Just as devoutly fatalistic folks ascribe everything that happens – or doesn’t happen – to an omnipotent author in the sky who meticulously scripts several billion not very interesting biographies every day, we have a friend who transfers responsibility for the course of life to a different higher power.
Our pal believes that human beings are essentially an excitable mix of chemicals, and the balance (or lack thereof) between countervailing molecular forces is the key to happiness or some reasonable facsimile. Clinical depression, we’ve come to understand, may be explained by unusual levels of serotonin. A feeling of well-being and pleasure may be attributed to endorphins. And short-term memory failure and an appetite for all things crunchy, salty, and sweet frequently correlate to the presence of THC.
Some people are never quite as content as their circumstances suggest they ought to be. Financial success, good health, dear friends – nothing seems to give them an overarching sense of solace, let alone peace. Our Chemical Buddy says these people need to be medicated.
On the other hand, the Scientologists in our neighborhood – or, more precisely, their neighborhood since they own more Hollywood real estate than any competing landlord – have opened one of their recruitment-centers-disguised-as-scientific-research outlets on Sunset Boulevard. This one has the typical high-minded name -something like “International Center for Human Justice,” or something like that – with a billboard-sized poster in the storefront proclaiming that “Psychiatry Kills.” (We’re not certain what irks Scientologists about psychiatry; but, then again, we’re not sure what irks Hindus about Muslims. Everyone in the cult business needs something to distinguish his brand.) The drawing power of the “Psychiatry Kills” exhibit, it seems, is that the target audience of generally unhappy and dissatisfied people may have had an unsuccessful experience with psychotherapy and will, thus, be better disposed to finding existential contentment through a celebrity-endorsed cult.
Chemicals or God. Medications or spiritual counseling. They seem at first blush to be opposite sides of the dialectic. But the more you think about it, the more they seem alike. If your happiness (or unhappiness) is out of your control – or, more precisely, controlled by forces that are larger and more powerful than your individual will – then taking responsibility for being a whole and contented being isn’t really your dominion. The Prozac will take care of that. Yahweh will take care of that. Tom Cruise will.
We are a glorious brew of chemicals. But we’re spiritual beings, too. And that intangible part, that ineffable, ethereal, not-available-to-the-salvation-merchants part, the part we call our soul, is immune to amino-acid cocktails.