Social Issues

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 160-191

Honestly, this chapter, which Tim titled “Depression and Your Temperament,” was more than a little befuddling. He bases his entire argument on Hippocrates’ Humorism— and no, I’m not joking. This chapter is dedicated to a medical theory thousands of years old that was completely obliterated by the advent of modern medical knowledge.

What is ironic is that Tim uses the concept of the “Four Temperaments”– even attributing this idea to Hippocrates– without bothering to note that in Hippocratic theory, the bodily humors (yellow and black bile, phlegm, and blood) affected temperament. Tim is still continuing to insist that biology is not linked to depression in any way (178), all the while relying on a theory that totally contradicts him.

Something that amused me about this chapter was reading his descriptions of the Four Temperaments (which are: sanguine, choleric, melancholy, and phlegmatic) felt like reading horoscope personality profiles. Supposedly, according to this test, I’m phlegmatic, and reading Tim’s description of the phlegmatic felt about as accurate to me as reading what Virgos are supposed to be like.

What bothered me about this chapter is that Tim argues that some personalities are far more prone to depression than others, which sounds like just that much swill. The sanguine and choleric personalities, if they’re “filled with the Holy Spirit,” will be “untroubled by depression” (164) or “will never become depressed” (167); the melancholic will merely be “helped” by the Spirit to “try to avoid depression” (174) and the phlegmatic will “definitely become depressed” (175).

Tim is practicing introversion discrimination in this chapter. “Sanguine” and “choleric” personalities are both extroverted: sanguine people are the “social butterfly,” often charismatic and outgoing, while the choleric is the passionate, spontaneous personality type. Melancholy people are creative, but private (think Romantic poet), and phlegmatic persons are quiet and calm.

This is a society-wide problem. As Steven Dison in the linked article points out, in the aftermath of events like the Aurora theater shooting, the media tends to get myopic about the perpetrator’s personality and social life. These mass shooters seem to be withdrawn, secluded, anti-social? Well, that must mean that being withdrawn and anti-social is bad. Whether or not these people are actually any of those things gets lost in all the talking-head chatter about it. In our culture, traits associated with introversion (like preferring seclusion to social events) are rhetorically linked with mental illness, and Tim does that in this chapter.

Tim is also deeply ignorant about the existence of personality disorders. In his description of how sanguine people can experience depression (which they can easily overcome with the Spirit, while the introverted temperaments can’t), what he describes sounds like narcissistic personality disorder:

As these charming sanguines who often act like overgrown children become aware of their own shallowness, their insecurities are heightened. They become defensive, sensitive to slights or criticisms, almost obsessed with others’ opinions of them. (163)

And his description of how choleric people experience depression (“he quickly becomes angry … he explodes all over everyone else” (165) sounds like borderline personality disorder. People with all sorts of temperaments and personalities can experience these disorders, or have maladaptive behavior that echoes them.

