According to Miriam Keith in a recent article in the Marietta Times, “Tribe Helps Overcome Depression,” which follows the lead of Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry in their book, Creating Optimism: A Proven Seven-Step Program for Overcoming Depression, a loyal network of friends and family can be the most powerful tool available for overcoming depression. According to the authors, “Depression is about a disconnect in relationships somewhere along the line.” Depression and anxiety problems are associated with childhood experiences and environment—parental failures.
The authors advise reconnecting with our “hunter-gatherer” sense of morality and social practices. But how can enlightened people think that going back to a caveman mindset can help alleviate one of the most tenacious problems of contemporary society—depression? Isn’t the suggestion to return to pre-Modern social structures a lot like the fundamentalist desire to return to the 16th Century or the Islamic desire to return to the 7th? History does not and cannot run backwards.
Nonetheless, Creating Optimism provides the three Rs of tribal bonding: Rules, Roles and Rituals. The article then offered this idea: “While many of our social and cultural taboos have been erased because they are not feasible in a multicultural society, we still need boundaries in relationships to maintain safety and emotional security.” Dismissed without consideration is the fact that in large measure those “erased” taboos are part of the foundational morality of Christianity. Does this mean that Christian morality is not feasible in a multicultural society? If so, why not? Is every understanding of morality in a multicultural society is feasible except that of Christianity?
It was suggested that those old taboos—Christian rules, roles and rituals—have been erased from the minds of contemporary people—erased, not forgotten. Forgetting happens accidentally, but erasing is intentional. Words have meaning and ideas have consequences.
Apparently, people need to set the ground rules, not only for various categories of relationships, but for each relationship. The kinds of relationships cited were partners (not marriage), friends, colleagues and family. And on what basis can individuals establish or define these ground rules? We are to tell others what we need or want from them to make us happy. The satisfaction of our own desires are to be the criteria for our new relationship rules.
So, I tell other people what I need from them to make me happy, and, they tell me what they need to make them happy. The stated goal of these new relationship rules is self-satisfaction and self-esteem. Everyone is to demand from others what they want or need. Rules are not optional but mandatory.
This idea couldn’t be more opposed to biblical Christianity. Christians are not to demand from others what they want for themselves, but are to live according to God’s rules and in self-sacrificial service to Jesus Christ and the needs of others. In Christianity, living by our own rules is called sin. Christianity teaches that people are selfish and self-centered because they have a fallen nature. So, Christians live by Christ’s rules, and His rules are aimed at the glory of God and the establishment of human justice. Justice is required because human desires overlap and conflict. And Christ’s rules minimize that conflict by focusing people on service to others rather than demanding self-centered satisfaction.
Apparently, new social roles are also needed. And these new roles are not to be determined by age and gender. Traditional roles such as mother, father, son, daughter, husband and wife are identified as sources of depression. These are all gender and age based roles.
The new roles are to be determined by “ability and inclination,” both of which are actually functions of desire. How so? Desire leads to practice and practice leads to ability. People are to define and establish their own social roles. Doesn’t this make life self-centered? In contrast, Christian roles are determined by one’s calling and God-given gifts in the service of God and the greater good of society.
Do breadwinners or employees fit into this new role scenario? A lot of people don’t seem to have an inclination to work, nor to be responsible members of society. This allows for people who want to be criminals and bullies, if they have the ability and need it for their self-esteem. Again, this is the complete opposite of the Christian perspective.
Rituals also play a key role in overcoming depression. But it’s odd that Christian rituals are not mentioned. After all, Christianity is one of the most potent forces of ritual establishment on the planet.
The authors recommend returning to a tribal society because tribes, carefully defined and maintained, provide many benefits. However, each person needs to define his or her own tribe, and mandate to them how they are to be treated. This is supposed to maximize each person’s ultimate satisfaction. I’m supposed to sit my friends and family down and demand (rules are mandatory!) that they make me happy.
Go back to the supposed hunter-gatherer tribal social structures? I don’t think so. Though Christianity has had limited success in America to date, it would be utter foolishness to abandon the world’s greatest and most effective social system because it hasn’t yet been perfected. Rather than abandon it, we need to engage it more seriously. Did I mention that the authors suggest that spirituality is central to the treatment of depression? Well, they did. So, did they mention Christianity, the most common “spirituality” in America? No.
The failure of this article and book to recommend Christianity as being the most effective and readily available cure for depression, can only be a symptom of ideological blindness. The idea that people create their own tribes, whose purpose is to serve their own needs, implies that each person would be the chief of his or her own tribe, and that the highest goal of each individual would be the satisfaction of their own self-centered desires. I can’t imagine anything that would result in more conflict. Such an idea depresses me.