Theology

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 49-87

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:

  1. Genetics/biology/brain chemistry/hormones
  2. Abuse or trauma
  3. Some medications
  4. Major events (death, birth, unemployment …)
  5. Substance abuse
  6. Serious illness

This is the list Tim gives us:

  1. Disappointment
  2. Lack of self-esteem
  3. Discontentment and envy
  4. Apathy
  5. Serious illness
  6. Biology
  7. Having a baby
  8. Being a workaholic
  9. Rejection
  10. 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.
Comic books.
Good food.
Naps.
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:

Atheism and Yearning by Greta Christina
When Beliefs are Too Big to Fail by Neil Carter

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.

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  • One self-pitying woman used to wail, “I have nothing to look forward to.” Obviously she was spending too much time thinking about herself.

    It makes a horrible kind of sense: If you think women shouldn’t expect to have anything to look forward to, but should only care about what they can do for men, then a woman who sees it as worth bringing up that she has nothing to look forward to is spending [>0=”too much”] time thinking about herself.

    (I wouldn’t take it in quite that harsh a light if most people had written the same thing–though it would be pretty appalling from anyone–but I’ve read enough of LaHaye’s other writing that the closest I can come to giving him the benefit of the doubt was when I typed “men” above rather than “Tim LaHaye.”)

  • Crystal

    Dear, poor Samantha. Please let me help make you happy. HUGS. Sad for you 🙁

    There is hope. There is always hope. For every day, every hour, every second that we are alive, that things WILL change and become better. For me, I affirm it through every lungful of air that I breathe, through every aroma of life, of every rain-drop thudding against the roof, through every tear, and yes (I hope you don’t mind my saying this as I’m stating it as the way it is for me, not for anyone else) through my monthly miracles and the red waves of joy that are released from my being, and the music I hear, and the songs my heart sings – I still am recovering from schizophrenia. I still feel terror of life, terror of adult responsibilities, terror and boredom at doing the things I’m supposed to do so I fritter the time away, but am trying to change that, though it leaves me in despair knowing I could do more yet choose to make choices that don’t benefit me (not talking about your articles; they DO benefit me). My apologies for my rant – I don’t want to come across as selfish and insensitive – but I WANT you to feel better because I believe that life WILL work out this way for you too despite the ups and downs, that it will get better, that you might even eventually overcome your depression and begin to feel far more joy than you do now. My point is that despite life’s difficulties there is always joy in being alive; that’s why I carried on the way I did. I want to impart my joy to you so strongly. I recover from a terrible mental illness and struggle yet am filled with sunshine and long for you to be happy too and apologise at the same time for I have no wish to sound heartless.

    As for Tim LaHaye, he is speaking from a position of Christian privilege. I can’t tell you how VEXING I find Christian privilege. He has obviously confused depression, a serious mental illness, with sadness and regret for poor life decisions – deliberately so. But hey! He’s a pastor, so he knows best / s

    • Crystal

      I am happy for all the times you enjoy life though so please know that too and I hope my words will comfort in times of sadness. Tears shed in my heart when you’re sad, sunshine rays beaming in my being when you’re happy – I thought you should know that.

  • Rebekah

    Depression meds as diet pills?? WUT. More like the other way around. I sure haven’t lost any weight since I started them and I’ve always heard weight gain as a side effect, not weight loss.

    So I’m going to assume he doesn’t believe in christians having depression? Or are we just supposed to pray more and stop pitying ourselves?

  • I haven’t read this book (and am not planning to), but just from what you have quoted, I am appalled at how gendered his opinions about depression are. Does he even believe that men can be depressed? Or does he just assume that we all act out violently to the same causes that drive women to depression. Gah!

  • Do you have any idea how good it feels to feel good (in my case with meds that help provide a neurotransmitter that is critical to feeling good.) after literally years of feeling like crap?

    I bet you do and I bet Tim has no idea what I’m talking about because of his Y chromosome and the privilege of being healthy and respected.

    Tim is La full of LaHaye like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, missing a brain…..

