Christianity & Depression: A Feature, Not A Flaw

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

A little while ago, I wrote this post drawing a line between the Christian beliefs I was taught and having Major Depressive Disorder. My reasons for doing so was to give perspective to people who might be doubting their faith while suffering from some other illness. When you’re in a faith like Christianity, there’s often a lot of pressure to maintain belief in spite of the hurt it’s causing. Indeed, I’ve received a lot of comments that missed that point and simply attempt to apply that pressure to me.

Dealing with this pressure from people who mean well reminds me of the other frustrations of trying to cope with mental illness while fending off religious attention. To put it bluntly, there are a bunch of things that religious people ignore when I talk about depression and Christianity. The biggest point that gets ignored is that depressive thinking is a feature and not a flaw of the religion. Here are a few reasons why.

Sin means we’re all not good enough.
Critical to the message of Christianity is that Jesus died to save people from their sins. Now, this belief can take a bunch of different specific forms, but the general gist is that everyone has an intrinsic flaw in their character. On a long enough timeline, people are going to do things that deserve eternal torment. Since there’s also an allegation that this punishment fits whatever crimes people commit, everyone must have done something truly awful.

One of the side effects of this thinking is that it encourages people to find things to blame themselves for. Not only that, but the whole setup creates a situation where everybody allegedly needs what the religion is offering. This means that nobody is good enough for the Christian deity.

The specifics of depression may differ from person to person, but this belief structure feeds any thinking that relies on self-doubt and self-punishment. There’s no reason to try to escape it because it’s cosmically endowed, a part of living itself. Only one relief is offered, but nobody really understands if they get it right until after they die. Until then, people are encouraged to need Jesus despite being messed up.

A great way to show that this isn’t an accident is by referring to the sheep/shepherd analogies frequently used in ministry. Kids get taught that Jesus looks out for them like a shepherd. Later on, people just get compared to the smelly animal that can’t function outside the flock. The message is simple: everyone needs saving from themselves.

Salvation is only one part of a macabre whole.
Every Sunday, people get to be reminded of these things. At least once a week, I got to have the ideas reinforced that I was no good without divine assistance. Despite the promises of that assistance, it still doesn’t negate the whole message.

This is why it’s a little disingenuous for the faithful to say that all of this is good news. It’s asking people to selectively ignore part of a whole. What escapes scrutiny is that the idea of people being intrinsically awful is necessary to this feel-good offer of salvation. Without it, nothing else works. So, even when someone is trying to just focus on how awesome Jesus is, the “awesome” part only exists because of how depraved humanity must be.

This is a feature, and not a flaw.
Regardless of how it’s explained, Christianity fundamentally asserts that people are intrinsically not good enough. “Incomplete,” “broken,” “sinful,” “wretched,” and many words like them are all I’ve heard over the years. Being able to ignore all of it and focus on the warm fuzzy feelings doesn’t negate that these things get told to everyone who goes to church on a regular basis. Rather, it’s just a petulant demand for people to give every excuse for a faith that devalues people.

I’m done with making excuses for my former faith. People are not inherently marred by their decisions. They don’t need to get divine permission to feel good about themselves.