Do Secular Westerns have a God-Shaped Hole?

Antidepressant use in most Western countries has doubled in the past decade. This is nothing new: the rates of depression and suicide have been rising in much of the secular West for over a century. What is going on?

No doubt the story is complicated and there are many contributing factors, but one proposed explanation is that secular Westerners suffer from a “God-shaped hole”. That is, we humans have an innate desire to worship God, and will feel a kind of emptiness as long as we don’t meet that desire. As St. Augustine put it, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

But perhaps it’s not God that we seek, but religion. Following pioneer sociologist Émile Durkheim’s definition, a religion is “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things… which unite into one single moral community, called a church, all those who adhere to them”. Notice that this definition avoids reference to the supernatural or God, but instead emphasises the ritualistic and communal aspects of religion.

On this definition, religion binds people together, encourages prosocial behaviour, and offers meaning and purpose during life’s transitions and tragedies—all of which are strongly correlated with happiness and fulfilment. Is our current depression epidemic caused not by a “God-shaped hole,” but a “religion-shaped hole”? If so, how do we fill that? And what does this all mean for the human condition?

These are some of the questions we will explore in our upcoming course, ‘The Great Awokening: Politics as the New Religion’. But be quick: there are only 30 spots available. Head to thinkinc.org.au/tia-awokening and register today.

The Great Awokening: Politics as the New Religion

The Great Awokening: Politics as the New Religion is a four-week course that illuminates our political moment by exploring how religion, politics, wild theories, and human self-awareness now intermesh. Cohorts are limited to 30 people, so be quick and register today!