On Being Depressed in a Post-Christian World

Reading one of my favourite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, I just came across a few lines which really grabbed my attention. Two philosophers, Isabel and Jane, who have previously not met each other, meet in a cafe for lunch. Perhaps not unexpectedly, their conversation launches straight into deep matters:

The mention of religion stuck out. The laicisation of conversation – even about major things – had been so complete that religious references seemed inappropriate, almost gauche. And yet that was what had made us, thought Isabel. That had been at the heart of our culture; it had given our society its fundamental outlook. And could the Enlightenment have flourished in quite the same way in the absence of Christian sentiments of love and cherishing of others? Society may be post-Christian, but could hardly ignore its Judeo-Christian past; we did not, after all come from nowhere.

I am, almost infamously, post-Christian. I was a devout believer for most of my life and tragically lost my faith five years ago. It was one of the more traumatizing events of my existence; as I said to a friend recently, I wish I could still believe – but my faith is gone, and to pretend otherwise, even for the sake of comfort, would be intellectually and morally reprehensible.

I have been a depressed Christian, and now am a depressed post-Christian. Being a depressed Christian was, in many ways, a wonderful opportunity for growth. One could not treat the issue of suffering lightly: no trite quoting of scripture, nor intellectual theologizing, would turn your face from the fact that suffering exists in this universe, which apparently came into being through the agency of a loving God. My faith did not ease my suffering; rather, my suffering deepened and broadened my faith. I could feel and experience what it meant for God to enter creation and live among us, and die an unjust death at the hands of powerful men.

These days, I cannot pretend that I was never a Christian. As Isabel muses in the quote above, I cannot ignore my Judeo-Christian past. Losing my faith left a God-shaped hole in my psyche. (Wow, as I typed that sentence, I suddenly realized that the phrase “God-shaped wound” might be more appropriate!) There was a great deal of psychological re-wiring which had to be done: for instance, if you are a Christian and do something which you are ashamed of (i.e. sin) there is a process you go through to restore yourself to a state of grace. I have had to find a new process, and train myself in it. I’ve had to find new ground beneath my feet, a new basis for being. It’s been tough, but I’ve made progress.

Being depressed in a post-Christian world is … different. I suspect my world was already post-Christian before I lost my faith. Although I was still “in the cult”, much of Western society had moved on. Still, I lived in a subculture in which people prayed for me, believing to a greater or lesser degree that they were able to do something to actually help alleviate my suffering; even my medications bloke doesn’t promise that.

I’ve had Christians tell me that God is still there, waiting for me to turn back and receive the promises of faith. They earnestly gaze into my eyes, as though I could will myself – as though they could will me! – back into belief. I politely tell them that if I could, I most surely would choose a life of faith again; however, I can not. I don’t have it within me to retreat into what would, for me, be a spiritual and intellectual sham for the sake of comfort. If there is a god, they would not want that, surely?

Judeo-Christian imagery and themes pervade my psychotherapy: trinities; sin and forgiveness; salvation; relationship. An emphasis on justice, love and relationships, broken and true. Sacrifice. Integrity. Just wrath, and just suffering.

No, there’s no escaping where I’ve come from; just like the title of Jeanette Winterson’s masterpiece, “Written on the Body”, my history is inscribed into my psyche.

I know, however, that where I come from is less important than where I am going.

And where I am going is towards a place of wholeness and health, along a path of intellectual honesty and authenticity.

*      *      *

Friends, as I write this, I am dealing with the recent news that my bedridden grandmother has pneumonia and may not have long to live. I’m sure my psychotherapist would make much of the fact that I’ve chosen to write on religious themes after hearing that news, but I’m just letting you know that the coming days may be a little difficult, and as I have in the past, I may be looking to the community here on WordPress for support.

Sunset

12 Comments

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12 responses to “On Being Depressed in a Post-Christian World

  1. hellokalykitty

    *hugs*

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  2. I’m thinking of you and your family at this time. I am not even close to being a perfect Christian, but I believe that doing good in life and being the best person you can be is a good enough path for God. You may have lost your faith, but you never know what will happen that will or will not bring it back to you. Right before my grandmother died, she wasn’t very religious at all. She usually found Jesus in the bottom of a bottle, but rarely anywhere else. A few weeks before she went, she woke up and saw what she described as an angel with the face of a dove. She was coherent and in her right mind, so I couldn’t blame it on her being “out of her mind”.