But the most frustrating thing about this chapter is that he sees depression as the exception for sanguine and choleric temperaments, but the natural consequence of being melancholic or phlegmatic. In the context of How to Win Over Depression, this is especially bad, because he has made it crystal clear that depression is a result of sin; the logical progression is that melancholic and phlegmatic people are naturally more sinful– in regard to depression– than sanguine or choleric persons. See what I mean about introversion discrimination?

~~~~~~~~~

The next two chapters are “Depression and the Occult”  and “Depression and Music.” Not much needs to be said about “Depression and the Occult”– he spends a few pages telling Christians to not learn about it because Satan, and that suicides are caused by demonic possession (because demons like to inflict self-harm, as illustrated by Matthew 17).

“Depression and Music” pissed me off, though. This is on the first page:

To a large extent, the highest musical forms were found in the western civilizations. In fact, that art of music was not really developed to any high degree of proficiency in other countries because of the influence of the various religions on their respective cultures … Paganism has always been dominated by the dirge or the chant. (187)

WHAT. THE.

I mean, I’ve heard this before– I was explicitly taught this in my “History of Music” class at Pensacola Christian College, but it took barely any digging at all to figure out how utterly ignorant and false that idea is. For an excellent discussion of how fundamentalists are flagrantly racist when it comes to music, I suggest you read “Patriarchy, Christian Reconstructionism, and White Supremacy” (scroll down to “Note on Music”).

Also, the only people who argue things like “Western Music is just better” argue ridiculous things like “black music had no affect on American rock music,” which is asinine in the extreme.

But that wasn’t the only thing that pissed me off about this chapter, because Tim also said this:

The once happy music of the West, because of the atheistic control of the communications media, is rapidly degenerating into the same depressing tunes I heard in India, Africa, and China. Unless a musician is filled with the Holy Spirit, he will tend to create morbid, pessimistic, negative music that features a detrimental beat or tune. We need a return to happy music today.”

To which I say: “DUDE HAVE YOU NEVER LISTENED TO GREGORIAN CHANTS.”

Also, I looked up what the most popular music was in 1974, when this book was published, and Tim is just so wrong. The chart-topping numbers that year were songs like “The Loco-Motion,” “Kung Fu Fighting,” “Rock Your Baby,” and  “Hooked on a Feeling,” all of which are pretty doggone happy. The rest of the songs were mostly about how much love is amazing, plus “Cats in the Cradle” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Depressing music? Ok, if you listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on repeat, maybe you’ll get a little bummed (I don’t, I just really like it. Who doesn’t get a thrill out of “and the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made … and the sign said “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”?). Peter Paul and Mary’s “500 Miles” bums Handsome out in 10 seconds flat while I adore it, but even they are better known for “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Different people react to music … well, differently. I will sit around and listen to Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” ’til the cows come home, but Handsome prefers “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding (I prefer the Sara Barielles version). Tim says that no one “can growl through breakfast” while listening to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” (190) and I beg to differ. Songs written by Martin Luther I find I particularly annoying.

So yeah … I didn’t think my opinion of Tim could get any lower, but it did. Because presenting factual (and racist!) inaccuracies about the global history of music cannot be forgiven.

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  • Thank you for writing about prejudice against introverts and providing that very interesting link. Also thank you for mentioning personality disorders. And lol at the (yes, very HAPPY) chart topping numbers at the time of this book’s publication… 😉 Gosh… he is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s really wonderful to read your take on his book. Thank you for continuing to write these posts.

  • John W. Baker

    I just realized from the humors bit that I read this book awhile back. If you are like me you will find you are less depressed once you’ve stopped reading it, though not in the way Tim intended. Godspeed.

    • It reminds me of an old joke:
      “Tim, why are you hitting your head against that wall?”
      “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

      • Margaret N

        Yes!!!

  • Interesting world music thread!!!!!
    I’m gonna start with part of the soundtrack of the movie Ghost in the Shell, whose lyrics are apparently an old Japanese wedding charm, but sung in a Bulgarian-inspired style. I find it intriguing as hell:

  • The old racist trope of highly evolved Western music vs. primitive non-Western. I’ll spare you all my ethnomusicologist’s rant because you’ll have heard it already, I’m sure.

