Lately I’ve been thinking (yet again) about depression, and particularly about the ways in which it gets discussed. I periodically run into disputes between those who are convinced that depression is at its core a biological illness, and those who are convinced that it’s a spiritual one. I find myself uncomfortable with both positions, because they both arise from a dualist understanding of the human, one in which spirit and body are qualitatively different things and not really connected to each other. If you take this perspective, you’re likely to conceptualize depression as either a spiritual problem or a physical one–and I’m not crazy about either version. Continue reading
The dualism of Descartes still heavily influences contemporary understandings of the mind-body problem. It also heavily influences the church’s own form of dualism: spirit-body.
According to Cartesian dualism, each individual is made up of a mind and a body. The two are linked, but the mind has precedence over the body (who can forget Descartes famous “I think, therefore, I am”?). The source of initiative, rationality, and all other good things, is the mind, while the body is dangerous, transgressive, emotional, etc. (An interesting side-note: many feminist scholars have published on how the mind-body division was imposed onto the man-woman division, where men become assocated with the elevated, rational mind and women with the transgressive, emotional body.) In today’s society, we still have not escaped this dualism. People still trust rationality (a quality of the mind) over emotionality (a quality of the body). Bodies and Continue reading