Self Loathing, Mental Illness, and Alternative Folk Rock: Why Evangelism Needs Hopefulness

By Duane Davis
Seattle, WA, SDB Church

 

I’ve heard enough SCSC testimonies to know they follow a certain formula: person grows up Christian, then falls out of it in during the teen years, and eventually comes back, and now everything’s hunky-dory. As a child born and raised in the church, I never thought that could happen to me. I thought I was above ever falling out of faith, ever doubting, ever rejecting my upbringing. I thought pretty highly of myself — that while it’s true I’m a sinner, God would forgive me no matter what. As you might expect, these assumptions about myself turned out to be not terribly accurate.

Around fourth or fifth grade, an idea came to me that hadn’t before. Even though I was a Christian, would it be possible to be so out of line that God wouldn’t forgive me? The idea of not being “enough” to be loved, that the things in my life I found not important enough to be of any obstacle in my faith were actually separating me from God and jeopardizing my chances of going to Heaven. These things wracked me with guilt and self hatred just for the crime of being alive.

Every few weeks or so, I fall into a state of depression. I feel empty, hopeless, disconnected from the things I usually enjoy. At times it has gotten to the point where I worry that my emotions will get the better of me and I will end up seriously harming myself. I have taken measures to avoid this, such as seeing a therapist regularly, taking an ADD medication that regulates my dopamine levels, and surrounding myself with people that I feel comfortable being open with emotionally. Recently (again, at time of writing) when I fell into one such low point, I told my dad about it for sake of disclosure. He was understanding and asked me something that I had vaguely considered but never brought to fruition: “Have you prayed about it?”

Too often I have seen people showing the exact negative traits and stereotypes associated with Christianity that have led many, myself included, to dislike it. When people are dismissive and mocking of the idea that God loves everyone no matter what, it’s not hard to see why so many people wave the church off as a hate group.

I invite everyone reading to give a listen to the album The Life of the World to Come by alternative folk rock band, The Mountain Goats (it’s available on YouTube, don’t worry). With each track named after a Bible verse, it’s essentially a concept album about Christianity. While not a strictly Christian band, and while the music is not at all what we usually classify as Christian music, it’s probably one of the most powerful pieces of evangelism I’ve ever seen. TMG frontman, John Darnielle, had incorporated Scripture into his passionate, empathetic, emotional lyrics before — but on this album, he brings religion to the foreground. It’s about people’s relationship to religion, specifically people with mental illness, with lyrics like “I won’t get better / but someday I’ll be free / for I am not this body / that imprisons me” (from the song Isaiah 45:23) or “Lord send me a mechanic / if I’m not beyond repair” (Psalms 40:2).

Evangelism does not need more explanations and damnations of every single thing we’ve done wrong. There is a time and a place for self-denouncement, and

it shouldn’t be the face of religion. Evangelism needs hope. The force that created the universe, carefully

detailed every molecule in our beings and the far reaches of the stars, cares about us and our troubles. That’s a very comforting thought. God didn’t send us to spread His word to scare people; He sent us to show His love for all people.

Harsh truths come abundantly with faith, and of course, bad things will come no matter where you stand in faith. Religion, for many, acts as the solution, but for many more, it stands as the cause. I believe the former is what God wants for His children, and that means all people of the Earth. God created us because He loves us, not because He wants us to live in fear and despair. To quote Philippians 3:20-21 (the Mountain Goats song, that is), “The path to the palace of wisdom that the mystics walk / is lined with neuroleptics and electric shocks.” Everyone deserves love, not just those who live their lives perfectly according to the church — everyone.

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