Question [composite of several]: In your December article you stepped out beyond your depth by dealing with a subject on which you are not an expert. I suggest that you stick to the exposition of Scripture and avoid areas peripheral to the purpose of The Berean Call. There are people who really need and benefit from Prozac, lithium and other drugs; and for you to say they don’t need them and that they are just not trusting the Lord enough is going to give many of them a sense of guilt. A lot of people will be hurt. Why don’t you also suggest that diabetics give up their insulin? If we are exempt from brain disorders just because we are Christians, then we should also be exempt from the flu!
I agree that there are “no chemical solutions to spiritual problems,” but...the drugs referred to are not primarily given to deal with spiritual problems. They are used to deal with serious affective mood disorders....For you to accuse those of us who, through no fault of our own, are afflicted with these disorders, of having spiritual problems is cruel and unfeeling...a dangerous and sinful act on your part. It is not your place to diagnose diseases of the mind (which do exist regardless of what you say). While I would never tell anyone else to take these drugs, I have indeed been helped by them....I urge you to print a retraction.
Response: We discover again how difficult it is to avoid serious misunderstandings. Let me try to clarify those: We did not make any judgment of anyone taking medication or say they didn’t need it and should stop (in fact, we said, “A word of caution: we are not advocating that anyone now taking medication should abruptly stop...[which] could have serious consequences”). We did not suggest that Christians are immune from brain disorders or that brain disorders are due to lack of faith or to a spiritual problem of the individual (in fact, we said, “There is no doubt that much can go wrong with the brain as a physical instrument”). We did not attempt to “diagnose diseases” (in fact, we said, “Any change in medication should only be under the supervision of a physician”).
Yes, we did say that all of mankind’s problems are the result of his separation from God and are therefore at their root spiritual. Surely, had Adam and Eve (and all of their descendants) not sinned, none of today’s behavioral problems or diseases would exist. We did not, however, suggest that every problem is due to some sin on the part of the individual experiencing it.
And, yes, we have often pointed out the difference between the brain as a physical organ which can therefore suffer trauma or disease and needs medical help, and the mind, which is not physical. Consequently, “mental illness” is a misnomer that can be used to excuse sin as sickness, avoid moral responsibility, and “treat” sin as a “psychological problem” needing therapy instead of repentance and God’s help.
(Please, there is no comparison between insulin, which operates below the neck, and drugs which affect the brain. And remember, no one knows exactly how harmful these drugs are to the brain!)
It is true that I am neither a medical doctor nor an expert on drugs—nor did our conclusions require such knowledge. We simply suggested that in at least some cases dependence upon a drug or drugs could become a substitute for dependence upon the Lord; and we tried to encourage greater trust in God. I would expect Christians to agree with that.
Even the secular world recognizes the problem with pharmacological alleviation of stress or distress. For example, influential psychoanalyst Elizabeth Zetzel considers a person’s endurance of anxiety and depression essential to proper emotional growth. She warns that to improve mood artificially with a pill could deny the person the very strengthening experience needed for a real solution. How much more could this be true for Christians who may too readily succumb to the temptation to take the easy way out through a drug and thus may miss the lesson of endurance and faith God wants to teach them?! We neither diagnosed nor accused anyone. We simply exhorted everyone to consider this possibility and act upon it as the Lord leads.
We also issued some warnings, because the alleged “wonder drugs” are so highly touted and so seldom are any cautions given except in fine print. Remember, there was a time when cocaine was as highly acclaimed by the medical profession (and its benefits sworn to by users) as Prozac has been in our day. Freud took cocaine himself, sang its praises, and prescribed it for others. Only later was it banned. We lack space to provide the long list of drugs which in more recent times have been praised for a few years, only to be banned or greatly restricted as their destructiveness has been reluctantly admitted. LSD was touted by many psychiatrists as a “miracle drug,” was in use for years before it was banned by the government in 1966, and some MDs still petition for its restoration.
There have been numerous cases of suicide and murder and other problems traced to Prozac. It was only licensed in 1988; already in the February 1990 American Journal of Psychiatry, research psychiatrist Dr. Martin Teicher “documented the cases of six depressed patients who became obsessed with violent suicidal thoughts two to seven weeks after starting treatment with Prozac. Four tried to hurt or kill themselves. The compulsion subsided after the patients went off the drug.” (Time, July 30, 1990, p. 54). By 1991 a multitude of those damaged or destroyed by Prozac, or their heirs, had formed “Prozac Survivors Support Groups” all over America. By the end of 1992, 170 lawsuits had been filed against Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly. Doesn’t this information call for caution?
We also reminded readers that the brain is the most complex mechanism in the universe; that NO ONE KNOWS HOW THESE DRUGS WORK OR THE FULL EFFECT, ESPECIALLY LONGTERM, WHICH THEY HAVE ON THE BRAIN; and that for a physician to prescribe Prozac (or Ritalin, or other similar drugs) is not like a mechanic fine-tuning an engine. The prescription is not based on a diagnosis of the brain but most often on a behavioral profile. Thus Prozac is prescribed for everything from “low self-esteem” and “winter blues” to obesity, anorexia, bulimia, phobia, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, migraines and arthritis. It is not given to “balance” the brain (in fact it causes imbalance by disrupting serotonin and dopamine) but rather to artificially improve one’s feelings about oneself.
Breggin is not the only psychiatrist to criticize “biological psychiatry”—i.e., the use of drugs to adjust mood. There are many others, such as the authors of the eight essays in the 1995 book, Pseudoscience in Biological Psychiatry. Critical articles have appeared in professional journals of psychiatry and psychology. For example, Psychology Today (Sept/Oct 1995) contained a lengthy article which concluded that “two- thirds of the cases [in all studies]...do as well with placebo as with active medication.” There are no tests of Prozac and other similar drugs which prove beyond doubt that the results they produce are any better than those obtained by a placebo. Thus even if God were only a placebo, in two-thirds of the cases the patient would be as well off trusting Him as trusting the drug. Could it be easier to trust a pill, even a placebo, than to trust God?
The efficacy of these drugs is open to question, a question which has not been settled. Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, who has been taking Prozac every day since its FDA approval and can’t get off it, writes, “A strong hardy depression will outsmart any chemical....Even on Prozac and lithium I have had severe depressive episodes.”
Nor is it true that drugs are an inappropriate subject for TBC and unrelated to Scripture. The New Testament mentions sorcery four times, condemns it, indicates that it will be revived in the last days and that men will refuse to repent of it (Rv 9:21; 18:23;21:8;22:15). The Greek word translated “sorcery” is pharmakeia from which we get the word “pharmacy” or “drugs.” Psychoactive drugs have long been associated with the occult, and Prozac is now very popular as a recreational drug for youth. Surely at least a warning is in order.
We desire to be helpful. Certainly we do not want to cause offense or pain, but rather to encourage a careful consideration of the medical factors and dangers involved and also a deeper trust in God.