We are an extremely anxious generation. Despite being the most technologically advanced in all of history, and having the longest life expectancies and access to the best medicines, we are so anxious. In Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian," he states a potential cause for our anxiety:
"Religion is based primarily upon fear... Science can help us get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports...but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in."
I think this is a fairly common world view in today's society. For centuries, we have been dismissing God as a fairy tale and turning our eyes to science, philosophy, and ourselves. As Russell would have it, this is the cure to the ail that is our fear. And yet, even with the profound secularization of civilization, we still see profound fear and anxiety. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 18.1% of the population has some sort of anxiety disorder. 1 But why is this? We have access to more information now than anyone that came before us. Surely our own knowledge of how the world works is sufficient to overcome our fear?
This is a somewhat shocking statistic when we think about the sheer number of people that the population consists of, and in all our human wisdom, we think that the solution to this new problem is medication. We think that we can just medicate it away, that mental illness is the root problem that we can easily solve...except that we can't. Well over 25% of my peers at the university are on one or more anxiety medications, and yet they still come to class in tears and try to explain to the professor that they "just can't do today." I've never seen anything like it, and then I'm reminded that I've also never been in a more secular setting: public university students are so far away from God, and they engage in all kinds of questionable activities: underage drinking, casual sexual encounters, and more. All these things, on the outside, appear to bring pleasure. But anyone will tell you that the pleasure is momentary and fleeting. It lasts no longer than the duration of the activities themselves, leaving a want for more.
I don't think it is a coincidence that the highest anxiety levels in human history happen to correspond to the highest levels of secularization in human history. I think Russell has it all backwards. It appears obvious to me that God is not the problem, but the solution to our intense, crippling fear. People long for something that satisfies their deepest needs, and yet they can't find it. Nothing in this world is truly satisfying; nothing can fully quench the fear, the existential dread, even, that so many face. But why is this? I think perhaps C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity:
"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
The truth is, a modern, secular society does not satisfy. It is painfully obvious in the way people cling to their phones as they walk down the halls in hope of finding some positive news from their friends, or the invitation to the next party, where they can find the next drink, and the next sexual partner.
We as humans need something more than these because we were made for more by a God that can give us more. This is the only explanation that makes sense. As I frequently refer to it, there is a God-sized hole in our hearts that nothing else can even come close to filling, no matter how much we try to stuff in. And that is why we are so anxious. That is why we are crippled; we have no purpose beyond God; we have no satisfaction outside of Him. We have pushed God out of the picture, and so caused this trauma for ourselves. All the pleasures in the world can't fill our void.
A lot of people—one of my good friends included—postulate that life really is meaningless, that there is no reason for which we exist, that we are merely here in this universe by chance. That this universe itself is only in existence by chance. However, I find it intriguing that the very people that say there is no meaning in anything intend to convey such a meaning as that. They say there is no purpose for existence, and yet they continue to live each day for their own purpose. This way of thinking also doesn't explain the sharp uptick in fear and anxiety. We were not always so afraid. Historically, we have always been less pampered. We have always been more vulnerable to horrible disease than we are now, but we haven't been so anxious.
Fear is a universal problem that every human being faces at some point in his or her life. Though we are so protected when compared to the generations before us, this fear runs deeper than the fear they had, and must be dealt with at a deep level. Russell claims that obtaining more knowledge will help eliminate fear. Yet humanity has never posessed so much knowledge, and the adage that ignorance is bliss has never rung more true. The book of Ecclesiastes state a very similar sentiment:
"For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." - Ecclesiastes 1:18
The Bible claims that God can alleviate our fears, and He will do so if we trust in Him. There is no greater hope for anyone. No amount of knowledge can save us. No amount of medication, or philosophy. No amount of social media, either. I wonder at how we can settle for these cheap substitutes to peace, not realizing that what we most desparately need cannot be satisfied by them. Our satisfaction cannot come from this world because we were not made for it. Our anxiety is the result of our failure to accept this truth.
I know that occasionally I have struggled immensely with anxiety. I frequently find myself stressed out because of school and work and homework and all these other responsiblities that I have. It is very easy to become overwhelmed by the small, insignificant things in life when we lose sight of the bigger picture. Luke 12, starting in verse 22, shows us that we will be provided for. We have no need to worry about trivial things such as what we will eat or drink if we simply seek the kingdom of God. When I struggle most with being stressed out, I see a very strong correlation with not being in God's word enough. When I come to Jesus, pray, and hear his teaching, all my anxiety goes away. Even though the amount of work that I have to do during any particular day is not diminished, I am granted true peace that can not otherwise be explained. This is peace that isn't just the kind that comes from a feel-good story. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a story, it is a radical truth that everyone needs.
I'm not on social media, and I have an extremely simplified digital life, but it is still easy to become overwhelmed. I say this because I'm not suggesting that medication and social media are the cause of all this anxiety and stress, but to emphasize that they are not the solution. They do very little for the problem, and may in fact exacerbate it. The true problem is not a mental one, but a spiritual one, and that means the the solution is a spiritual one.
© 2019-2023 Jordan Bancino.