    I just had to add to the fundamentalist music hangups thing that when I was a very young teen/pre-teen, I went to a fundie summer camp for a week of music camp and one of the speakers, on top of the usual “backbeat” thing, actually told us that music that ends on a minor chord was not godly and would lead to depression and cause you to not be filled with the spirit. :/

    • LadyWoman

      Did they also tell you that the tritone is the devil’s interval?

      • No, just that it’s the most dissonant. Which it is, in Western music.

      • ViolinKnitter

        Calling the tritone the “Diabolus in musica” goes back to medieval times. I still use the term with my violin students, because it can be hard for students used to playing easy-to-hear intervals to play such a dissonant interval in tune. Calling it the “devil in music” helps remind them to make it nice & crunchy. 😀 (Also, it gives me an excuse to talk about Bela Bartok with my students, since Bartok never met a tritone he didn’t like.)

    • Jenny Islander

      What do you think of the assertion that if “primitive” is understood as “emotionally expressive,” then Western music is more “primitive” than most “primitive” cultures that put a lot of time into developing musical forms? This was just a newspaper science column kind of thing I read a few years back. The assertion was that most “primitive” musical traditions require–I don’t have a musical vocabulary–learning that this instrument is always for contemplative music while the same tune played on this other instrument is martial, and no matter what the lyrics say they are really about love if they are arranged in this type of stanza, etc. Meanwhile, the article said, Western music is so emotionally expressive that somebody who’s never heard music with Western influence can tell whether a song in a language they don’t even speak is happy, sad, mad, etc., and from a worldwide standpoint this is unusual. I have no idea whether this holds water.

  • trevel

    I prefer the four humours theory when phrased as “Which ninja turtle are you?”.

    • *blink*
      Nina… Turtle…?
      *facefault* Dear Sweet Arceus… how did I never pick up on that???? Mikey and Raph and Donny and Leo… GAH!!! My childhood returns!!!

  • Sylvia

    Annie’s Song YAY!!! And “Some songs by Martin Luther I find particularly annoying.” LOL

    A long time ago, when I was battling depression, I wrote to my mother and asked her how she dealt with depression. She told me to avoid reading self-help books, especially if they were by Christian authors (she was still married to my preacher-father at the time). She also told me that what she generally does is take a brisk walk, and sometimes sit down and read the book of Lamentations. The author was so depressing that she would realize that her problems were nowhere near as bad as his, and be able to snap out of it.
    I think Mom has never ever in her life dealt with real depression. She is a rock, always steady and calm, and generally a pretty happy person. When my sister was diagnosed, after two suicide attempts, with clinical depression, my mother asked what she did wrong.

    I suffer with SAD every year. I still tend to avoid those Christian self-help books, and read either comedy or the book of Lamentations LOL. I also take a dietary supplement starting in late autumn clear through till late spring, just because it helps ME. (I am absolutely not saying that everyone ought to, I think that some people NEED a doctor’s prescription for pharmaceutical help, but the St John’s Wort helps ME at this time, so I take it.)

    I read a book awhile back written by some guru whose name I can’t remember who talked about the four humors. There was a test in the book to find out which one you fall into, so I took it just to get a giggle, and it said I was choleric/melancholy. Which, translated, means that I am prone to fits of absolute rage but depressed all the time. I should eat more spicy foods to help bring the melancholy down to a manageable level, and I should eat less spicy foods to keep the anger under control. I should avoid red clothing and not paint my house red, and not drive a red car, to prevent the anger, but I should wear reds and oranges and yellows to balance the melancholy. I LOL’d and tossed the book in the donate pile.

    My Dad died a little over 3 years ago. I still battle the grief, but that’s a different thing than the situational depression I went through right after his death. During that serious depression, I was able to go through the motions of living, but didn’t feel like I was alive. Nothing tasted right, nothing smelled right, nothing looked happy, nothing felt happy. I am able to type those words “my Dad died,” today, without breaking down into tears. During those first few months, I upped my dosage of St John’s Wort WITH MY DOCTOR’S APPROVAL. I also listened to a lot of his favorite music: hymns by Charles Wesley and Martin Luther LOL.

  • Brennan

    There’s so much wrong in these passages, but what I can’t get over is how he thinks “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is “happy music.” It’s all about how Satan is so powerful that living on earth is like being under constant assault and the only way to get through it is to hide yourself in a God-bunker and assume crash-position! Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of hymns where the last verse is about dying and going to heaven triumphant, but “Mighty Fortress” is explicit about how you’re going to die because the evil powers of the world are going to kill you. *Not* something I like to contemplate over breakfast coffee, and I’m more morbid than most.

