Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

Despite the fact that Liz Spikol is messhuggeneh, she linked to an amazing blog with a Christian perspective on depression. (I’m ashamed I didn’t find it before!) I’m pleased and excited that a Christian in the blogosphere finally has the correct approach to mental illness.

CLIFFS NOTES VERSION: Christians have a very limited understanding of depression, suicide, and other various forms of mental illness even though there are SPECIFIC examples in the Bible. Christians need to learn how to take care of those with mental illness or they may very well isolate the people they are called to love.

(The rest is a half-finished personal background. You can stop reading here if you choose to.)

I mainly grew up Catholic until I was 16, at which point I decided to become a born-again Christian and changed my denomination to Baptist. Catholicism taught me that suicide would plunge me straight to hell and I needed an escape from what I deemed my sinful, miserable condition (I mean that in the emotional sense of the word). By 15, I was seriously looking for any kind of faith to grasp onto – Buddhism, Islam – anything that offered hope, because seriously, Catholicism just wasn’t doing it for me. I put in my one hour to God, did confession, like, once every two years (mainly because I attended Catholic school all my life), and went on my merry way in continued misery.

I became a born-again Christian because I was depressed and needed hope. The preacher at the church I visited basically told me from the Bible that I was a sinner, I was depraved, there was nothing good in me and that for me to be redeemed – for me to be good – I needed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Don’t do anything except believe.

The whole sinner, depraved part appealed to me. Preachers don’t need to convince me that I’m a horrible person – I knew that already because I carried that thought in my mind. The fact that believing in Jesus Christ was my only way out seemed too easy, too simplistic. But when you’re desperate, hey, you’ll try anything.

So I prayed and asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart and save me from sin, save me from hell. And according to the Bible (Rom. 10:13), he did.

I lived depression-free for about a year, but became entrenched in legalism of the church. I grew up noticing that – guess what? – Christians are fallible too. And God didn’t take my depression away. This shook my faith to its core. I thought I’d been “delivered”! Wasn’t God faithful? Wouldn’t he adhere to his promises?

I spent the latter part of my adolescence in a church that Christian circles call “IFB.” Independent Fundamental Baptist. These are the Bible-thumping Christians that shout hell in your face, knock on your door, and hand out pamphlets on the street. (No – not the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re a different breed.) I even attended a conservative Christian college for a year and half (the college that my husband graduated from).

The mentality of fundamental/conservative Christian is legalistic. By the standards of my old church, I’m currently a “liberal.” I wear pants, I sometimes dress immodestly (not slutty but I need to appeal to my husband every now and then!), I advocate gay rights (this puts me way out in left field), I don’t solely use the King James version of the Bible, and I’ve been to churches that don’t only sing hymns.

Oh, and I was really bad last year: I worked on Sundays.

With this kind of approach to life, it’s easy to see where I’m going when it comes to mental illness. Pastor B. — the first pastor who my father and I grew as Christians under — expressed dissatisfaction at me taking medication when my depression and suicidal attempts came to light. Pastor B. also made the following comment about my father when he suffered from severe schizophrenia: “A man shouldn’t just quit his job and not work. You know the Bible says that a man who does not work does not eat. Sometimes I wonder if your father’s saved.”

OK – I don’t care if you’re a Christian or not – WHO says that to a person’s daughter??? I was enraged. I thought to myself, “Oh my goodness, you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about. Jesus cured people with mental illness and you’re dissing my father?”

My uncle said my depression/suicidal attempts was I didn’t pray enough, read my Bible enough, believe in God hard enough. I can’t tell you how much I did; I was so desperate for anything.

And then my father took Christianity to the extreme during his severe schizophrenia episode: he quit his job, he prayed all day and all night, listened to a Christian radio station in between prayer, got on his knees and read the Bible all the time. It got to the point where he laid a blanket on the floor in my parents’ bedroom and slept (when he did) and would get up and repeat the cycle. He neglected hygiene; he stopped eating – or began fasting, as he put it. However, he never stopped fasting. He widdled down from 185 lbs. to Nicole Richie-proportions.

And no pastor had the right to be making judgments about my father when I saw all this going on.

Okay, okay, so I’m going on a long rant and you’ve probably stopped reading by now but my point in general is the above in the Cliff Notes version: Christians have a very limited understanding of depression, suicide, and other various forms of mental illness even though there are SPECIFIC examples in the Bible. The people who claim to take the word of God literally are some of the very same people who twist the Bible to suit their own preferences against what it really says. Jesus healed the mentally ill and didn’t judge them. Even the Old Testament God took care of the prophet Elijah when he was depressed and fearful. In the entire Book of Job, Job questions God and continually asks for death and curses the day he was born (BTW – it’s one of my favorite books). Mental illness runs rampant throughout the Bible. There are no cures; we humans are left to our own devices unfortunately. But the article that Spikol linked to emphasizes an important point: Christians need to learn how to take care of those with mental illness or they may very well isolate the people they are called to love.

There'll probably be a part 2 to this since I'm off to the psychiatrist to defend my right to not ingest Seroquel — many thanks to Furious Seasons for the warnings and important information.

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." — Jesus in John 13:35

2 thoughts on “Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

  1. Marissa,
    This is an incredibly moving story. Why you, several times, doubted whether it would be interesting is beyond me.
    Anyway…someday I’d like to talk to you about religion/Christianity. I have a story too. But I became disillusioned. (sp?)
    Jesus still haunts me from time to time, but I’ve never been able to come to terms with fundamental Christians I guess…and the idea of eternal damnation for ANYONE.
    You seem to have dealt with these issues for yourself. I simply have to many intellectual impediments to faith. I wish it were different. I would love to have faith. I’m not sure you’ll get this comment as this is an old post, so I’ll email it to you too.

  2. Great topic to move forward Marissa. The entire religion issue.
    I’ve got quite a background with this. My mom is a PhD Prof ;retired yet still teaching on Sundays, as well as spec speaker Prof all over.Archaeologist; chemistry background. She’s a Pastor too.
    I’m pretty sure you can imagine the lectures I’ve heard.
    Guess what? My life motto is:
    Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.
    The rest is guilt. They can lay it on pretty damn heavy; go to hell if you kill yourself; depression is a Satan attack.
    Yes, that’s right.I have been told all of my life’s “problems” are Satan attacks. [just send me a Hallmark!] When I was in 7th grade and didn’t want to go to church; my mom told me I had to be on the church property or else. So I signed up to work in the 3 year old nursery at the local Calvary Chapel.
    My mom was happy that I was surrounded by Godly [screaming toddlers] people.
    I became disgusted with church politics.
    Looking forward to your series on suicide and religion.
    Good work here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s