W illiam Styron’s memoir of melancholy is aptly titled Darkness Visible , a phrase taken from Milton’s description of hell in Paradise Lost . Styron recounts that his depression was a condition so mysteriously painful and elusive as to exceed description. The inability of others to understand this experience is part of what makes depression so isolating. Preferring the older term melancholia , Styron lodges a protest against the very word depression , a term used indiscriminately to describe an economic downturn or a rut in the road—a truly wimpy word for such a serious illness.
The first of the prejudicial definitions of religion to be eliminated by this procedure was that governed by our ideas of those things which surpass the limits of our knowledge -- the "mysterious," the "unknowable," the "supernatural" -- whereby religion would be "a sort of speculation upon all that which evades science or distinct thought in general." 25 Durkheim saw at least four discernible difficulties in such a definition. First, while he admitted that the sense of mystery has played a considerable role in the history of some religions, and especially Christianity, he added that, even in Christianity, there have been periods -- ., the scholastic period (tenth to fifteenth centuries), the seventeenth century, etc. -- in which this sense was virtually non-existent. Second, while Durkheim agreed that the forces put in operation by some primitive rite designed to assure the fertility of the soil or the fecundity of an animal species appear "different" from those of modern science, he denied that this distinction between religious and physical forces is perceived by those performing the rite; the abyss which separates the rational from the irrational, Durkheim emphasized, belongs to a much later period in history. Third, and more specifically, the very idea of the "supernatural" logically presupposes its contrary -- the idea of a "natural order of things" or "natural law" -- to which the supernatural event or entity is presumably a dramatic exception; but the idea of natural law, Durkheim again suggested, is a still more recent conception than that of the distinction between religious and physical forces. 26 Finally, Durkheim simply denied that the object of religious conceptions is that which is "exceptional" or "abnormal"; on the contrary, the gods frequently serve to account for that which is constant and ordinary -- "for the regular march of the universe, for the movement of the stars, the rhythm of the seasons, the annual growth of vegetation, the perpetuation of species, etc. It is far from being true," Durkheim concluded, "that the notion of the religious coincides with that of the extraordinary or the unforeseen." 27