It hasn’t been great lately for folks like me. It started when Phil Robertson, the “Duck Dynasty Patriarch” and now apparent Serious Theological Figure, spoke at a prayer breakfast in Florida and gave us a bizarre parable about atheists.
In it, an atheist family’s home is invaded by ne’er-do-wells who tie up the father, rape and murder his daughters, decapitate his wife, and then castrate him. The father then has a Road to Damascus moment where he realizes, in Robinson’s words, “something about this just ain’t right”, which is a far better punchline than, “The Aristocrats!”
Now, I’ll give this to Robinson; at least in his story it’s not the atheists themselves who are doing all these terrible things. In fact, in Robinson’s telling, he slips into the second person for some of the description, inviting his fellow prayer breakfasters to imagine themselves raping, murdering, and beheading. So it’s not quite the usual argument that without a god one can’t have morals and anything goes. Still, the deviants say, “Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?”
We’ve seen this schtick before and we’ll see it many other times. There’s no need to once again get into how this reveals much more about Robinson himself than it does atheists, or to wonder how being in that hypothetical situation would be vastly improved by believing in god. Thankfully, it only seems to work on those who are already going to hate and fear anyone who isn’t them, so it’s not like it’s going to get a lot of traction from being repeated. Still, it’s a nice reminder that there’s still a group out there who thinks I’m the literal devil and they have political power and a media platform.
And then came the Germanwings crash.
Now, I’m not going to say that I have it worse than someone who actually got flown into a mountain on purpose, or had a loved one to whom that happened. Obviously that’s not so. But in case there wasn’t enough tragedy already in the story, when it came out that Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who engineered the crash, suffered from depression and was on medication, we got to hear everyone’s hot take on that issue as well.
It was an exciting discussion because after being told for years that depression is not real and you just have to get over it, I got to find out that actually depression makes people into ticking time bombs who should never be put in charge of other people. The same folks who laughed off claims of depression were now appalled that Lufthansa didn’t apparently take it seriously enough. The question hung in the air: was I, a person who suffers from chronic depression, merely whining for lack of backbone, or was I a menace to all around me?
Of course, I immediately did the responsible thing:
ok fine. as a chronically depressed person I condemn this act. it does not follow the tenets of chronic depression at all.
— Dave Lartigue (@daveexmachina) March 29, 2015
But was that enough? I take 30 milligrams of Citalopram every morning to combat the mighty sads, and it doesn’t always work. I don’t fly planes, but I’m often at the wheel of a car, with plenty of opportunities to take some folks out with me, not to mention that I live in the guntopia of America. What if one day I forget my Citalopram and suddenly I’m going on a non-drug-filled homisuicidal rampage through the streets? Or, because a side effect of antidepressants can be that they lift up a person just enough to finally act on those self-harm thoughts, the Citalopram works too well? Either way there’s blood on my hands and you’d be a fool to have ignored the warning signs.
That assumes depression is real, though, which of course it isn’t. It’s just a bunch of malarkey, a spurious diagnosis to hide the fact that I just don’t have the strength of character that others have. When I hate myself, want to crawl into bed, and can’t bear to be around people I like, instead I should just take a vitamin, get some sunshine, and do a little cardio and I’ll just perk right up. These happy pills I take are just lining the pockets of someone profiting by pretending they’re curing something I don’t actually have. I need to throw them out, get me a whimsical little brunette, and start living life again!
I understand the forces at work here. The Germanwings crash is horrific. Even as an accident it’s too much to take, and when it was discovered that it wasn’t one, it became even more unfathomable. How to explain someone deciding to end 150 innocent lives like that? At first it was attempted to explain it as terrorism, which doesn’t make it any better but at least puts it into a context we can somehow comprehend, but when that was ruled out, we grasped at straws. What came up was “depression”, and now that’s why he did it.
I also get that depression is very hard to understand for people who don’t suffer from it. It’s not just feeling sad, which we all do at times. It’s not just being run-down and listless. It’s difficult to describe and, frankly, depressed people don’t feel great being quizzed about it. Ours is a nation that doesn’t handle any kind of mental illness well, which is why we tend to lock a lot of sufferers in jail where we can forget about them. I’m aware that depression sounds like a lot of bullshit; it sounds that way to me too, and I know it well. Trust me when I assure you that I’ve eaten right, I’ve gotten exercise, I’ve taken vitamins, I’ve gone for walks, I’ve thought happy thoughts, I’ve gotten laid, I’ve taken a nice vacation, and it’s still there. If it’s not real, then it’s the most realistic simulacrum of an actually fake thing I’ve ever had to deal with on a daily basis.
But look at it this way: millions of people suffer from depression without flying planes into mountains, making the Lubitz scenario such an extreme outlier it’s not worth getting worked up over. Or, on the other hand, nobody suffers from it because it’s made up bullshit, in which case you also have nothing to worry about. Why, it’s almost as if it’s likely that something other than depression might be at work here.
Who knows, maybe he was an atheist.