    There’s just so much more to his life than we know. I think there’s more to the afterlife than we know. When my grandma died and I went in the room to see her one more time before the funeral home took her away, looking into her eyes, I could tell that the soul which resided in her body was no longer here. Where it went – I guess that’s up for debate. I have always always always believed in God, but going through the entire process of my grandmother’s death really solidified everything for me.

    I won’t say that I hope you find God again, because A)That isn’t for me to wish on someone that doesn’t want it and B)I don’t think He’s ever really gone from anyone’s life anyway. But I DO hope you find some peace in your life that helps with your depression. I hope you get answers that you are looking for. And I think that when all is said and done, and it really matters, all will be revealed to us, anyway.

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    • Thank you. Those were considered, considerate and non-condescending words! You write well.

      I am always prepared to believe there’s more to life than I can understand … beyond that, I can’t say much more, at the moment.

      Thanks again for dropping by and for your kind words.

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  3. I actually “officially” left the Christian faith only a year or two ago and it was a pretty painful thing for me too, to look back at how strongly I believed as a kid and to know that I’ve lost that part of myself. However, that said, I am much happier now, finding new things to believe in like family, love, magic, etc., and I feel closer to who I really am.

    The fact that you once believed in Christianity, and the fact that its themes still reside deep in your psyche now, makes me think you haven’t really lost your faith. You may just have lost the name for it, and now you have to find a new one, the real one.

    In any case, I wish you all the best on your continuing spiritual journey, and give my condolences to you and your family in this difficult time. We’re here for you ❤

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    • Thank you for your kind and considered words. No, I’m afraid I have lost my faith – believe me, I clung to the corpse until I was sure any signs of life had departed! For now, it is gone. However, the same intellectual and spiritual integrity which doesn’t allow me to enjoy the comforts and strappings of faith at this time will also demand that I declare my return to the fold, should that occur.

      Thank you for your kind wishes at this time. No further news at this stage.

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      • Well, there’s much to be said for certainty then. Knowing for a fact that you have lost your faith, and finding your stability in your intellectual and spiritual integrity, would be something of a comfort, I imagine, in that you really aren’t pretending or deceiving yourself. Kudos to you for finding that certainty 🙂

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  4. I am curious as to the story behind your loss of faith five years ago. I find that I have been an on again off again Christian for the last ten years. Sometimes I feel that I need the comfort of faith, and other times I feel that it is just all too hard to hope for a deliverance or peace that never seems to come. But I think that living requires a kind of faith, hope and love, even if those do not conform to the structure of religion. I wish you well on your life journey.

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    • Thank you for your kind wishes. There is a story behind my loss of faith, but perhaps it is best told in full another time. I, too, believe I live a life characterized by life, hope and faith in certain things – but not supernatural things, these days. There is plenty enough love, faith and hope to go around in the world I exist in! Thank you for your kind and respectful comments.

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  5. I’m here for you if you need to talk. Be at peace my friend and trust that your grandmother will be looked after.

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  6. I am so very sorry to hear that your grandmother is ill. I hope that you live close enough that you can be with her and find comfort in the rest of your family. Given the rest of your post, is it ok to say that I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers?

    I’m intrigued by your description of the Christian and post-Christian chapters in your life. It’s almost like they’re two separate entities – Chapter 1 – Christian, then a distinct break in your narrative, and finally Chapter 2 – Post-Christian. I guess it remains to be seen whether there is a Chapter 3. 🙂

    But what strikes me is that these sound like very distinct parts of your life, and distinct parts of your spiritual/personal/intellectual development. But what if you were to view this on more of a continuum? In other words, what if you couldn’t arrive at Chapter 2 without first having experienced Chapter 1? It feels a bit as if you tolerate the existence of Chapter 1, and acknowledge that it’s a part of you, but without wanting to give it too much credit. Thoughts?

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    • I love that thought of a continuum, and would hope that’s how I see my life, despite the way it came across in this post. For instance, I have a cross tattoo which I have kept – it’s always going to be part of my story.

      These days, I’m not only open to Chapter 3, but also Chapters 4, 5, 6…! And I do appreciate your prayers for me and my family. I understand that it is you choosing to do something kind for us, which you’re not obliged to do, and I really appreciate that.

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