Christian blogger C. Michael Patton is depressed, either because of what’s going on in his life, or for clinical reasons, or through a combination of the two (see After Depression: An Update on My Broke Mind and Not Alone). But that’s not why I’m saying “Oh brother”. Rather, I’m saying “Oh brother” to certain things that a Christian commenter said under Ken Pulliam’s post, Forget about Noah’s Ark; There Was No Worldwide Flood. The context is a discussion about the potential downfall of Christianity. Here are two of the Christian commenter’s comments:
I don’t know but I can’t help but wonder about christiantiy when I stumble upon a christian blog about being so manically depressed (http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/05/after-depression-an-update-on-my-depression/). Then I come here and chat with people who are a little more level headed. I am not gonna draw conclusions but there is a case to be made.
The Christian commenter is saying that the skeptics on Ken’s blog are more level-headed than Christian C. Michael Patton, who blogs about his depression.
Here’s another comment from the Christian commenter:
Some readers are not prepared for this sort of stuff. I go to [Patton’s] blog for some ideas on theology, as I do to yours (on the con side).
I am sure Michael is a friend to many and this is evident in the comments. But personally, I think this sort of stuff should be kept to your friends. It can even have a harmful effect on some. I wish him the best but I think that should have been posted elsewhere. Thanks for your reply.
In my opinion, this echoes certain sentiments that I’ve often encountered in evangelical Christianity: that Christians are supposed to be walking advertisements for Jesus Christ before an unbelieving world, and so they should communicate through their words and their lives that they have their acts together. And, when a non-believer asks them why they have their acts together, they are to respond that Jesus Christ changed their lives, and invite the non-believer into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The same sentiment can flow into a Christian’s relationship with other believers: we don’t want to make weaker Christians stumble, and so we should keep our doubts or our problems to ourselves, or our close friends. Otherwise, we may produce “a harmful effect on some.” But, granted, I also see the opposite in evangelicalism: the notion that we should be vulnerable and transparent to other believers so they can tell us what to do. That’s why I’ve seen incidents in evangelicalism where people compete about who can be the most emotional (or so it appears to me).
But, back to the pressure on Christians to appear to the world as if they have their acts together: what if the Christian’s act being together is just a front, and doesn’t reflect how she truly thinks or feels? Isn’t anything short of honesty in a testimony false advertising for the Christian faith? At least Michael is honest about where he is in his relationship with God.
I appreciated some of the responses to the Christian commenter:
Ken Pulliam: I consider Michael Patton at Pen and Parchment a friend. I don’t know exactly what he has been going through but it may be clinical depression. Believers and unbelievers alike are subject to chemical imbalances. So I would not make any judgments based on that. I appreciate Michael’s honesty. He is one of the few Christians on the net that I have encountered who is really transparent.
SteveJ: John said: “But personally, I think this sort of stuff should be kept to your friends. It can even have a harmful effect on some.”
Why? There are probably a lot of depressed Christians out there who would be encouraged to know they’re not alone. They look around at the joyful facades everyone displays at church and view themselves as special cases (thereby deepening their misery). This guy is offering a dose of reality that may help buoy up some hurting people.
Ken Pulliam: I agree with Steve. If Christianity is true, then one ought not to have “hide” anything to keep others from stumbling. While airing one’s personal life for all to see is something I wouldn’t want to do, I am not going to criticize Michael for doing so nor am I going to try to score some cheap point for atheism from it.
(Here’s a newsflash: there are atheists who have struggles too! But it’s probably easy for both sides to score cheap points for their religion or lack thereof by pointing out the imperfections of the other side. Good thing Ken’s not playing that game.)
One thing that I’ll always appreciate about the Bible is that its characters are honest about their struggles, doubts, and depression! If you think that sort of honesty is harmful, don’t read the Bible.