    • Jenny Islander

      Growing up Lutheran–so I learned the setting of AMF that shakes the rafters–I thought of that hymn as an affirmation that no matter what the Enemy does because we’ve already won eternal life, even if we die on Earth. So it’s more like “Rah rah ree! Kick the Devil’s knee! Rah rah rass! Kick the Devil’s…other knee!”

      • Jenny Islander

        *does, we’ve

  • 1. Chuck berry was the first rock and roll star. Is that not common knowledge?

    2. I can fake being charming and outgoing. Tim wouldn’t know the difference. I spent most of my life faking it. Still an introvert.

    3. I chant the Psalms on Sunday.

    4. Tim is once again wrong.

  • Melody

    I immediately thought about chants and went “hmm aren’t they Christian…?” He must have missed that bit although perhaps Catholics do not qualify as actual Christians in his world…?

    His whole section about the Spirit is pretty nasty: “The sanguine and choleric personalities, if they’re “filled with the Holy Spirit,” will be “untroubled by depression” (164) or “will never become depressed” (167); the melancholic will merely be “helped” by the Spirit to “try to avoid depression” (174) and the phlegmatic will “definitely become depressed” (175).”

    And a little later: “In his description of how sanguine people can experience depression (which they can easily overcome with the Spirit, while the introverted temperaments can’t)”

    Kick me when I’m down: not only is someone already depressed: either the Spirit can’t or doesn’t want to help them as ‘He’ isn’t even mentioned, but rather than being the Spirit’s fault it will be your own (personality or demons). It seems unfair that those who are already untroubled by depression are also the ones who are most likely to be filled with the Spirit and vice versa… This kind of reasoning just really buggs me.

    • Gram Pol

      “perhaps Catholics do not qualify as actual Christians in his world…? ”

      You’ve hit it on the nose. Catholics are not Really Truly Christians in the world of Timmy.

      • Brennan

        Christianity, after all, did not exist prior to the Reformation or (depending on who you ask) the founding of the United States.

        • Melody

          Indeed 😉

          In high school, we once had to list different religions and so the class went like: ‘Christians, Muslims, Hindus….’ and one girl added, very seriously: ‘Catholics’ at which most people were like: ‘we already said Christians..’ and she went: ‘ooh, I never knew that…’

          It was a Protestant school in a Protestant village in a Protestant part of the country (not US), so yeah, it was somewhat understandable, but still… Just goes to show, I guess.

  • If I had the book in my hands I would have thrown it across the floor.

    Has the man not heard of Gregorian chants or Taize (which is becoming quite popular in the UK of late?)

    Also deeply ignorant. Indian Classical Music has a long and complex tradition, and it’s not just chanting. There’s a lot of the playing skillfully that mentioned in the Psalms. Some styles such as Qawwali, can be quite energetic (they have been adopted by the churches in India as well).

    Almost as bad as the people who say don’t wear Paisley print clothes.

  • Honestly, the musical ignorance is astounding. The Dies Irae is certainly a jaunty tune, right? Presumably he hasn’t actually listened to any classical music either, because minor keys and heartrending, lacerating anguish are expressed so well. (Even “happy” Mozart – Symphony #40 anyone?) And god forbid he actually read the Psalms…

    I’m with you on Sound of Silence. And on the introversion. Guys like LaHaye assume that quietness and introspection are sadness – or worse – which is such baloney. The church can be really hard on introverts, unfortunately.

  • LadyWoman

    So if I listen to “Epiphany” followed by “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd when I need some cheering up, am I in sin? (Seriously, that turn from intense rage to waltzy puns is a magical cure-all.)

  • That Other Jean

    Hunh. Yet more proof that Tim LaHaye has no idea what he’s going on about, and is dangerous to actually depressed people. I qualify, using his definitions, as a phlegmatic introvert. In all of my 67 years, I have never suffered more than a few days at a time with depression, and there has always been an easily-discovered reason for those feelings. I have SAD, treated with a full-spectrum light in winter, and extra vitamin D, but its symptoms are nothing like clinical depression. Tim LaHaye knows as much about depression as he does about music.

  • I actually find that a lot of African music is just insanely complex and beautiful and so. damn. happy. when it comes to so many things. I love listening to Yoruba music. NPR actually just did a random little segment on Nigerian soccer fans yesterday, and they were recording a bunch of them up in the bleachers playing music and ROCKING. OUT. Where is he getting that only Western music is happy? I’d say the opposite -f or a long time, the overt influence of Christianity’s declaration of what counted as “acceptable” or “proper” music actually dumbed down, dampened, and otherwise destroyed a lot of the happy spirit of early village country music. So there.

    • ViolinKnitter

