I was doing some research last evening for a blog entry I’m working on, and in that research I found some choice quotes from Christian apologist Dustin Segers. Readers who have followed my blog for the past several years may remember some noteworthy interactions with Segers’ apologetic statements that I have posted here.
Here are some examples:
However, I did stumble upon something relatively more recent.
A little less than a year ago (8/31/2014 to be exact), a video featuring Segers
was posted on the internet in which he states, in a rather sober, up-front talk to a camera, that he has been suffering from depression – a problem that has been affecting him since, he says, 2011, a problem which has caused him to cry tears into his own beard (yes, that bad!).
Segers explains that he was “disqualified” from the “ministry” through “various personal sins” and “went back to work,” leading to a couple of years that “were extremely difficult.” He says he “lost [his] identity… as a full-time church worker,” and that “the spiritual support structure… felt like it was gone, which it essentially was.” Segers blames himself for this, saying “mostly because it was my fault.” He says that “depression consumed me” and that he “did not want to get out of bed” and “hated my new job,” and “only lasted there for about six months.” He says that there were “a lot of ethical challenges taking place at that job” and then “stepped down from” it. (It seems he’s going down and downer here.) He says that he’s in a new job now (again, this was a year ago), which he loves and can do a lot of ministry in.
But his problem was “depression, and despair, and hopelessness, even to the point of contemplating suicide, multiple times.” All this coming from someone who champions a worldview which is supposedly built on hope, faith, rebirth, salvation, justification, sanctification, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, connection with the creator of the universe, the promise of Christ, having one’s name written in “the Book of Life,” being a “new creature in Christ,” being “forgiven” of one’s sins, etc. But in spite of this, according to this article
A new study conducted among more than 1,700 pastors has found that clergy are at far greater risk for depression and anxiety, mostly due to stress, than those with other occupations.
The study by the Clergy Health Initiative (CHI) at Durham-based Duke Divinity School interviewed over 1,726 United Methodist pastors in North Carolina by phone and through online surveys. It found that the clergy depression prevalence was 8.7 percent and 11.1 percent respectively, significantly higher than the 5.5 percent rate of the national sample.
Apparently Segers, being struck down by depression while working in a ministerial capacity, found himself in that unlucky percentile. And the way he describes it sounds like it’s quite a severe case. He says that he “had to give my guns to my friend, who was a pastor… I love to shoot guns, for target practice, just for fun, and I had to give all that to him. I had to give him my computers. I needed a complete break from the internet, both from a temptation standpoint [he does not elaborate on this] as well as just from a deep mental psychological spiritual declutterance stand point.” He has sought to simplify his life, which apparently means, perhaps among other things, disengaging from internet apologetics. In spite of this, he says that “the depression kept coming back. It just would leave for three or four or five weeks, and it would come, it would come, it would come back stronger every time.”
Somehow the “knowledge” that he’s one of “God’s elect” has not immunized Segers from the doldrums. No, I’m not trying to make light of Segers’ pain; nor am I dancing on the gravity of his situation. Indeed, I’d say it’s a good thing that he acknowledge that he’s got a debilitating problem. But stories like this – and I’ve seen many – suggest that the whole “new creature in Christ” thing is not what believers like to make it out to be. No matter how hard they try, some people simply can’t find comfort in suffering. Indeed, who can?
But how can one avoid depression and despair if he follows consistently the teachings of a worldview which proclaims selfishness to be a “sin”? Joy, pleasure, happiness – these are all intensely selfish values. How can one not succumb to deep emotional misery when his worldview insists that he hate his parents, his family members, even himself? Can one truly find happiness – in terms of non-contradictory joy - by practicing a worldview which teaches that the moral thing for a person to do is “deny himself”? And if one’s standard of love is a god which turns its own back on its only son while he’s being tortured and executed, and which sends tsunamis and earthquakes and epidemics to inflict unspeakable suffering on puny little human beings, treating them as insignificant, dispensable waste, what fulfillment in life can one really expect to achieve?
