Spiritual Depression and Various Offers of a Cure
In a recent post here HeIsSailing offered this wonderful glimpse into his soul:
But I want to believe. I want to believe that there is hope for us here on earth, comfort for the sick and needy, help for the helpless and love for the unloved. I want to believe in assurance for abundant life here on earth, and everlasting life in the hereafter. I want to believe that I will spend all eternity with my wife, the woman that I love. I want to believe there is hope in the future, there is relief when I get older, and there is confidence of my eternity.
Oh, how I can believe this! I have coined a similar type of feeling that I fall into, much like HeIsSailing. I call it spiritual depression. To me, and this is ONLY my definition and no one else’s, spiritual depression is that limbo of the gray area surrounding cognitive dissonance where you want to believe one thing, but your mind tells you something else. It’s the heart/mind dichotomy. Now depending on which viewpoint you take on the extreme spectrum of believer to atheist, there are different reasons for this depression and different cures for it. Neither view solves the dilemma and leaves one even more spiritual depressed.
Surprisingly, if you Google “spiritual depression” you get a preponderance of Christian web sites. All of them tout the cure for spiritual depression as “returning to God,” repenting, turning to the Lord once again. In other words, just give in and believe already! What’s wrong with you that you just can’t believe and get it over with??? That is the implied question isn’t it? This puts the blame for your depression squarely on your shoulders. You just didn’t have enough faith in God!
Well, autodidact that I am, I decided to look at the atheist/agnostic/feminist terms for spiritual depression, which I believe are: existential angst, nihilism, existential despair, looking into the abyss. In this definition, the atheist is faced with the despair of knowing you will die and there is nothing else. I’ve faced that as well. I don’t like the feeling, but we all have to face it. No wonder the pie-in-the-sky answer of an afterlife is appealing. Like HeIsSailing, I want to be with my spouse and kids in heaven. Hell, I even want my cats to be there too! But, there is no evidence this is so. All of these terms, from both sides of the spectrum, look at spiritual depression with or without the concept of God attached to them. I have a different take on spiritual depression. I look at it through the lens of alcoholism. Once having been a huge binge drinker at one point in my life, I know whereof I speak. So let me try to explain.
Like alcohol, Christianity is an intoxicant. It alters the way we think about ourselves and our lives. It gives us false confidence where we feel like we can handle anything. When we are drunk, we feel like we are the most witty, intelligent people on the planet. We lose our inhibitions. Like alcohol, Christianity is also addictive. We are given “tools” to keep us spiritually drunk with obsessive bible reading (devotions), praise music, close, tight-knit fellowship, and prayer. Like alcoholism, I believe some have Christianity in their “blood” or in their genetic makeup. Such a one will always tend toward faith and belief, no matter how hard they try to rid themselves of it, just like the alcoholic: it’s a disease. For these people the best program is to go cold turkey. When I try to go cold turkey from Christianity, I invariable have a driving desire to go back. Weak creature that I am, I will fall off the wagon occasionally, return to church, start reading the bible again, bargain with God, you name it; but eventually the high from the binge will end and reason will reassert itself. Believe me when I say that I am in no way denigrating the struggles of alcoholics by using this analogy. But it is the best analogy I’ve come up with to illustrate what Christianity is like for me. It’s a drug, plain and simple. When I’m not on it, I feel a general spiritual malaise, as if I’m just waiting for the next binge. I’m not happy with it and I’m not completely happy without it.
When reason comes back I know what it is I need to do, but I just can’t seem to do it. In my mind, I know Christianity is bad for me. It changes me into an ugly person. I don’t like myself when I am a Christian. I go on binges where I think just one more “sip” of church-going will help me feel better. Yet, I can’t just take one more “sip.” I have to go whole-hog and drink the whole bottle, six-pack, whatever. I immerse myself once again in bible reading, bible study, committees, church-going. I make promises I can’t keep. And then once the high is gone, I have to try an extricate myself from it. Like my teen years, I wake up in the morning and don’t recognize the face next to me in bed. “What the *$&& did I do last night?” This is always the question I’m left with.
Christian web sites say that to turn back to Christianity will cure me of my spiritual depression. They write:
It is the truest part of Christian love to address the problem of sin and the curse, which can only be cured by knowing Christ, as the ultimate answer to depression. (Found at http://www.reformationtheology.com/ 2006/ 06/ thoughts_on_spiritual_depressi.php)
Yet, they miss the point. More Christianity or more Christ is not the answer for those of us who feel deeply that there must be something more basically human than putting “on the nature” of someone else. There must be something epistemologically deeper than this to fill the void that is within my spirit. Christianity itself is just a Band-aid for something as yet unarticulated. Once I faced this existential angst of my own mortality I can move into freedom and action, or so they tell me. A summary puts it this way:
a. In choosing our own nature we must choose human nature for all humanity. In order to act freely, we must not let our action be determined by any of our particular desires or interests. We must act as any free agent would act, hence we must act as we would like other people to act.
b. In order to be free ourselves, we must desire the freedom of other people. To treat another person merely as an object for my use is to make an object of myself. To be free I must respect the freedom of others.
c. Even though my actions are free, they are not completely arbitrary. Just as the artist, while free to create, follows the constraints imposed by her medium, so our actions, while not governed by rules, are constrained by the choices we and others have made.
This is the closest my research has come to finding an answer for me. So now, how do I apply it without falling into the binge and purge cycle I’ve found myself in? Well, see there’s the rub. My mind says “Yes, yes!” but my heart says, “Yes, but….”