      Or that Western music is predominantly happy, either. This whole discussion is reminding me strongly of John Dowland’s 16th cent. hit song, “Flow My Tears.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkRrzAo9Wl4 (Melancholia was very popular in 16th century England.)

      “I’d say the opposite -for a long time, the overt influence of Christianity’s declaration of what counted as “acceptable” or “proper” music actually dumbed down, dampened, and otherwise destroyed a lot of the happy spirit of early village country music.”

      The music history geek in me is having a hard time with this assertion. 🙂 It would be pretty hard to actually defend historically. (Yes, I’ve written too many academic term papers on music history.) For one thing, what musical styles could be considered proper church music has changed dramatically through the centuries, as liturgical styles transformed. For another, early village country music didn’t have a uniformly “happy spirit,” any more than contemporary popular music has a uniformly upbeat attitude. Think about the many old English ballads that tell tragic tales. Or if you want a really interesting look at European folk music, see if you can find some recordings from Bela Bartok’s ethnomusicological research in Eastern Europe. Many of those songs don’t fit anywhere in our standard conception of major or minor keys. (Happy or sad music.)

      (I realize your comment was probably a light-hearted exaggeration. It simply happened to set off my musicology geek radar. 🙂 )

      • I AM DEEPLY OFFENDED BY YOU CORRECTING MY INCORRECT HISTORICAL ASSERTIONS

        I WILL NEVER RECOVER

        Kidding.

        I’ll get over it someday. 😉

        That said, it was a lighthearted exaggeration, really. I was thinking of the amount of Christian-inflected cults or outright denominations that go through periods of essentially banning music that isn’t entirely focused on God, and that often means banning an awful lot of happy cheerful music in favor of dour hymns. (I love hymns! I don’t want that to sound like I don’t. But let’s face it, there are some pretty dour hymns in the world). I wasn’t honestly thinking about history in general.

  • Rebekah

    I’ve always noticed that listening to Linkin Park always helps my depression while listening to happy CCM always made me more depressed (and annoyed!). I think it’s becausemore depressing music reminds me that I’m not alone while happy music just reminds me of what I’m missing.

  • ReverendRef

    Tim is also deeply ignorant about the existence of personality disorders.

    Fixed that for you.

    • (Slow clap for that one, Rev!)

  • Holy moly—I can’t believe you even have the ability to *read* this stuff—it’s like a superpower. But then I’m one of these post-homeschool/IBYC/YWAM/”cult” kids who can’t even darken a church door without bursting into flames, so. Clearly your strength is as the strength of ten because your heart is pure. Brava, chica! Thank you for dismantling this medieval malarky for those who are still in and trying to disentangle. (Actually, I take that back—medievals were way smarter about this shit. I’d read Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy over LaHaye any day—and have, and will continue to do so, because it’s brilliant and wise.)

  • Crystal

    I’m betting in dear little Tim’s mind the Jews are also responsible for depression because of this false theory they write mostly in minor key. What rot that is!

    Tim talks superficial rubbish.

    His chapter on “Depression and the Occult” will anger me without having to read it.

    He’s a sick sick man.

  • Tim

    I enjoyed your discussion of music. I really do not know what would embolden someone like Tim LaHaye to offer commentary on something he was obviously so ignorant of when he could easily have done some research to see whether there was anything to support or contradict his crackpot theory. But there is a lot of that going around and always has been, i guess. Easier to spot in an internet era. But still. Gregorian chants. Right? even in 1974 without google how can you be ignorant of monastic music?

    I read the four temperaments when I was growing up. I, also, fall into the phelgmatic category. When I was introduced to mbti later, I figured “phlegmatic” is what “introverted thinkers” must look like to extraverts who just has no freaking clue about what might actually be going on inside our heads.

    • Jenny Islander

      Also note that during the European Middle Ages, peasants were assumed to be phlegmatic by reason of diet. It couldn’t be that they were very cautious in their movements and careful not to show too much initiative or talk too freely around the heavily armed class that was supported by their obedience–the class that produced books about the humors…

      (Also the class that restricted their access to foods that were supposed to correct a phlegmatic temperament, such as venison.)

  • Blue Jinn

    I still listen to a lot of Joy Division….and I wore a lot of black clothes back in the punk rock days. (Pre-goth.)

    I am curious as to where the “West” starts and ends. Is the balalaika “western?” Is Moussorgsky “Western” take a listen to Pictures at an Exhibition, one particular dissonant song about a legendary Russian witch…

    My parents were big into that personality nonsense. I don’t know how many times my mother told me I was “phlegmatic” but I wondered how the heck that came from the Bible. Of course LaHaye would probably be more convinced that Catholics are evil if he saw the Zodiac in Straßburg cathedral.