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.

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22 thoughts on “Christianity & Depression: A Feature, Not A Flaw

  1. They just don’t give up do they SB? πŸ™‚

    No matter how sweet-sounding the message, the bottom line is the same – “You must be the problem because (my) god can do no wrong – and it loves you in spite of your flaws!”.
    And they think there’s not a thing wrong with the insinuation. I’ve got to hand it to you, though. Your diplomacy is awe-inspiring! πŸ™‚
    (and just so you know, I have to edit the profanity I’d really like to add to my comments)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. As I look back on my “saved life” from my new and better vantage point, I’m amazed I didn’t see what you’ve pointed out. You’re so totally correct! Every human being is Wretched. Evil. Selfish. Despicable. Rebellious. Bad … bad … bad!! And even after Jesus makes them “all better,” they have to constantly remind themselves (and others) of this evilness that dwells within the core of their nature.

    Sheesh! I’m soooo glad I’m not a part of that anymore. And I’m so glad YOU aren’t part of it anymore either.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Man do I identify with the struggle you describe. One of the most dramatic benefits of my apostacy was becoming empowered to deal with my own depression.

    I have tried time and time again to explain to my wife exactly what you are talking about here, about the inherent negative mental state encouraged and often demanded by even moderate Christianity. She just can’t seem to separate that negativity from the “good news.”

    Thanks for sharing your struggles. Like you said in the post you linked, being able to share and hear from others who have been through the same is essential to dealing with depression.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a problem that some Christians remind me of as well, especially when they try to offer the good news again (because obviously I never heard it before). Really, a simpler way to describe the negative parts of things is to ask why it’s called salvation to begin with. When you get them to give a more specific definition than “sin,” the negative view of humanity comes out.

      Being free of it helps so much. I’m happy you’re able to find ways to deal with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Even after a person is “saved,” they’re still not “good.” According to the dogma, any good that a believer does is actually due to the Holy Spirit working through them. In conversation with a believer once, he asserted that the good that I do comes from being made in his god’s image. He would not accept it when I quoted Psalm 14 (The fool says in his heart, β€œThere is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good) because apparently there are some atheists who do good, and there you have it! Cognitive dissonance. I don’t know how they live with it.

    I have a believing acquaintance who says she sins a thousand times a day. I don’t know how she finds the time–it must take some serious planning. Also, is that something one should be proud of? LOL! It is a relief to be free of it, to be a good person because I choose to be, and to know that I’m a good person in my own right, not because something is pulling my strings.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You can really get your sin numbers up if you believe every bad thought you have is a separate sin. All you need to do is have murderous, hurtful, and salacious thoughts constantly to rack up some impressive totals. Still, regardless of how a person gets there, such boasts are not healthy.

      Plus, the whole notion of people not being able to do good on their own is a really awful implication of the faith at times.

      Like

  5. This topic is exactly what my blog is about; we get so caught up in the depression that we forget that Jesus has the power to defeat death, much less depression. But when we become ill, it is easier for Satan to convince us that God has forgotten us, or is even against us, when in reality, Jesus is just waiting for us to surrender to Him so that He can take over, and fight with us; for us. He loves us enough to give us trials, but he also loves us enough to battle them with us. ❀

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  6. It honestly breaks my heart to read your thought here. Mainly because it seems the church failed you a great deal. I will agree that much of church discussion revolves around how “in our flesh” how we are not good enough. But this, as I’m sure you know, is only part of the story. I too struggled with sin and condemnation for many years because I could never really gain freedom and would always feel bad about myself. Then God changed my life. You see, I had been trying to walk my Christian life by the very same man that was supposed to have died with Jesus on the cross (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:6). It just never worked. I always viewed the Christian life as a battle but to me it has become more of a daily leaning upon God. When I did this something entered my life that made it all come into focus; that is His purpose for me. I immediately felt Grace like I’ve never felt before come over my life and addiction, apathy, and condemnation was broken over my life and I began to hear God’s voice. All of the sudden giving up little things I so desperately held onto was easy.

    My point in posting is that even though you say you don’t. Relieve now don’t give up. Just give God a chance; not men who will obviously disappoint. A book that opened my eyes to the way the Christian life should be lived in a booked called “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee. Read it, it changed my life. If you ever feel like talking please message me. I don’t mind trying to help. I try not to be judgmental and either way you will be in my prayers.

    Blessings,
    Nick

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there!

      It’s actually comments like the one you left here that inspired the post above. The church didn’t fail in its mission to relate the meaning of Christianity to me; it taught me everything I needed to know about the faith, including attempts to gloss over the negative bits. They worked for over three decades.

      However, I cannot ignore the negative messages any longer. That’s the main thrust of this post. Although I am sure you are happy in your own faith views, this does not inherently mean other people will get the same effect if they reconsider Christianity. The views you have expressed have not addressed my criticisms of the faith other than to pretend they don’t exist.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks so much for your post – really helpful for sure – I’ve started processing the subject of faith and depression in my blog (www.helpfulpastor.com) – to process what I’ve learned but with a prayer that it will help others – as your post has –

    Like

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