Dysthymia and God

Doubting the existence of God is akin to doubting the existence of one’s wife or children.

I suffer from chronic mild depression; the technical term for it is dysthymia. As a result, I’m now taking bupropion, the generic form of Wellbutrin. It has been quite effective. The primary change that I’ve noticed is a much increased ability to concentrate. I can get more work done. Fewer bad thoughts, too.

When I say that my dysthymia is chronic, what I mean is that it doesn’t ever go away entirely. But it is mild in the sense that I suffer no physical symptoms. Many people with more severe forms of depression suffer from odd pains and illnesses. Additionally, severe depression is often characterized by an inability to function. I suffer no physical pains or illnessess even when I’m unmedicated. I’m quite healthy. And even unmedicated, I continue to function, even in social settings. It’s just harder. Even with the medication, I still tend to be withdrawn, however. Perhaps a habit of mind developed over the years.

The other aspect to my dysthymia, at least when it is unmedicated, is the odd belief that my wife and children do not love me or even like me. In fact, I am convinced that they would prefer not to have to interact with me at all. On top of that, and more generally, I am equally convinced that I have no friends. I believe, without a doubt, that people would prefer that I not talk to them or interact with them in any way. I therefore tend not to talk to anyone unless they talk to me first and then I limit my conversation to simply responding to what they have asked in as few words as possible. I am convinced that I am a bore, annoying, and a loser and so why should I inflict myself on others? Unmedicated, I would actually go out of my way to hide from people and avoid them.

Most people would insist that my odd beliefs lacked any objective evidence, and in fact, there was overwhelming evidence against my point of view. But when I was in an unmedicated condition, no evidence that people would bring to bear to try to dissuade me from my insanity had any effect at all on my core beliefs. I could find explanations and evidence to explain away anything they told me that would seem to contradict what I absolutely knew to be so.

It is ludicrous to imagine that one’s wife of twenty-nine years or that one’s children don’t exist. It would be most peculiar to exclaim, upon a rare occurrence, “that proves I do have a wife”–for instance if I discovered her snoring next to me in bed.

I would suggest that as ludicrous as my depressive, negative beliefs might be, it is just as ludicrous to harbor such thoughts regarding God. To think that he needs to be proven to exist is simply silly. To conclude that he doesn’t exist makes as much sense as me deciding that I have no friends. To believe that God doesn’t love us is as insane as me thinking that my wife despises me.

My belief that I have no friends or family is irrational and the product of my mental illness. Unsurprising, and for similar reasons, the Bible comments that those who disbelieve in God are “fools.” (Psalm 14:1) It is no different than not believing in your neighbor or your spouse.

And since it would be very peculiar to develop philosophical “proofs” for the existence of your wife—say a teleological, ontological, first cause and the like for her (to take some of the traditional proofs of God that Aquinas postulated)—so I would argue it is equally as silly for someone to try to prove God’s existence. You’ll no more convince skeptics that you’re right about the existence of God than you’ll be able to convince an unmedicated me that anyone gives a damn about me or ever wants me around.

And those that believe in God, like those who believe they have friends, don’t need any convincing. They already know it. It’s kind of obvious, actually. As obvious as reality.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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