Social Issues, Theology

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 137-159

Books like this make it almost impossible for me to believe that there’s any meaningful difference between fundamentalism and more mainstream evangelicalism. Theologically there’s no real difference that I’ve ever been able to find, and all the differences I can find are surface trappings. In my view, fundamentalism and evangelicalism are on a sliding scale of how much modern culture they’re willing to adapt; fundamentalists are just stuck in the 60s while evangelicals are stuck in the 90s.

None of that really matters, though, when people like Tim quote from Bill Gothard for five pages and describe him as “phenomenally successful” (141) and “wise” (148). And yes, I mean that Bill Gothard. The man who’s been accused by several dozen women and minors of sexually harassing or sexually assaulting them, the man who is responsible for teachings like “the sin of bitterness is worse than the sin of rape.” Tim raves about him and spends most of this chapter regurgitating information found in Bill’s “basic seminars.”

Another observation: so far, in each of the books I’ve reviewed (with the exception of Zimzum of Love), there comes a part when the white supremacy and classism of many American Christians becomes blindingly apparent. The classism comes screaming out of this chapter:

She always looks her best wherever she goes; she is not overdressed but extremely attractive. She chooses her clothes and accessories with care and and exudes the confidence that always exemplifies a dynamic Christian. (139)

A porter will approach an individual and address him politely and with dignity, whereas he will speak to another with quiet disrespect. Through these contrasting treatments, I have judged that the man who exudes self-confidence and self-acceptance is extended respect by others. You can observe similar episodes in a restaurant as the waiter approaches his customers. (140)

After twenty-five years of dealing with people I do not find that vocational triumphs provide lasting self-acceptance. Instead, many individuals would willingly relinquish the fortune earned during their lifetime if the could reclaim the failure experienced … (143)

There is nothing new about ghettos; we have always had them. They are simply larger today because of our increased population and more conspicuous because of recent national attention. (146)

He connects success and self-confidence to wealth and power over and over again, and because Tim is a financially successful white man, he’s able to ignore the role that economic disparity plays in how people are treated by society.

Example:  a friend an I walked into a West Elm a little while ago, spiffed up a bit for a trip into the city. We walked around the store, looking for something she needed and if were weren’t completely ignored by the staff, we were openly sneered at. A few minutes after we entered, a pair of women walked in who reeked of money. The employees fawned all over them. They walked out without buying anything, while my friend bought what she’d been looking for.

Ordinarily I’m a self-confident person, but it’s extremely difficult for me to portray that when I’m in a place that’s only supposed to be accessed by the wealthy. Recently I was able to score a deal for a super swanky hotel, but checking in made me feel like an imposter. There’s always a part of me that thinks they’re going to know I’m not wealthy, that I don’t belong, and they’re going to call security to throw the riffraff out.

I’d also like to point out that we made the ghettos. They didn’t just appear; they’re not just a normal, if unfortunate, part of our capitalistic society. Our economic policies made them.


This chapter is titled “Depression and Your Self-Image,” and while there are some basic things I could agree with him about the general population (negative self-talk is a thing, and we should learn to stop that), he tries to take things that can be true of mentally healthy people and apply them to people who are struggling with worthlessness and/or intrusive thoughts.

His solution also has a two-fold problem. While he seemingly spends most of this chapter preaching the benefits of incubating a positive self-image and learning self-acceptance, he asserts repeatedly that self-acceptance is only possible through religion. He doesn’t actually want people to love themselves, he wants them to feel validated by his version of Jesus. People who get all their feelings of value, love, and acceptance through their religion are not actually practicing self-acceptance.

This could be extremely dangerous for a depressed person. If they accept Tim’s idea– “I will feel worthwhile and loved if I become a Christian!”– they could very well accept Tim’s version of Christianity, which is extremely focused on deciding who’s “in” and who’s “out.” A depressed person trying to feel validated by their faith could end up with a religion-induced sense of scrupulosity.

The other half of the problem is what Tim teaches about human nature:

[A doctor] went on to explain that during his internship in a mental institution, he found that “ninety-five percent of the patients were there because of religiously induced guilt complexes.”

