In the words of Rick Warren in his best-selling book A purpose Driven Life:
“Life is a gift… Life is a test… Life is temporary assignment…”
In light of his own son’s recent suicide, it seems fitting to put Ricks Warren’s world view into proper context. What was the gift given to his son? What was the test given to his son? Did he fail it? And why did Warren’s son end his assignment prematurely?
Many questions arise when people go against their instinct to survive. What kind of pain must a person suffer in order to override that instinct? We see starving people and people with no limbs and people burned to the point of being unrecognizable who continue with life and find ways to make their lives meaningful even if that means to simply live another day. People with healthy minds and strong wills will continue that greatest of human desires: to live. So what about Matthew Warren, a young man of 27 who was raised in a “good Christian home” with all the luxuries in life including a father who is revered by millions of followers? – a successful man with strong convictions and a popular message. To answer this question, we should consider the state of mind of Matthew at the time that he took his own life.
According to Rick Warren in his prepared statement on the evening of Matthew’s suicide, there was absolutely nothing anyone could do to help Matthew to overcome his “depression and suicidal thoughts.” Rick Warren made this very clear in his press release to the media concerning the untimely death:
“…only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided,” Warren wrote.
No matter which news source you consult, this is the explanation of his son’s death. No one has taken the time to consider that maybe the authorities are best consulted for the true answers behind a person’s death. “Mental illness” does not describe anything that can be used to truly understand what really happened. What kind of mental illness are we talking about? Who knew about this mental illness since Matthew’s birth? Was he diagnosed? Was this a birth defect or something that came on after birth? Was his “mental illness” the result of psychological or emotional trauma? These questions are important and need to be asked. This is not just a normal middle class American family. This is a family that has built their wealth and fame on selling the faithful a dream of salvation. A family that owns and operates what is known as a “megachurch.” An entertainment complex of sorts that accommodates thousands of parishioners as they watch on big screens and mega sound systems the flash and pomp of the modern age of Christian worship. With all the help from parishioners and all the money and all the prayer and the power of God almighty himself working through his father, the best Matthew could hope for was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head?
To address the first part of Rick Warren’s observations about life, what was Matthew’s “gift?” If Matthew was born with this alleged and vaguely described “mental illness,” and God is said to give everyone the tools to carry out their life’s purpose, how did God equip Matthew to carry out his? If God made us in his own image and his image is that of mental illness, how can anyone be expected to function properly? Did God “design” us to be vulnerable to a brain defect that could render our ability to serve him and obey him unattainable? And if so, is this fair? is this good? Is this just? Are we to believe that people who are not “wired” correctly who kill other people or themselves are somehow special or exempt of divine judgement? If this is the case, almost all of the most horrific murderers are surely exempt. As none of them were working with a “full deck” so-to-speak.
The fact that there is such a thing as mental illness speaks volumes for the unlikelihood of there being any kind of a creator. Or at least any kind of a thoughtful creator. For one, mental illness does not allow for “free will.” And further it goes against the entire premise of so much of what the Christian religion makes claim to. Mental illness, which may be one of the most rampant types of human illnesses, is never mentioned in any of the holy books other than to allude to the possession of demons. And as we know today, mental illness is not caused by demonic possession. It is mostly caused by chemical imbalances or physical, emotional, and/or psychological trauma. In the case of Rick Warren’s press release, mental illness is made out to be the sole cause of his son’s death as though mental illness is in and of itself a simple answer. It is not. The fact is that for many, life is something they never asked for and never wanted. Life is not a gift but rather a curse for those plagued with extreme mental illness.
As to the second part of Rick Warren’s observation about life, what was Matthew’s “test?” And how can a person with a mental illness be fairly tested? Are we to believe that a person who is not capable of thinking clearly or being in a healthy mental state should be held to the same standards as everyone else? Are all people with “mental illness” diagnosed? Is there only one basic “mental illness?” The answer is no, no, and no. A person with an emotional or psychological problem cannot be held to the same standards as everyone else. And most of the people who have these kinds of conditions are undiagnosed. They are not taking medication or receiving therapy. And in many cases, they are unknowingly self-inflicted as food intolerance and allergies can cause chemical imbalances in the brain. A vast majority of people with varying forms of mental illness cannot be fairly tested against others who are functioning well. So the entire premise of the idea that there is some test we all must be given and must “pass” is as fundamentally flawed as the least capable among us to to be put to such a test. There seems to be more of a challenge than a test. And it would be fair to conclude that this challenge to do the best for ourselves and others so that we may thrive. Unfortunately, our brains are very fragile and often times our biggest challenge is just being at peace with ourselves.
Finally, Rick Warren’s observation of life brings us to the “temporary assignment.” In the context of his religion, it is most likely that this is concerning the finite measure of our life and the eternal measure of our death. And at face value, this is true to even the most ardent atheist. But the eternal death as posited by Warren’s religion is not death at all. It is life after death. It is a place where the mind continues beyond the death of the body and brain; a place where people like Matthew can continue to be plagued with depression and suicidal thoughts for all eternity. As this is, after all, how Matthew’s mind worked according to his father. So our “temporary assignment” is only temporary in so much as the death of our body makes it so. But our minds – including our mental illnesses – are forced to continue for eternity by Rick Warren’s idea of a “temporary assignment.” In reality, our minds cannot suffer brain death. When we die, we cease to be who we once were. No scientific evidence suggests our brain uploads data into thin air. And thank goodness for that.
Matthew must have had very easy access to his religion. He must have known about God and Jesus. And it would seem only natural that he read his father’s books. Was the power of God and love of Jesus not good enough for Matthew? Apparently not. When your mental state is unhealthy and depression is the result, it is hard to understand what it is that everyone else seems so happy about. The normal functioning brain that gives itself excitement and joy over certain ideas and thoughts is sadly out of reach for many. This includes the euphoria that comes with imagining wining the divine lottery. This is all brain-induced stuff. A person with a brain that does not function normally may not be capable of “knowing” God or “knowing” Jesus. The fact that Matthew had all the access one would ever need to become a devoutly religious person but didn’t should serve as a reminder that religion is something that comes from the human brain. Not everyone is capable of the self-educed euphoria of religion. And people that cannot relate to religious euphoria are not necessarily missing anything. They are simply not able to add that something to their experiences that the religious people do. In the case of Matthew, a belief in God was not strong enough to keep him from terminating his assignment early.
To think that people can be satisfied with an explanation so void of content, so lacking in real reasons as Rick Warrens press release, is alarming. How could the person who has so much to say about everyone else’s life have so little to say about his own son’s? And at what point did Matthew lose his purpose and his drive for life? There are many questions that remain unanswered in Rick Warren’s purpose driven press release. It seemingly only serves the purpose of making his son’s death appear quite like a natural cause or an act of God beyond the control of the best help he or his doctors were capable of giving. If only God could have just cleared Matthew’s mind. That would have made the most sense.