Magazines 2024 Jul - Aug The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture

The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture

02 July 2024 By Brenton Diaz

An extended Reading the Bestsellers review of a 2022 book by Gabor Maté and Daniel Maté

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Book by Gabor Maté and Daniel Maté. Knopf Canada, 2022. $28 (e-book $17, audio $30)

Dr. Gabor Maté is a well-known Canadian physician, now age 80, who has written extensively on addiction, trauma and mental health. His latest book is cowritten with his son, a composer and playwright. It ambitiously endeavours to link the structures of society with our worsening mental and physical health.

The book is compelling and timely, as shown through its convincing use of statistics outlining the physical and mental pain many in our society suffer. As with many mainstream books of this type, Christian readers will need to read with a discerning mind, as a number of its concepts run counter to evangelical worldviews.

The great strength of this book lies in the ways it illustrates that our current North American culture is not conducive to supporting normal optimal health. The book describes how our physical, mental, spiritual health conditions are greatly impaired by our culture, noting how our bodies are designed to function in environments that are different than our current stressful and frantic society.

The Matés then promote a critical look at our society, and call each of us to change the way we connect with others to promote more positive health in our lives. Through living with more authenticity and love, and through slowing down and listening to our bodies, we can not only gain better physical, emotional and spiritual health, but can also help others in society achieve the same.

The Matés argue that humans have essential needs to feel our emotions (grief, anger sadness, pain) and be vulnerable. This is a message our society can greatly benefit from.

The authors also show we are the result not only of our genes, but also (and perhaps more so) from the conditions of our environment.

The Myth of Normal is thoroughly and compassionately written, and the Matés labour to show their ideas are linked to science and common sense. They are also sharp in their criticism of society, even noting at times that the culture of medicine can interfere negatively with the natural processes in our bodies.

The Matés’ sweeping and thorough research does not, however, touch on Christian ideas and concepts such as sin and the world being in a fallen state, which are likely essential for a Christian critique of society. The book appeals to us to trust our biology (manifested through our instincts) as giving us knowledge towards health, but does not root this biology in a Creator, and does not account for the Fall. The book promotes evolutionary theory as the basis for the development of our biology, which some Christians will find frustrating.

Overall The Myth of Normal raises compelling questions about society and its impact on us. It also offers some caring solutions that all in society would be wise to apply.

Christians who endeavour to read this sprawling book would be wise to read not only with an open eye to the Matés’ promising ideas but also with another eye to applying biblical theology to their understanding of the concepts discussed in the book.

The Canadian Church is steadily opening up important conversations on mental health, including about the sources of mental health problems and how to intervene in our communities, and The Myth of Normal can be an excellent catalyst in promoting more thoughts on these essential topics.

However, the work of contextualizing such current topics through a careful biblical application remains necessary. In this respect, The Myth of Normal can only be a partial guide, giving the Church some compelling initial ideas on how to address mental health through its ministry in society.

Editor's note: We love our reviewers, but we don’t always agree. You won’t either, maybe especially in the Bestsellers and Roundup sections. Do let us know what you think. Sample chapters of most books can be viewed at and Faith Today earns a small commission when people make purchases using our links to

Related Articles