Pharmaceuticals for Spiritual Conditions

Pharmaceuticals for spiritual conditions. Are we medicating for spiritual conditions by diagnosing the painful introspection necessary for growth as depression? And is this as beneficial as we seem to think?

Sometimes, painful emotions are both appropriate and necessary for greater understanding, the recognition and correction of our inappropriate or harmful behavior and the precursor to change in the form of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption. Ah, but that is the question.

This is, of course, spiritual language. Psychological language would describe these circumstances differently. Is painful introspection necessary, or is it the snapping of synapses; the chemical processes of serotonin uptake in the brain, a physical process that can be changed by pharmaceuticals resulting in altered mood?

And what are we to make of spiritual despair as the birthing ground for the soaring creativity of the human spirit? Would a properly medicated Beethoven have written symphony no. 9, the Choral? Where would the world be without "Ode to Joy?"

I’m not of the position that suffering is necessary for creativity, nor that depression is a requirement for great art. Rather, the question is, what’s the difference between depression and spiritual despair? The "answers" lead to different destinations.

That’s the discussion on the Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times blog. In an era when psychic life is described in terms of neurotransmitters, introspection–the self-examination necessary for spiritual growth–has become passe. Prof. Gordon Marino discusses the evolving attitude toward despair as a medical condition by citing the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century Danish philosopher.

Marino asks, "Have we lost the distinction between psychological and spiritual disorders, between depression and despair?"

I wonder. What do you think?

3 Responses to “Pharmaceuticals for Spiritual Conditions”

  1. Dale November 11, 2009 at 9:41 am #


    I feel the same way. I am not very trusting of a quick fallback on prescription. About 7 years ago, I was taking some anti-depressants, and while it seemed to ease the extremities of anxiety and deflation, I also felt it sapped some passion along with it, which I consider vital to keeping me going. I ceased taking those prescriptions and have never returned to it. I do believe there is a definite spirtiual dimension that the medical profession treats as if it were 100% addressable by pharmaceuticals.

    David Fitch would say that this is an reas that the church has farmed out to secular medicine (ref. his book The Great Giveaway)

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Dale November 11, 2009 at 4:35 pm #

    Whoops: David Fitch would say that this is an AREA that the church has farmed out to secular medicine (ref. his book The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism and other market maladies)

  3. Larry November 15, 2009 at 3:13 am #

    It seems we have replaced the theological model with a clinical model in matters such as this. Your point is well-placed. While pharmaceuticals ease the negative effects of depression, they also have the unintended consequence of flattening out other emotions, in this case the benefical emotions that give zest to life. Thanks for the reference to the book. I haven’t read it yet but will do so now.

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