    I could while away the hours
    Conferrin’ with the flowers
    Consultin’ with the rain

    And my head, I’d be scratchin’
    While my thoughts were busy hatchin’
    If I only had a brain

    I’d unravel every riddle
    For any individ’al
    In trouble or in pain

    With the thoughts you’ll be thinkin’
    You could be another Lincoln
    If you only had a brain

    I would not be just a nothin’
    My head all full of stuffin’
    My heart all full of pain

    I would dance and be merry
    Life would be a ding-a-derry
    If I only had a brain

    He doesn’t but we do and I would hazard to guess God would be pleased if we used ours.
    In the meantime Mr. Le head full of LaHaye aside, I am enjoying feeling good, have stuff to look forward to, and why are men allowed, dare I say assumed to be self-centered without the heavy handed guilt trup?

    Time for the words selfish and self absorbed (with the companion word bitch much of the time) and their misuses particularly among conservative Christians that never seem to stop hatching books like this from their fertile little twisted minds. Just like “Bitter” and “Role” are triggers and I don’t continue the conversation when they’re used as weapons against me, don’t suggest I’m a self-absorbed bitch because I love myself. After all, Jesus used it as the standard by which we love others.

  • You are an amazing person, regardless the tailbone thing! I appreciate your efforts to show how life appears with you and regarding LaHaye, what an abusive ass…

  • We need to write a companion book: How to Win Over LaHaye’s Bullshit.
    Chapter 1: LaHaye is full of shit.
    Chapter 2: The entire Grinch song with “Mr. Grinch” replaced with “Tim LaHaye.”
    Chapter 3: Kittens!

  • Melody

    Have these writers followed the same How to write Christian Self-Help 101 class? It always seems to come down to sin as the great problem, Jesus as the great answer, and voilà everything is fixed…. sigh… (I prefer how to get away with murder 🙂 lol)

    I once saw this scheme (by Derek Prince, I believe but not entirely sure about that) where various different kinds of mental illnesses where heaped together and seen as demonic. Like this book, depression started with bitterness and ended into the ultimate sin of suicide whereas being bipolar began with anger with as final result demonic possesion (either a manic episode or psychosis). It made me so angry (at the time and still) because my mother is bipolar and she’s dealt with so much crap from well meaning Christians wanting to perform excorisms…. Ugh…

    • Crystal

      Which sin did schizophrenia start with? Just curious.

      • Melody

        Sorry, I don’t remember. I remembered the bipolar part because it made me so angry. I’ve did a bit of a google search but couldn’t find it, however, if you search in general for Derek Prince and mental illnesses there’s a lot of general information on his views.

    • To answer your question, yes. The bs began with a Reformed Presbyterian pastor named Jay E. Adams. Adams created an entire counseling methodology and movement around the idea of mental illness as sin. LaHaye, Prince, Powlison, MacArthur and all kinds of others have been influenced by this movement. It has fingers in everything, including gay conversion therapy and the abusive counseling that occurred at Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College. I wrote a whole series about it on my blog. Truly frightening stuff.

      There’s also a new book about it: The Failure of Evangelical Health Care. It talks about Prince and the demonology stuff.

      • Melody

        Hopefully blogs such as this one and yours, will create more awareness of the toxicity of this movement as it is harming far too many people. When they don’t have access to other information or counceling, people are at the mercy of these ideas with the potential of horrible outcomes.

    • Jenny E

      My mom, who also suffers from chronic depression, read a Kay Arthur study on “spiritual warfare” and became convinced that depression is demons attacking. She and my dad are also “biblical counselors” at her church, even though they have no counselor training beyond some kind of workbook. I love them, but I cannot have conversations about my mental health with them, and I’m just thankful that I am now out of their house and control, where I can get legitimate therapy and medication.

      Also, in regard to the “sin is the problem, Jesus is the solution” deal, a local church once re-posted an article from Mark Driscoll’s old Resurgence blog titled, “Jesus: Sin’s Final Solution”. Fortunately, the church took it down as soon as I pointed out that “final solution” was not a phrase they wanted to be associated with…

      • Melody

        Family of my mother have recently become more involved in this kind of thinking as well, believing that generational curses are responsible for various family problems. It’s difficult to deal with their new found zeal about these kind of things when we as a family are very sceptical and somewhat worried about it ourselves.

  • I had to stop when he blamed new mothers’ “self pitying thoughts” for post-partum depression. I can’t even finish your REVIEW post, let aloe ever think about reading this book. Good Lord Almighty this man wrote out sheer poison.

    He’d get on well with the FLDS and their “keep sweet” mentality.