“Doctor, you couldn’t be more in error,” I [said], “People feel guilty because they are guilty!”

To a depressed person, this sentence says all those feelings you have about being a disgusting, worthless, vile, waste of human trash? Well, they’re right! You are a vile waste of human trash! That is not something a depressed person needs “confirmed” for them. Our brains are already screaming that.

Tim tries to mitigate the damaging effects of this concept by talking about how “forgiveness” is readily available to anyone who asks. Sure, we might be nothing more than waste, but God is oh-so-ready to forgive us for being worthless wretches! And once we’re forgiven, Jesus will love us, and we’ll have the magical ability to pray and imagine our depression away!

This is one of the reasons why I disagree with the idea of Imputed Sin. I’ll have to write a whole post out explaining my reasoning for that, but for today, I think it’s enough to stress that this doctrine is inherently harmful, especially to those of us who struggle with depression or other illnesses that try to convince us that we’re useless and worthless.


Final count of examples involving women: 9 out of 12. He describes several of these women as “frigid” (one because she was married to a verbal abuser, although of course he doesn’t say that), and in one case he says that a woman’s trichotillomania was caused by vanity.

Also, I noticed something interesting in this chapter: when talking about how silly depression is, he almost exclusively uses examples of women, but when he starts talking about what a “godly” and “mature” person looks like, he switches to using exclusively male pronouns. Just … an observation.

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  • Would love to read your post on imputed sin!
    Also, I work in a Christian bookstore that–very unfortunately–sells this book. Do you have reccomendations for alternatives I can suggest when someone asks us to order it for them?

    • Just grab Sarah Bessey’s book and start beating them about the head and shoulders.

    • Ugh, I wish I could edit to make this a little less aggressive sounding. It’s been a bad 24 hours for stuff I read about depression on the internet.

  • I always assumed that the idea of all humans being equal to trash without God was just basic Christianity. But after reading recent posts by Elizabeth Esther and other bloggers in the wake of the Duggar molestation charges, they are calling this doctrine harmful and fundamentalist. I’m not disagreeing, I’m just wondering what we have left of Christianity if this idea is completely removed…to me, it seemed like the whole point of Jesus, and now I’m not sure what to make of it. I know it certainly wasn’t helpful to be reminded of that “fact” when my depression was out of control, though. It prevented me from seeking the help I desperately needed.

    • I suggest reading up on the different views of atonement. Penal Substitution is not the only one. There are several.

    • John W. Baker

      No, that “trash without God” idea is actually a pre-biblical, pagan idea. Humans were made in the image of God. Jesus came to remind us that we are all God’s children, more precious than we know. If you are thinking you are worthless, you are not hearing it from God. Where, then?

      • Which pagans did this idea come from, please?

        • John W. Baker

          The Bible is unique in that it reveals God reaching out to us. Before we begin to reach out, God has already been moving in our direction, lovingly. In religions generally, humans are trying to reach God through some kind of transaction, to obtain something we lack. In the Bible, God is already with us before we seek God, speaking to us as a loving parent who has been trying to reach us; awesome yet somehow and not alien. We do not pray as trash asking to be loved, because God already loves us more than we can grasp (and doesn’t make trash). Only the ethical monotheisms, as the three major religions are called, have this characteristic that we in some strange sense “belong” to God, like family; not the other way around. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Jn 15:16

          • Brennan

            Way to not respond to the question, dude.

          • John W. Baker

            The idea is found in virtually ALL religions other than the three ethical monotheisms. The latter uniquely have the idea we are made in the image of God, are not trash, and the sense that God is reaching out to us.

          • Brennan

            I remain confused as to your argument. I’ll admit, I wasn’t familiar with “ethical monotheism” as a term for the Abrahamic religions, but my cursory google-fu defines it as monotheism which centers God as the source of moral behavior, so it follows that the closer one comes to God’s standard (be it through grace, relationship, or simply following God’s directives) the greater a person’s moral worth. Thus, “trash without god” becomes a thing, describing people’s inability to lead a worthwhile life absent God’s guidance or intervention.

