[Guest Post] When Silence is Deafening


Paul the Apostle, by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn c. 1657

I’ve asked Ryan to publish this anonymously on my behalf for a series of reasons: one, I do not feel as if I can say what I intend to say without the cover of anonymity (partially from each shame, guilt, and fear); two, there are parts where it can come across as having ulterior motives (e.g. bragging about “superior” faith) which I wish to mitigate; and three, while this is deeply personal, it’s not unique… while I do not claim to speak on behalf of all Christians who suffer from some form of psychiatric illness, I hope to reflect a collective experience that transcends myself.

The bible defines faith as “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 NRSV).  If this is true (which, like all Christians concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy, I affirm), then it seems two categories of actions testify and affirm a vibrant faith more than any other—dying for faith, and living for it. The former category, those who die for their faith, have been applauded for their faith from the origin of the Church; martyrs have, justly, been admired for their steadfastness and strength. Alternatively; the latter category, those who live for faith, have been more or less ignored by the Church. This category specifically refers to the untold amount of Christians who, like myself, suffer from psychiatric illnesses. This post is intended to explain why living for faith (not by faith…an immensely important distinction) can be as significant a demonstration of faith as dying for it and to deplore the Church’s silence on the issue.

The majority of the time the Church’s response is a deafening silence… a silence which carries weight and power. Often times, the loudest thing one can hear is silence—for silence isolates and stigmatizes. To the untold many Christians with psychiatric illnesses who attend church faithfully (never mind those who are not Christians who go to a church looking for something), it does not go unnoticed that there is no mention of, or attention to, mental health. We attend a community, one meant to share each other’s burdens and to suffer alongside one another; and yet, we suffer alone and in silence… either put off from the silence, thinking such problems are abnormal or otherwise unworthy of mention, or from fear of the shame that comes with the only answer ever offered—“you just need to have faith”. You just need to have faith…the hypocritically unhelpful and condescending ignorance of such a statement is simply unfathomable; never would someone tell, or imply, a person with diabetes that they lack faith. Yet, because our illness is psychiatric in nature, resultant from neurochemical imbalances or neuro-physical defects, it is attributed to weak faith (yet, did St. Paul have weak faith when he suffered from some affliction that the Lord would not remove despite prayer (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)?). The supreme irony of that statement is just how much faith we have. For many us, each day is lived purely for the faith that we hold; when we passively desire death or, more extremely, actively experience suicidal ideation, it is often purely for the faith we have that we continue to go on.  The Lord has said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 NRSV).[1] It is a duty (in the Kantian sense of the word) to continue striving forth for the commandments necessitate life. It is the love for the Lord that allows us to endure the anxiety, endure the despair, the apathy, and any and all other psychiatric problems we possess. To illustrate this, allow me to walk you through my life—a Christian who has both clinical depression and anxiety problems.

I live each day knowing that I would rather not; I wake up disappointed that I did not pass away during the night. Actively contemplating suicide is rare, although not unheard of, the act of living is an act inundated with despair. I will sit amongst a crowd of people and yet feel completely alone. I want to do things… but I lack any energy to do so; I am apathetic and lethargic and no matter how much I want to want to do something I simply cannot do so. I walk into a church building and see everyone smiling and happy, singing emotional songs about how Jesus loves us… and I am alone. The place where I should feel more at home than anywhere else, is the place I feel most isolated and alone. Where then may I turn?

While those with psychiatric illnesses are not unique in this, they are a group that the Church has, inexcusably, failed. Ignored or brushed aside, we are made to feel isolated from the body of Christ, doubtful of our faith, and ashamed of our illnesses. Modern worship has been diluted to nothing more than emotional manipulation and faith is now measured by emotive response… in such a church, what place is there for those of us who possess psychiatric inhibitions for the emotive outbursts now identified as the Christian response to worship? Faith cannot be reduced to how you feel… how you act, who (and what) you are, what you do—these are the measures of faith found in the New Testament: “[Jesus] is the vine, [we] are the branches. Those who abide in [Him] and [He] in them will bear much fruit, because apart from [Him] [we] can do nothing” (John 15:5 NRSV).[2]

[1] It is worth noting that other ancient manuscripts lack “you will”—reading instead, “if you love me, keep my commandments”. While the textual variant does not significantly alter the reading of the text, the emphasis shifts: the former can be articulated as a sign of the love one has; if you truly love Jesus then you will display that love by keeping His commandments. The latter can be articulated as a condition; in order to love Christ, you must keep His commandments.

[2] Cf. Matthew 7:15-20


Aphorisms; The Importance Of A Good Philosophy

Adapted from Private Conversation:

A good philosophy is like a well-built house. There are many different ways it can be built, but there are certain basic needs (or even very particular needs) which it needs to meet in order to be a good house. In the same way that a house needs to keep people warm, some philosophies can leave people out in the cold if they don’t answer certain questions well. Modern science is a primary example of this because it was developed in a specific way that it didn’t need to be and now it has a habitual way of seeing the world which subtracts meaning from it (see Lewis’ The Empty Universe, or Barfield’s The Rediscovery of Meaning, or Charles Taylor on Buffered and Porous Selves). So, again, a world primarily informed by modern science is often lucky if it isn’t left significantly empty by that science. This is why Lewis wrote the essay called the Empty Universe. The way of seeing which science pushes is a big deal, and part of how it got there was often the result of certain decisions in philosophy or spirituality that have had a big impact along the way.

Then again a good philosophy is like a computer program – I learned this because around the time I was getting into Philosophy I also was taught some programming classes by my dad – these gave me much more knowledge of structural issues than of computer languages, which I hardly know now. But a computer program is made to call up certain code under certain conditions. If it goes to certain code and the code doesn’t actually remedy the situation satisfactorily, then the program defaults and an error occurs, sometimes crashing the system. The same thing happens in people’s lives. People run into real life issues when the (implicit or explicit) philosophy they have been taught requires certain “code” and calls it up and they discover that the code is lacking. This can create great despair and years of searching.

Now this doesn’t mean that philosophy is supposed to be taught completely authoritatively. In fact it only works by dialogue and dogma (in the traditional, European sense of doctrine and tradition), which is why it is so significant that Socrates and Jesus and the best Philosophers have written by showing little talks. If something is not convincing, we discuss why. If it is finally found lacking, it is acknowledged and that is that if nothing else is proposed. The history of philosophy is thus a long conversation. Someone who has studied it well can dwell in it like a house. Either it works or it does not. It works like a code in that it will run into errors sooner or later, bigger or smaller. The smaller they are, the more it will be like a dialogue. The bigger they are the more it will require both creativity and even revelation

I am saying all of this to illustrate how I believe philosophy has very real consequences and how it is important.

[It occurs to me that that some people will think this is meant to be exhaustive, or that this means I am purely constructivist about philosophy. I believe there is a “single truth” in life, but exactly how one gets there, or in what sense or degree anyone does get there, is a very complex matter. In short, Truth is not constructed; Philosophies are.]