  • For anyone suffering from depression, I recommend … [edit]

    • Craig,

      I have a comment policy in place for this series: new commenters are not permitted to make recommendations for any program or system or “cure”.

      You are welcome to participate in this community, but you need to establish yourself first as a decent person before you’ll be allowed to recommend anything.

      • Crystal

        I hope you don’t mind a curious inquirer querying why you would have such a policy in place – I’m not questioning the way you run your comments section or anything because of course you have a perfect right to have such a policy in place because it is your environment; I’m rather just inquisitive, that’s all.

        • trevel

          I would assume it’s because she’s good at pattern recognition. The odds of a new person showing up to a controversial(ish) series and making an actually helpful *and* respectful post approach zero. And I suspect the odds of such a person being offended by her policy is equally low, so it’s pretty safe either way.

          I could be wrong, of course, since I am neither Samantha nor authorized to speak on her behalf. 🙂

          • It’s that, so you’re good 🙂

          • Crystal

            Trevel and Samantha, thank you to both for the answer 🙂

          • KellyK

            I so very much approve of this policy. I don’t think drive-by medical/spiritual recommendations are of use to anybody, and they’re frequently condescending. (Obviously, I have no idea whether Craig’s specific comments fit that category…just that it’s a general pattern.) Recommendations made after you’ve gotten to know a person or gotten involved in a community are a lot more likely to be respectful and useful.

          • ako

            Yeah, even potentially helpful advice can turn unhelpful if it’s dispensed without understanding of the context of the specific person’s life or empathy for difficulties they may face in implementing it. If you don’t know what advice is helpful, you can end up doing more harm than good.

      • Crystal

        In case I didn’t make myself clear, I mean no impertinence by my question, and respect the way you choose to run your comments section while I am here.

  • Samantha, you might need to figure out how to attach this book to a yo-yo string or something. I’m getting concerned about the state of your walls or anything around when this book repeatedly goes flying. >_<

  • Sometimes i wonder why people like LaHaye bother to ‘help’ those with depression. They seem to think depressed people are weak willed, lily livered, prideful, prone to believe the dumbest things, selfish, unspiritual. I mean, why does he bother?
    Then again, nearly all the advice i ever got foisted upon me in the Christian world was from people who weren’t shy about how superior they were to lowly me, so maybe there’s a connection.

  • I’m really glad you’re writing this series. The part about all depression having a “spiritual cause” reminded me of something that happened when I was a teenager. The short version is that a woman from my church “prophetically” told me I was depressed because of video games I was playing, so I threw away my copy of Diablo and was mercilessly mocked by my friends. Guess what didn’t cure my depression?

    I’m going to start blogging about my adventures in depression and anxiety now. Writing short comments is therapeutic, so longer blog posts should feel amazing, right? 🙂

  • Nea

    Samantha – I was going to repeat a series of comments I put on your mirror of this post at No Longer Quivering, but I’m not sure if doing so would be on the wrong end of the “I’m a newcomer recommending this for depression” rule here. So I’ll just say that if you are interested, over on NLQ, I’ve just listed the 11 questions people having Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are to ask themselves and compared Tim LaHeye’s terrible advice to them. I believe this illustrates, even more than personal anecdotes, just how horrible his advice is and how likely it will be to create more depression, not cure it.

  • Another new commenter here… having grown up in an ultra-conservative church (in Townsville, Australia) with depression, I was told quite often my problem (or sin) was self pity. I won’t whinge about my treatment at length (a lot of people have had far worse) but being told consistently you are loser/bad example because you are unemployed/single/different doesn’t improve things. These days I feel horribly inadequate helping other people with depression because I know how useless advice is for me, although medication helps these days. Trained therapists have been helpful to some extent but the kind of smug, “biblical” and dodgy advice doled by La Haye and presumably still in currency in Evangelical churches have made things much worse.

  • Oh man! That book would have flown across the room a number of times had I read it as well! The horrific judgements and lack of empathy are atrocious and disgusting (and yes, I’m judging him for judging depressed people! Serves him right!)

  • Esther

    Thank you so, so much for posting these reviews. Your amazing deconstruction of this book is incredibly, profoundly helpful to me right now. Even though I rationally understand that this book and fundamentalist ‘counselling’ on the subject of depression is utter tripe, the emotional damage is much harder to combat. Your writing is giving me so much insight and moral support to make sense of what I’ve experienced. Thank you!