In my humble opinion there is no other area in which the Church has failed its members (and the public in general) than in the area of mental health. I could make this discussion very complicated in looking at the historical roots of the understanding of the soul and psyche (which were the indistinguishable to the Greeks). But, I will try to make this brief and simple.
In its earliest, formative years, the Church struggled with the influence of Dualism –both from the Greek Platonist and other sources. The main tenet of this type of Dualism is its application. As I’ve alluded to before is that this form of Dualism divides good from evil, important from unimportant, worldly from spiritual along altitudinal lines. The major division (as it comes to our own persona) is that the physical is of this world and the soul is of the heavenly. I really don’t think you can support this from scripture.
The way that this has been applied to mental health is, the soul is all that matters (and really all that is when we speak of a persona). The physical brain doesn’t matter. Personal experiences don’t matter. Mental illness (from an Evangelical perspective) is a moral issue . . . the mentally ill person’s own, active sin. The reasoning goes, if you are depressed, then you are in sin because people who have their eyes on Jesus, or people who pray right or believe right are joyous and smiling all the time.
I remember, while I was still under American-Evangelicalism’s spell, when I first heard about a blood test for depression I laughed out loud. “Depressed people are in sin and it’s that simple,” so I thought.
But that’s the great travesty. Mental illness is pandemic. It is pandemic because of not only personal sin (which has a minor role in most cases) but “old sin” that is the fall of Adam. In a fallen world, there are brain-genetic flaws that make some people prone to depression, anxiety, even psychosis. This brain flaw is becoming better and better understood in modern times with the help of such things as functional MRI and PET scans (that show abnormal brain function). So there is a place for medications in mental illness, just as there is a place for insulin in people who have diabetes (and pancreas has a flaw).
The problem with Evangelicalism is that when they consider mental illness as a personal moral failure, those who suffer from mental illness, also suffer from a huge amount of false guilt and low self esteem (I’m bad because I’m depressed). That’s sad. The other thing, is that we are all mentally ill because, as the result of the fall, none of us behave appropriately in the emotional arena.
Because we Christians have considered mental illness as a moral failure, it is disguised under fake “fruits of the spirit.” But we are all screwed up in the head . . . but completely covered by the blood of Christ.
When people cover up their mental illness themselves (rather than by the blood of Christ) then they are more prone to social dysfunction of the greatest degree.
Here’s an example. When I was a student in college and involved with the Navigators, one of the student leaders (and I too was considered a student leader), I now know is not only gay, but has a very serious personality disorder. Personality disorders is an official type of mental illness and it is complicated. It involves both genetics and early life experiences.
Now that I work in medicine and have had many patients with personality disorders, I recognize it in David very clearly. He tormented me during my college years. He was obsessed with me (sexually) and manipulated me constantly to be his “best friend.” If I resisted his sexual advances, he would make life hell for me in a very manipulative way. He would go to all the girls in the ministry (and us guys wanted to impress the cute girls most of all) and start sharing with them how I had “wounded his heart” by being mean to him. I was too ashamed to tell the girls in the ministry that I had awaken in the night to find David trying to perform oral sex on me and the he gave me the creeps.
But if you tried to oppose David in any way, he was a master at lying and convincing people that you had sinned against him. He is now a leader in the Navigators. He has never apologized for his sexual advances and, as far as I know, has never come out of the closet. But if I were to mention this to the Navigators, I am sure he would convince them that I had made the whole story up.
But my point is, we should expect each other to have effects (in our mental health) from living under the fall. When we mask it, then this great deception can occur.
If you read my posting “The Year of the Rabbit” you will see that when I discovered my own mental illness, anger, depression, anxiety . . . as well as that of my “Godly” leader (anger, personality disorder) that’s when my whole Christian world collapsed around me. I had been led to believe that if you do “x” amount of Bible study etc. that you virtually erased the effects of sin from your life.
Okay, long enough in this posting. But the theme you will start to see is that the cornerstone error in modern American Evangelicalism is this issue of extra-Biblical notion of Dualism and how it has been historically applied.