgiving people who experienced the same thing.

Thanks, guys. I was so mad after reading the OP yesterday that I couldn’t come up with an answer.

Not exactly, I’m afraid.

Please note that there are some legal consequences of a suicide as well; the most famous of which is that the family of a suicide does not sit shiva for the deceased.

While it is true that every benefit of the doubt is given to the suicide in making this determination, there is no “blanket dispensation” of “well, he must’ve been insane.” If it was clear that the person was committing suicide and knew what he was doing, then the full effect of the law takes place.

As to the question of the OP… having never (thank God) been in a situation even remotely similar to that, I certainly won’t be making any judgements about the state of mind of the people who jumped from the WTC. Far better to leave the call to Him who did know their state of mind.

Zev Steinhardt

Well, according to Catholics, don’t you have to confess your sins to a priest before you die lest you end up in Hell (or at least Purg)? Even if jumping for it wasn’t considered a sin in God’s eyes, I’m sure the jumper did SOMETHING naughty in the intervening time period.