            You, yourself, defined “pagan” religions in contrast to “ethical monotheism,” and yet claimed that the “trash without god” concept came from them. How, exactly, does this concept exist in a belief system which does not center a divine person as the source of morality and goodness? Many religions, particularly Eastern religions, presuppose a much less personal relationship between humanity and the divine, but it does not follow that they frame humanity as less valuable or less ethical for not being “in relationship.” You claim that “trash without god” is a feature of “virtually ALL religions” but you fail to name and discuss the beliefs of even one.

          • John W. Baker

            Looks interesting butam unable to read. Sorry. Repost?

          • John W. Baker

            OK can now read turning phone sideways. See below main thread. Ethical monotheism / Abrahamic religion does not see mankind as created lost or in sin or doomed to hell. Fundamentalism does. “Trash without God.” Bible teaches humans were purposely made like God (not trash) and given a good world, have created problems for ourselves, and are called back ethically to their original state of goodness (not saved from sinful lostness). See further below.

          • ako

            Could you provide a source for this claim? Because I haven’t heard this belief expressed by any of the pagans I know.

          • That’s not my experience, but good for you.

    • There’s a few different ways Christians approach the issue. The one most Protestants are familiar with, Penal Substitution (strained through John Calvin), basically says humans are so filthy and evil that we can’t even do good things without God perceiving it as evil. We’re garbage. Jesus shows up and dies in our place so God doesn’t have to take out the trash.

      A different understanding is that humans do evil things because we were imprisoned by evil powers. Jesus shows up, not to take divine punishment in our place to satisfy God’s anger against human garbage, but to rescue us from slavery to evil precisely because we’re NOT trash.

      Both views cite biblical texts; it’s a matter of which ones they use as their primary reading lens.

    • I believe humans have a sin nature, so we sometimes do sinful things, but also we are made in the image of God, so we naturally have compassion and stuff like that, and do good things. It’s both. In my experience in evangelical Christianity, the “sin nature” part was emphasized WAY too much- people would say things like “well some people think you can get to heaven by being a good person- well there are no good people!!!” The answer to “are people basically good or basically bad?” was always “bad”, and they completely ignored the whole “image of God” thing.

    • No, we are the image of God. We are the Kingdom. We are inherently worthy, and God is here to lift us up. I think there’s just such a NEED to be ‘better than’ other people, that the sense that we are trash unless we’re the “right kind” of person comes out that. You know? It’s like the prosperity gospel – the idea that GOOD Christians will be blessed by wealth and financial success is literally nowehre in the Bible – in fact, the exact opposite is said. Wealth is frowned upon and outright blasted by Jesus. But the prosperity gospel took shape – in order to let wealthy Christians feel better about themselves, and like they were BETTER Christians than those poor people, widows, and orphans that Jesus called upon us to help.

  • John W. Baker

    There is a kind of depression, and it can be deep and painful, which comes upon us as the early warning sign that we have outgrown something and have not been paying attention. Like the old movie cliché when Lassie runs up, it is “trying to tell us something.” Basically, it is telling us, “It is time to grow, or else.” I just hate it when that happens. LOL But if you can work out specifically what is trying to come through, and it may take a long time, the depression will be replaced by creative energy.

    If you are interested in the intersection of psychology and religion, Jung is the one (not Freud).

  • Bill Gothard. Dear God in heaven. Just burn the book now. Game over.

  • ako

    I always found the idea that “guilty, but forgiven” is supposed to be a comfort rather weird. Like if you feel guilty wouldn’t it feel worse to be told you deserve punishment, but you’re getting an undeserved pass because someone else suffered in your place? Wouldn’t that create more guilt? I know if I committed a crime and an innocent person was punished in my place, I’d feel more guilt, not less.

    • John W. Baker

      Well said. My take on atonement goes like this.

      The cross is the message of God’s love for two different groups of people: the abused and the abusers.

      The message to the abused, who feel guilt because they are suffering, is that God is with you and suffers along with you, has vindicated you and will replace your hurt with everlasting peace. (“Jesus died for you.”)

