Before we really get into it, I would like to do a brief compare and contrast between what the medical community says and what Tim says about the possible causes for depression.
This list is collated from the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, and WebMD:
- Genetics/biology/brain chemistry/hormones
- Abuse or trauma
- Some medications
- Major events (death, birth, unemployment …)
- Substance abuse
- Serious illness
This is the list Tim gives us:
- Lack of self-esteem
- Discontentment and envy
- Serious illness
- Having a baby
- Being a workaholic
- Inadequate life goals
I don’t think I need to point out to you the reasons why these differences are significant.
What I would like to do now is highlight some of the claims that Tim makes in this chapter about these supposed “causes.” He’s building up to what he feels is a critical point, that all depression is a “spiritual” problem and is thus a “sin” problem. He does this by beating the crap out of his reader in sections like this:
One of the most common sources of disappointment in life is people … If love for ourselves is greater than love of the individual who insults us, we will take offense, become displeased, and progress quickly along the road to discouragement– the first stage of depression. If the hurt or insult is contemplated and nursed long enough, it will produce vexation and ultimately despair.
If you grew up in an environment remotely like what I did, you’ll recognize this: it’s a reprimand against bitterness. Tim spends two pages (49-50) arguing that the leading cause for depression is selfishness and bitterness. Depressed people, he says, are primarily people who got insulted and refused to let go of it. We refused to forgive. So we got depressed.
He doesn’t specifically address people who are refusing to “let go” of the “insult” of being abused. Yet.
Buried in the middle of cause No. 4 is “feminism”:
The modern emphasis on women’s lib and careerism for women will seriously compound this problem [of feeling “trapped in housework]. When I asked one woman, “What do you do?” she replied rather sadly, “Oh, I’m just a housewife and mother!” With this attitude growing rapidly today, we can expect depression to increase … Faulty mental values inevitably lead to depression.
With one of those “faulty mental values” being “feminism.” I’m not going to sit here and ignore all the times that some feminists have made women who choose unemployment feel inadequate and devalued for making that decision (a choice, I should note, that is only possible for middle-class families). However, this is a book written in 1974, when pretty much all of American culture expected women to deal with a horrific amount of nonsense. I’ve seen Mad Men.
Also, this statement reminded me very strongly of Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ claim that feminism leads to depression (well, they used the term “soul sickness” and said that feminism is “the way of death”), a claim they made in 2013.
Here’s a few more ways that Tim bludgeons his readers so he can later convince them that their depression is a sin:
If, for example, ample time for [the new mother’s] vitality and energy to return has passed but her depression has not departed, she is probably indulging self-pitying thoughts. (56)
One self-pitying woman used to wail, “I have nothing to look forward to.” Obviously she was spending too much time thinking about herself. (58)
Right. That’s the reason. Not biological or hormonal factors. Or maybe because she’s telling the truth about not having anything to look forward to. It’s because she’s throwing a big fat pity party and she just needs to get over herself. That last one is especially infuriating because I often feel that way, and it’s a big confusing jumble because I simultaneously love and hate my life.
Reasons why I love my life:
I have an awesome community of people who love me.
My job is fulfilling.
I live on the beach.
My life with my partner is incredible.
My cat adores me.
Reasons why I hate my life and have nothing to look forward to:
I. Cannot. Sit. Down. Because of a tailbone.
I will always and forever be in pain. Always. Forever.
I will have excruciating periods until menopause, which doesn’t seem much better.
I will never be able to eat apple pie.
I am a rape victim and my rapist will likely never see a day in prison.
For good measure, most rapists will never face justice.
I will probably struggle with anxiety and depression for the rest of my life.
I have to go outside and that consistently means being screamed at.
My brain, because of a lifetime of abuse, is pretty broken.
If Tim ever dared to look me in the eye and tell me that I’m a “self-pitying woman” who thinks about herself too much, I will … Well. I’d probably do something violent.
The chapter “is there a cure for depression” doesn’t need that much breaking down. He spends pages 60-71 misrepresenting therapy and medication, telling us a bunch of horror stories and ripping the words of psychiatrists out of context (Dr. Mortimer Ostow said that medication and therapy have to work together in order to truly help depressed patients, but Tim makes him say that medication is useless and terrifying on page 62).
He even conflates all depression medication with amphetamines and “diet pills” (in case you’re curious, yes that was a woman used in another example). I’m not a drug expert, but even the briefest and most cursory glance at Google told me this isn’t true– and wasn’t true in the 70s. The horror story he gives about therapy is about a woman who was– according to him– somehow forced into have sex with four different men and getting pregnant (70).
The rest of the chapter– 71-87– is a “Gospel” presentation. He says that depression “emanates from the God-vacuum within them” (79) and that no unbeliever can experience “abiding joy or have power to control those weaker parts of his nature” (80). Y’know, because depression only happens in weak people. The bulk of his argument is devoted to the “God-vacuum” and the “God-void” but which is more commonly known in evangelical parlance as “The God-Shaped Hole.”
I don’t have to break this down for you, because these people already have:
Tim uses that “God-shaped-hole” theory to argue that “Until an individual has access to the spiritual resources … he is incapable of coping with these primary causes of depression.” That argument should horrify and disgust us, but to people like Tim, it makes a certain sort of elegant and simple sense. He believes that depression– which he unfailingly describes as self-pity or bitterness- is a sin. Sin can only be solved, redeemed, “fixed” by Jesus. Therefore, the only way to treat depression is to become a Christian.
And book goes flying: #2.