We are told by Christians that, as atheists, we can find no real “meaning” in our lives. What they’re really saying is that our lives don’t mean anything to them. And that’s fine with me – I don’t need my life to mean anything to them. The underlying premise of such a charge, however, is the ethics of sacrifice taken as the moral standard, essentially saying: if you don’t have anyone (such as an invisible magic being) to sacrifice your life for, then your life is utterly meaningless. They never stop to question this premise – many non-religious people (in fact, I’d say the majority) have accepted this premise as well.
The result of religious morality on the psychology of a person is extremely toxic. Any pleasure, joy and fulfillment that he experiences in life is darkened by an imposing cloud of guilt, an emotion that, along with dreadful fear, is indispensable to the Christian worldview. A state of unearned guilt is the psychological starting point in Christianity; without guilt, there’d be no need for salvation, and there’d be no way to sell Jesus. Only guilty people need a pardon.
But if we go by what we find in the New Testament, paying mind especially to the supernaturalism found in the gospels, Christians are apparently to believe that unclean spirits roam the earth and infect people’s souls, having the power to deceive people, steal their salvation, even make them physically sick. The Catholic Church’s increase in the practice of exorcisms in recent years signals an increase in the Church’s mystical hysteria. Someone’s been reading the gospels.
The believer is instructed to make his requests known to supernatural forces by means of prayer – a one-way conversation that’s indistinguishable from talking to one’s bed sheets. Regardless how the believer imagines it, prayer is what one might do if he’s given up on actively setting out to make positive changes in his life. The choice to pray, then, is the choice to resign from the responsibility of taking action to improve one’s life as well as the choice to invest one’s faith in the hope that somehow reality will re-align itself to one’s desires and preferences. Such a practice will only paralyze one’s sense of efficacy in his own life.
Whether they are environmentalists seeking bans on everything from light bulbs to reservoirs, or Christians compelling people to come into their churches and “get saved,” leftists and religionists are all telling us essentially the same thing: man is bad because he exists, and he should live his life in guilt and shame. Of course, religion perfected this technique of mutilating man’s spirit, preferably before it has an opportunity to develop, long before anyone became interested in old growth forests and endangered newts.
When children are taught by the adults in their lives to believe that they were “born into sin” and that they deserve nothing better than to roast in unquenchable hellfire for all eternity, it should come as no surprise when they spend their adult years in a perpetually depressed state. They are told over and over again that they are wicked and must repent, and the psychological wounds this causes in one’s adolescent years never really heal.
While there may certainly be factors in a person’s life, things that happen to him – accidents, illnesses, marital problems, crime, etc. – that can mitigate against one’s uncompromised enjoyment of life, I think one’s overall philosophical view of reality and life is extremely important and cannot be overestimated. Indeed, when do we ever hear apologists talk about happiness? The very idea of living a happy and fulfilled life seems to be an invention of the Enlightenment, for prior to this men were told to accept their lot and bear their cross, that pleasure-seeking (cf. enjoying life) and pride (cf. taking deep satisfaction in one’s achievements) are “vanity” and “of the devil.” All human beings were expected to lead boring, servile lives and make no effort to build a life truly worth living. Taking such proscriptions seriously would lead a person to near if not outright paranoia in regard to his own experience. This is why a key device in Christianity is dissociation - the severing of the believer’s outwardly facing emotions from their causes in order to appear unaffected by mundane things and present to the world an otherworldly euphoric calm masking the torturous inner conflict and turmoil embroiling his entire psychology.
Christians of course are going to say, in one form or another, that Jesus is the solution to depression. “Instead of ‘being who you are’,” writes Jason Engwer
, “it's better to be who God wants you to be.” Such advice will simply send the eager believer into a labyrinth of utter darkness and despair. It is by necessity an unachievable mission: no matter what one does in order to “be who God wants [him] to be,” there will never be any objective indicators to light the way and tell him if he’s there yet. And no matter how frequently or infrequently he looks in the mirror, he will always see himself – he will always be who he is. How is he to know when he is no longer being who he is but now being “who God wants [him] to be”? Whose wants and desires are really guiding the transformation? And exactly what was wrong with the starting point, and why?
Speaking from my own personal experience, I know that if I were a Christian, I would be miserably depressed. My advice to Segers is to renounce all forms of mysticism, come out of the primitive darkness of Christianity, and stop pretending about reality. I don’t propose this as a cure-all, but it would be some very important steps in the right direction.
by Dawson Bethrick