Bill Gothard, disgraced fundamentalist pastor and ministry leader, still has a website, and on that website he occasionally posts updates or new articles. A recent piece titled “Two Overlooked Factors to Reduce Chicago Crime” tackles Chicago’s recent shooting spike. Gothard’s first solution to the problem of violent crime is predictable: “There is no way to have a crime-free society without a reverence for God.” His second is less so: “If we are serious about reducing crime, we must ‘connect the dots’ between crime and low serotonin levels.”
Bill Gothard has always set himself apart from other fundamentalist leaders in his embrace of specific unusual ideas. Gothard’s teaching that adopted children inherit the sins of their parents is shared by some portion of fundamentalist ministers, but his belief that troll dolls can inhibit a woman’s labor is shared by a far smaller portion. And then there is Gothard’s claim that the intestines (which he calls “reins”) are part of the central nervous system and control one’s life.
What does Gothard have to say about serotonin levels in Chicago? Well, first he gives some background on serotonin, and it’s a mixture of accurate and not.
If we are serious about reducing crime, we must “connect the dots” between crime and low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter. It is also called the “happy hormone” because of its beneficial effects on health, mood and behavior.
Researchers point out that low or imbalanced serotonin levels result in anger, anxiety, addictions, depression and thoughts of suicide. The whole purpose of antidepressants is to keep serotonin in the brain. An antidepressant is called a “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor” (SSRI). The first problem with this pharmaceutical approach is that only 5% of our serotonin is produced in the brain while 95% is produced in our “gut brain,” which God (in the Old Testament Scriptures) calls our “reins.”
The second (and more major) problem with antidepressants is that they have very damaging side-effects including depression, aggression and suicidal thoughts. It is extremely significant that 35 of the killers in mass school shootings in recent years were all on, or were withdrawing from, antidepressants. …
Despite all these warnings, the use of antidepressants is skyrocketing in the United States, according to data provided by IMS Health. The total number of people taking psychiatric drugs in the U.S. was 63,589,802 in 2002 and in 2013 it increased to 78,694,222!
I wish I had the medical expertise to adequately address what Gothard is saying, but alas, I don’t. What little I learned on WebMD and elsewhere suggests while much serotonin ultimately ends up in the digestive system or the blood, all serotonin is created in the brain (i.e. Gothard is wrong when he says 95% of serotonin is created in the intestines).
And unsurprisingly, what Gothard says about antidepressants is screed, not science.
In sum: Gothard believes that serotonin is important, and that lack of serotonin can create anger, anxiety, or depression, but that antidepressants that help balance neurotransmitter levels are ineffective or have negative side effects. In other words, Gothard believes many humans need more serotonin in their bodies—but that antidepressants are not the answer.
So—what is the answer? We’ll get there, but first, Gothard has another point:
I should note that Gothard isn’t trained in medicine any more than I am. I’ve tried to google this question, looking for reputable sources, but my unfamiliarity with scientific terminology makes this difficult. Suffice it to say, it does not look like things work the way Gothard says they do, but I’ve been unable to find conclusively how these three chemicals do interact. If anyone in my readership has the expertise and could add some information in the comments, I’d appreciate it!
Before discussing “how” to increase serotonin, we need to understand “what” depletes it in our body. Dopamine and adrenaline are two powerful hormones that block serotonin receptors.
Dopamine is the “pleasure hormone” and adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone (activated by fear). When we understand the destructive results of misusing dopamine, we realize why Jesus gave such a severe warning against lust in our heart (Matthew 5:27-30).
On the matter of overusing adrenaline, every person is born with four primary fears: the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, the fear of poverty, and the fear of sickness and/or death. These fears must be resolved in order to raise serotonin levels.
If Gothard were correct in his above analysis of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline, both sexual pleasure (within and outside of marriage) and fear (including those fears that come with poverty) would render an individual more prone to violence (this is all stated with reference to Chicago’s murder rate). The takeaway from this ought to be not simply that lust is a problem, but also that sex within marriage is a problem, and that poverty, inability to access healthcare, and so forth are problems that we as a society should solve if we want to decrease gun violence.
That last bit doesn’t seem like a very conservative position. But don’t worry, because that’s not where Gothard is going. Whether or not he’s correct about the interaction of these chemicals (and I rather suspect he is not, given his claim that serotonin is created in the intestines), Gothard’s solution heads in another direction entirely.
The primary way to increase serotonin is with the energy of “inner light.” Researchers who are aware of this “find” are using “bright light therapy” instead of drugs to deal with depression. The lights must be at least 10,000 lux at a distance of 12 to 48 inches away from the patient. The God who created us was very aware of our need for inner light. The first thing He did was to create light. This was on the first day of creation. He didn’t create the sun, moon and stars until the fourth day of creation.
Bright light therapy is indeed a thing. The problem here is Gothard’s equation of bright light therapy with “inner light.” There is nothing inner about bright light therapy at all. It’s external. But Gothard has to make this therapy about “inner light” for his next point to work:
God created light with the power of His Word. “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). God’s Word is just as powerful today as it was in the beginning of creation. When we internalize it in our heart, mind and “gut brain,” we experience God’s power and inner light. David declared, “The entrance of Your words gives light” (Psalm 119:130). “For the word of God is living and powerful . . . and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The only way to transform our thoughts and raise our serotonin levels is to find a verse of Scripture every morning, record it daily in a journal, memorize it and put ourselves to sleep by quoting it to God.
Light always conquers darkness. The average person has fifty to eighty thousand thoughts every day. Many of these thoughts come from darkness. Therefore, a daily infusion of light is essential. Thus, Jesus declares: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
That’s Gothard’s solution for Chicago: Increase the seratonin levels of those prone to violence by having them memorize a Bible verse every morning and repeat it through the day. Repeating a Bible verse will result in a “daily infusion of light” that will work like bright light therapy (which involves literal light) and raise serotonin levels, thus decreasing violence.
The strange thing is that Gothard actually believes he is being scientific. Another fundamentalist leader would probably argue that the solution to crime in Chicago is for people to know Jesus, but Gothard doesn’t stop there. Instead, he goes into all of this about serotonin and the “gut brain” and bright light therapy, and somehow ends by encouraging people to increase their serotonin levels by reading the Bible.
And that’s the thing about Gothard. He was always part standard fundamentalist minister, part something else entirely.