      The message to the abusers and shamers, who feel righteous and not guilty, is that inasmuch as you have done it to anyone, you have done it to me. God loves you and forgives you, but now that you see the suffering you have caused God and others, you must accept accountability, ask them for forgiveness, make amends, and if possible be reconciled. (“Jesus died because of you.”)

      The above holds even if, as so often, today’s abuser was yesterday’s abused child. God’s mercy is the salvation of both.

  • Oh my, how tremendous is my sigh of relief knowing that God is an international business and people like Bill Gothard are his pyramid partners. It is such and simple and welcome (unneeded) confirmation that there is no God, no heaven or hell beyond this moment, and no pie in the sky unless you bake it and throw it yourself.
    Tim LaHaye is not a misogynist, no not at all. He is a Bible believer and just passing on the good news! /snark

  • “Books like this make it almost impossible for me to believe that there’s any meaningful difference between fundamentalism and more mainstream evangelicalism. Theologically there’s no real difference that I’ve ever been able to find, and all the differences I can find are surface trappings. In my view, fundamentalism and evangelicalism are on a sliding scale of how much modern culture they’re willing to adapt; fundamentalists are just stuck in the 60s while evangelicals are stuck in the 90s.”

    I totally agree with this. I grew up evangelical and haven’t experienced fundamentalism, but now I read a lot of blogs from people who were raised in fundamentalism, and it seems to me that they’re teaching the same things, but the fundamentalists are the ones who actually take them seriously.

    Like modesty. I was taught “girls have to dress modest” but at church, most women just dressed like, you know, normal people. Nothing sexy or revealing, but they looked beautiful. And I could not understand how this could be reconciled with the teaching on modesty, which says that you are duty-bound to do whatever you possibly can to reduce the chance of guys having a lustful thought about you- and really, the way to do that is to wear something that looks awful and unfeminine. That’s what fundamentalists do. Evangelicals are all talk.

  • I was explicitly told by a “professional”, at age 16, that the reason I was depressed was because I didn’t go to church. Not because my mother is narcissistic and I was the scapegoat for years, not because I was 16 and in the middle of puberty, not because I was bullied in school by students and a couple teachers, not even because I had a chemical imbalance… Nope, entirely that I didn’t go to church. (When I had gone to church before that, I’d been bullied there, too, and nobody did anything about it because, “oh, but they’re such nice girls!” Sure, when you’re watching. Love the implication that I was wrong to feel like that, too, but that was my mother; if she liked someone, they could do no wrong.)

    Even at 16 I knew that was crap. Ignoring other causes for depression in favor of pushing your completely non-clinical solution is not only neglectful, but can be actually harmful. I know when I did go to church later, my depression didn’t mysteriously cease to exist, nor did being given a heaping helping of guilt and shame do anything useful.

    Church can be a positive thing for some people, but “prescribing” it for depression seems awfully close to believing in “faith healing” (limbs regrowing, healing cancer through prayer, etc). No help, much potential harm.

  • Crystal

    I have so many thoughts on this book but here’s one gem – IT STINKS.

    Once you’ve finished it you won’t have to read it anymore. That will feel so good. I’ve felt that way after listening to a misogynistic radio show. It was stuffy and boring, but when I was done – SIGH OF RELIEF.

    Keep well and eat cake if you can!


  • Jeff

    “Books like this make it almost impossible for me to believe that there’s any meaningful difference between fundamentalism and more mainstream evangelicalism.”

    I like this illustration by C. Michael Patton as one way of thinking about the differences between fundamentalists, evangelicals, and liberals:

    • I took their two-year “Theology Program.” It was infuriating– he straw-manned anything he didn’t agree with and made anything liberals think sound idiotic (mostly by refusing to offer even accurate definitions).

      Sorry. Rant. I’ve spent a hundred hours listening to that guy and UGH.

      • Jeff

        Hmm, I like Michael generally but I haven’t taken any of the courses so I couldn’t say. But I think the image in that blog post is pretty accurate, at least.

        And I think it’s helpful as a way of thinking about the differences between mainstream evangelicalism (again, with the caveat that it’s a diverse movement) and fundamentalism, which of course is a subset. It’s not just that fundamentalists are prone to be KJV-only-ists, for example, but that they’re like to treat KJV-only-ism as a salvatory doctrine (of course you know this better than I do), whereas a mainstream evangelical might be more likely to concede that there’s room at the table for “dynamic equivalance” and “absolutely literal”, and yes, even “KJV” (it’s the “noblest monument of English prose”, after all).

