We know that countless people are depressed, and millions are addicted to alcohol or drugs, and millions take antidepressants. And I’m not surprised!
Because honest people—and by that I mean the people not living in denial, the people honest about the human condition—should be depressed! Very depressed.
Consider a truth agreed upon by every agnostic, skeptic, atheist, and Christian: only one thing is going to prevent you from watching every person you know die from murder, accident, or disease and that will be your own death by murder, accident or disease.
That’s absolutely true, right?
But it gets worse. Unless we die young (which most people consider a bad thing) then we will watch ourselves, and those we love, slowly lose physical and mental abilities—in often painful and humiliating ways—until we ultimately watch everyone die from murder, accident or disease.
Bring me another double gin gimlet, STAT!
How do people live with this knowledge? They don’t. At least not very well.
Thus many people rely on drink or drugs, and even then almost everyone denies this grim reality. Of course they will acknowledge the truth of death—but then they try to numb it and push it out of their minds, to ignore it, to pretend like it isn’t so.
That’s the reason I said “honest people” are depressed. Or Christians!1
Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, argued “the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is the mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man.2 To cope with this man tries to “transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth. We achieve ersatz immortality by sacrificing ourselves to conquer an empire, to build a temple, to write a book, to establish a family, to accumulate a fortune, to further progress and prosperity, to create an information society and a global free market.”3 Becker writes that a fellow who may “throw himself on a grenade to save his comrades” must “feel and believe what he is doing is truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful” and says this striving for heroics in “passionate people” is “a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.”4 But for most people, for the more “passive masses,” this heroism is “disguised as they humbly and complainingly follow out the roles that society provides for their heroics and try to earn their promotions within the system” which allows them to “stick out, but ever so little and so safely.”5
That’s one reason why the godless so often champion political, environmental, and social movements: they need to be a part of something larger than themselves—something meaningful beyond their soon-to-be-eaten-by-worms existence. Although there’s nothing wrong, in itself, with political, environmental, and social movements, or with watching television, listening to music, surfing the net, or reading a book, but most people use them to drown out the bell that tolls for them.
It is fascinating to note that Becker was aware of the way out, but sadly, he didn’t believe it was true (he died of cancer the year his book was published—he was 47). Becker summed up the wonder of the Christian worldview:
When man lived securely under the canopy of the Judeo-Christian world picture he was part of a great whole; to put it in our terms, his cosmic heroism was completely mapped out, it was unmistakable. He came from the invisible world into the visible one by the act of God, did his duty to God by living out his life with dignity and faith… offering his whole life—as Christ had—to the Father. In turn he was justified by the Father and rewarded with eternal life in the invisible dimension. Little did it matter that earth was a vale of tears, of horrid sufferings of incommensurateness, of torturous and humiliating daily pettiness, of sickness and death, a place where man felt he did not belong, “the wrong place,” as Chesterton said…. In a word, man’s cosmic heroism was assured, even if he was as nothing. This was the most remarkable achievement of the Christian world picture: that it could take slaves, cripples, imbeciles, the simple and the mighty, and make them all secure heroes, simply by taking a step back from the world into another dimension of things, the dimension called heaven. Or we might better say that Christianity took creature consciousness—the thing man most wanted to deny—and made it the very condition for his cosmic heroism.6
Even though he missed the truth of it, Becker was right. Christianity does give glorious meaning and purpose to our difficult lives. More than that, Christianity transcends death and promises immortality.
Thus the title of this post, “If you’re honest you’re depressed (or you’re a Christian).” Now I’m not saying that there aren’t other causes of depression—of course there are. Also, I realize that Christians sometimes struggle with depression—this is a hard world after all—but Christians who envelop themselves in the hope of eternal life have much less reason to be depressed. In fact, one reason that some Christians can’t shake depression is that they have a beggarly view of the glory that awaits them forever.
Thankfully, Jesus really was raised from the dead and by believing in Him we can have eternal life!
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
- Other religions do provide some solace to the human condition but, of course, I argue that those religions are false. [↩]
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York, Free Press, 1973), xvii. [↩]
- Sam Keen, “Forward” in Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York, Free Press, 1973), xiii. [↩]
- Ibid., 6. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Ibid., 159-160. Emphasis his. [↩]