Prozac Nation, the Magdalene Sisters, and the Necessary End of the Church?

Prozac Nation is a memoir about a teenager who finds herself suffering from depression, struggling for help in what you could call a “dark night of a decade” in her life. Of the book itself, I felt that it was too long. There was merit in the repetition and of the developing style as her mentality changed in varying circumstances and in various forms of treatment. I have not been a huge fan of this book, but it has given me another perspective on mental health. I admit to struggling with the kind of depression she has, which is incredibly self-deprecating. All kinds of depression have elements of this, but hers was so extreme that I found it frustrating. There didn’t seem to be a way to get her out of the hole she was buried in. But it was clear that she had a severe mental illness and have gained more understanding of this kind of depression by reading this memoir.

There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness. Some people have had experiences that have added up and led a person towards a depressive illness. Others can’t necessarily point to anything in particular. Mental illness is an illness. I remember that when I was younger I thought that depression could be solved by hugs and focusing on the happy things. I remember hitting puberty and noticing how periods meant mood swings that would seem crazy, dropping a teaspoon on the floor and it being such a terrible thing and sitting on the floor crying. Chemicals alone can affect you, regardless of how much meditation or mindfulness you do or how positive you attempt to be. A serious mental illness makes a person feel like they’re lost. There shouldn’t be such a stigma.

Now, onto a film I watched today called The Magdalene Sisters. I couldn’t believe it at first, I was so shocked. But then, it is true that the power given to religious people has so often been used as a tool of oppression. The film documents true events in Irish Catholic Ireland, where women were imprisoned in “Magdalene Asylums” for tempting men by as little as smiling at them, and even in some cases, were imprisoned for being raped. Their babies were stolen from them, the nuns would make them undress and laugh at them, picking who was the fattest, who has the most body hair etc. If they tried to leave they were beaten, and whilst bruised and bleeding the nuns would cut off all their hair. These “laundry rooms” were finally shut down, but not before 30,000 women were taken in by Irish priests (who had a tendency to ask for sexual favours) and nuns who told them they were damned and despicable people.

Any other organisation responsible for these actions would have been stopped by now. Where the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, there has been uproar, of course, about the hidden sexual abuse of children. And this doesn’t just happen in the Roman Catholic Church. Christian conservatism has embedded itself in enough governments that being gay can be a death sentence, being a woman can be tied to the kitchen sink, and all this is deemed acceptable because of freedom of speech and religion has a free pass on conditioning people into thinking they need this abusive hierarchy.

I still believe that there is potential for a beautiful Church. Maybe the problem isn’t just institutional structures. There actually are, I think, a lot of beautiful church services and a lot of good clergy and people. People are unpredictable. Somehow so many faces of humanity are dark and terrifying. I don’t know if churches should exist, because by creating them, we give people power and authority and a tool to abuse others. As Christians we should be aiming for more than that, especially after two-thousand years right? Isn’t it time to try something new?

Maybe that is what the New Age, New Religious Movements and rising of spirituality above religion are all about in our century. If Christianity is going to stay alive, maybe we should be moving now. Maybe the Church should actually apologise, sincerely, for its actions, and stop. Stop. And then, actually become Christian people.

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4 Responses to Prozac Nation, the Magdalene Sisters, and the Necessary End of the Church?

  1. Hello Rachael. I haven’t seen the film but know that it depicts an awfully abusive situation. I’ll make sure I see it after your post. I’m not sure I agree with your “revolution”. The church does have the power as “Missio Dei” to re-form and transform itself, ourselves and others. Confession and being responsive to the cries of others is what church is about, but is never good enough which is why there is confession. The church and ourselves must always be penitent. It is grievous when we are self righteous. Thanks for the thought provoking post and best wishes for your ongoing studies.

    • Mission is indeed an attribute of God but I question whether or not the Church should have resulted as it is, whether the power of Mission Dei the Church has claimed is a good power. The Church can respond to the cries of others, but so can people that do not go to Church. Far too often, I have found, unfortunately, churches which do far less than people outside those walls. I can’t say I know if I agree with my “revolution” either David! But I have been thinking about it a lot. Perhaps it is simply that all social structures are faulted and no matter what we did there would be still be faults and great sins. But I’ve been feeling that there really needs to be a change of some kind. The Church causes far too much pain at the moment. But then so does the world in general… hmm.

      • I do so agree with you.
        But there is a difference between church and Church which to me is crucial. Those outside the walls are very much “church”. All who pray through Jesus are his church. I’ve been interested in research about “invisible church” these last couple of weeks. Rob Warner write something in Church Times, and someone in Scotland has been doing some work on it. I can send you the link if you want it.
        The “Church”, whether of England or Rome, is compromised by its history and by sin. Can it be any other? We could say that penitence and lament should be more prominent. They would be if perfected, but then we wouldn’t be compromised.
        Did God know that the Church would be so hurtful? But mixed up in it all, there is so much that is blessing and transformative, of relationships, communities and cultures.
        I hope the weather is calmer for you today.
        Thank you for being in touch.

  2. Yes I’d love the link please! Thanks

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