        I’m certainly sorry you spent 100 hrs on an infuriating experience!

    • CynicMom

      The graph linked to there strikes me as total bullshit. The author declares that fundamentalists are better than evangelicals (and that liberals are incorrect about everything) and gives zero evidence to back it up.

      • Yeah, “Michael Patton is completely full of shit” is how I survived listening to his lectures for two years.

      • Jeff

        Wow, you completely misunderstood the graphic. I mean, completely and utterly; it’s like you didn’t even read the attached text that went with it.

        The graphic isn’t about who is right or wrong theologically, it’s about how essential the different groups consider their beliefs.

        Samantha said that she can’t find any differences between fundamentalists and mainstream evangelicals. One significant and important difference is the one illustrated by the graphic. To a fundamentalist, everything is an essential.

        • Except that’s not true. Most of the fundamentalists I knew would tell you, plainly, that the only thing necessary for salvation (“essential”) was to admit that you’re a sinner in need of Christ’s saving grace.

          For example, we believed that baptism was an important part of a believer’s walk, but even suggesting that it’s essential for salvation would have been roundly condemned as heresy.

          • Jeff

            You’re changing categories relative to the chart, though; you’re talking about “essential for salvation” in the sense of “what must one do to be saved?”, whereas the chart is about doctrine.

            A different way to think about the chart would be, for a given doctrine X, to ask, “how much room for reasoned disagreement is there about X?”, and the center circle becomes “none whatsoever.”. As you yourself have said several blog posts back, a fundamentalist church is more likely to have quite a few Xs that are not up for debate or discussion

          • No, I’m really not. The center circle is labeled “Essentials for Salvation” and that’s where all the dots are for fundamentalists.

            Also, keep in mind I’ve heard Michael talk about this concept for two years.

          • Yeah, that’s just…what the hell? The chart is not ambiguous about what the categories are, and when you read “Essential for Salvation” as “Essential for Salvation” that’s somehow “changing categories”?

          • Jeff

            Pretty much, yes.

          • Jeff

            It’s labeled “essential for salvation”, not “Essentials for Salvation”, and it’s a chart about DOCTRINE and BELIEFS. Points at the center of the graphic don’t represent “hoops you must jump through in order to be considered ‘saved'” (which is the sense in which you’re using the term), but rather, “doctrinal positions that we consider sufficiently important that, if you dissent from them, we seriously question whether you are actually ‘saved’ in the sense that we understand the term.”

            The point is simply that fundamentalists have more doctrinal positions that fit into that category, that center circle, than do mainstream evangelicals, who in turn have more doctrines that fit into that category than liberal protestants. I don’t think this is an especially controversial point; I believe your own blog post on “Trickle Down Cults” supports this very thought — that fundamentalist churches see themselves as solely in possession of the truth in all doctrinal matters, and brook no dissent.

          • Jeff

            Incidentally, presumably you’ve seen this before, but for those who haven’t and are interested, here’s a link to a longer post in which he explains exactly what he has in mind by the different levels of the graphic.

          • Did you even read the article you linked to?

            In essence, if someone does not believe the doctrines that are “essential for salvation,” they are not saved. Hence, it is at the center of the circle.”

          • Jeff

            Right; “/believe the doctrines/”. It’s about doctrines and beliefs, as I’ve said all along.

            Anyway, as I said, I don’t think anything I’ve said is especially controversial — you yourself basically said as much in a blog post! — and I think it adequately demonstrates one difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals.

            I will say in parting that it is genuinely suprising and a bit strange to me that you’re arguing, in apparent contradiction to your own past arguments, that it’s erroneous to think that fundamentalists consider a large percentage of their doctrinal positions to be “essential”/”non-negotiable”/”worth breaking fellowship over”. I would have thought that, if you really want to maintain your assertion that evangelicals and fundamentalists are basically the same, you’d have gone in the direction of arguing that it’s not important how /many/ essentials one has; that the very act of enumerating essentials /at all/ and being willing to break fellowship over them basically makes evangelicals and fundamentalists the same. That is, of course, also wrong, but it would probably at least be more supportive of the argument that you’re trying to land, as well as more internally consistent.

          • The only way I can make head or tail of what Jeff is getting at is to think that he’s drawing some kind of important distinction between right belief and right action–such that the sentences “baptism is not essential for salvation” and “belief in baptism is essential for salvation” would not be contradictory. Word games.

          • Jeff

            You would do better to simply recognize that Samantha’s introduction of baptism as a putative anti-example of a fundamentalist “essential” was a non-sequitur and that it has caused the discussion to completely jump the rails.

            The idea that fundamentalists have one and only one “essential” is pretty sill. Where, after all, does the word “fundamentalist” come from? Of course, it comes from from the early 1900s collection of essays “The Fundamentals”, distributed to ministers in an attempt to defend against the encroachment of liberal thought. There were 90 essays in the collection.

            In parallel, the Presbyterian church identified five (FIVE) cardinal doctrines that all ministers in their fellowship must affirm. These are also sometimes referred to as the “five fundamentals”.

            If you’re astute, you might note that “fundamental” and “essential” are, “essentially”, synonyms.

            “Baptism” is a sacrament, not a doctrine, so it’s not a good example of the kind of thing this discussion is about. And again, it’s really not controversial to say that fundamentalists have more doctrines that they consider essential./non-negotiable than do mainstream evangelicals.

          • Thank you for your advice, entirely unsolicited as it is, Jeff.

            I shall reciprocate: When you cannot make a case with logic or reason, substituting commanding the people who disagree with you to cease doing so is a poor idea. It costs you both the current argument and future credibility, and all it gets you is whatever ego rush you derive from asserting your superiority to people with no reason to care about that assertion.

  • With every post on this book I think, “this man has killed people.” Maybe not with his own hand but I strongly suspect that this book (and the ideas and attitudes contained in it) has lead people deeper into depression and to suicide. The problem ideas and attitudes, unfortunately, are not unique, or necessarily original, to LaHaye.

  • John W. Baker

    This is in response to Brennan. Abrahamic is better term, historically. Polytheism is a better term than pagan, though perhaps not as irritating to fundamentalists, with which compare fundamentalism (my bad). Gnostic systems are examples of polytheistic “trash without God” religion. Humans were created when particles of spirit or light accidentally separated (emanated) from one of the subordinate / degraded divinities and became hopelessly embedded in dark matter in an evil cosmos until rescued or liberated individualistically. Gnostic ethics vary from celibate to libertine. Fundamentalism looks pretty gnostic / gnosticizing to me in its anthropology and christology and pneumatology. Whether a form of gnostic Christianity or not, fundamentalism is not as biblical as they claim IMO (apart from occasional gnosticizing within the New Testament itself!). The point that “religion,” as he uses the term, contrasts with the biblical view, broadly speaking, comes from Karl Barth. The last word is yours, as I’ve taken way too much bandwidth to argue a minor point already.

    • Brennan

      Theologically, I think we agree more than we disagree, particularly on the nature of God’s relationship to humanity and what we, in the Wesleyan tradition, refer to as “prevenient grace.” I can understand the impulse to defend Christianity when harmful teachings are brought up, but I get twitchy when people try to minimize the role of these teachings or attribute them to poorly-understood “pagan” belief systems. I see that as a form of blame-shifting which demonizes non-Western religions and isn’t consistent with what we know about the various flavors of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, the aboriginal religions of Australia and the Americas, ect.

      Also, it’s time we defined the “trash without God” teaching as what it is: an extreme reading of the doctrine of Total Depravity which is central to the Calvinist view of humanity and has strong ties to several others. I can, and will, disagree with this doctrine all day long, but denying its existence or its importance to several large branches of Christianity is counter-productive. It is uncomfortable, but I feel that there is more to be gained by examining the roots of harmful theology within our own belief system rather than rashly attributing it to outside influence.

      Thanks for engaging. I apologize for my initially flippant tone.