Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Is Fundamentalist Christianity an Addiction?

Posted by Jerry on January 17, 2010

I grew up in the south and went to college in the Bible belt states, but having been away from that culture for so long, I sometimes forget how deeply ingrained the cult of Jesus really is among many communities, not just in the south, but throughout the US. Occasionally, meeting or hearing from someone reminds me of this phenomenon.

Is Jesus just another drug? It does make me wonder.  I’d be the last person on earth to deny someone the right to live as they please, as long as they’re not harming or endangering others. But then, as an atheist, it seems to me that teaching young people that without accepting Jesus they’ll be sent to an eternal hell borders on emotional abuse. Still, I try to “live and let live.”

Not all Christians take their religion to such extremes, though. I’m not referring to ordinary Christians who go to church every Sunday but otherwise aren’t obsessing over Jesus or the Bible daily, or who see God fiddling in every tiny detail of their lives.  (If “God is so Good” is your response to getting into the college class you wanted, or getting a date to the prom, then your standards for God’s goodness are pretty low anyway. And what will happen to God’s goodness when something not so pleasant happens to you?)

I’ve heard people talk about the human need for some kind of actual or psychological “drug” just to get them through the harsh realities of life. Most people I know go through some very tough times in their lives, and for sure, life is even harder for some than others. But personally, I think the notion that humans need their addictions regularly to get them through life is just a little ridiculous.

Here’s an interesting link:

http://www.mwillett.org/atheism/drug.htm

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17 Responses to “Is Fundamentalist Christianity an Addiction?”

  1. Ann said

    “Memeoids have no life at all. You probably know a few memeoids. They can be particularly dangerous when they are charismatic and in groups, but even isolated memeoids can be dangerous. Can you really trust people who are prepared to give up their lives for ideas? All too often you find that they are asking that you do the same.

    The causes of religions are known. Their effects are known, and known to be harmful in many respects. Just like drugs religions offer a dangerous mix of promise and threat. We know the harm they can do, we know the pleasure that motivates the addicts and potential addicts. Denying that pleasure, saying that it is all an illusion is no good. We need to accept that there is a pleasure there, but it is one we should not encourage because we know the price that will be demanded for that pleasure, a price that is too high to justify. Both drugs and religions should be freely available to be chosen, we must make the facts known, we should trust our children to make the right choices. God? Just Say No.”

    I love that last section of the article you linked to your post so I thought I’d reproduce it. Just Say No!

    In answer to the question, “Is Jesus just another drug?” I’d answer that for some people, definitely, and probably was for me when I was younger and a believer. I think the feeling of Jesus love was a drug for me–at least that was my experience.

    I can’t say I never experience addictions (for instance, I drink coffee and tea), but I’ve eliminated substance use from my life for the most part (alcohol’s not a regular part of my life now), I quit using Jesus, and I no longer believe in love as a kind of metaphysical experience. Love, to me, feels better when experienced more stably and understood as just another part of the human experience. That’s not to say I think love is purely something we choose or that ecstasy or passion is not good–they are feelings that are largely chemical and genetically influenced, which may explain religious fervor, falling in love with Jesus, and so on. There’s recent research indicating there may be a “God gene” that predispositions people to beliefs, such as in God, just as research has shown chemical dependency on substances is genetically influenced. Unfortunately, we don’t have a “cure” for addictive love, or religious belief, or chemical dependency–unless it’s applying logic.

    For myself, I think life pleasures should not come at too great a cost. Including to my integrity. So once an experience begins to cause more pain than pleasure in a life, with little to no pleasurable consequences, it’s probably no longer worth having. Addictions are notorious for causing more suffering than pleasure once dependence has developed.

    • Ann said

      P.S. I don’t think addiction is negative in itself–it’s the result of psycho-social and genetic interplay influencing an individual’s choices. And I think that people should be free to make their own choices. But the choices people make as a result of their addictions, along with the physical and emotional side effects, can cause a lot of suffering, either for themselves or for other people, or both. Likewise, I don’t think religion itself is negative (although I personally think it’s an affront to my intelligence), but the choices people make as a result of their religion and how they impose those beliefs on others can cause a lot of suffering.

  2. Ann said

    A thought I woke up with this morning. Hope you don’t mind Jerry that I’m doing so much commenting here, but addiction is a pet topic of mine. I do think religion has generally become a negative aspect of human existence. It may start out as an idea, and ideas are just ideas in themselves, but once humans inject ideas into their lives, taking them as their own ideas, they result in a slew of consequences especially once dependence sets in. Depending on how a religious text and system is interpreted, such as the Bible by fundamentalists, using it to support slavery, bigotry, self-hatred, and misogyny instead of reading it as literature and mythology within the context of the time it was written, it can have negative emotional and psychological side effects on its practitioners. I do think it is important to understand religous belief is like addiction in that it is not completely something people choose, like chemical dependency, and is similar to a disease or a computer program.

    When I read this blog entry I was like, exactly! You go John Loftus! 🙂 http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/01/am-i-angry-atheist-no-im-just-mad-as.html#more

  3. Sarge said

    I don’t drink booze, never did drugs, used to smoke but quit about thirty years ago, but I still drink coffee. Caffien is my last jones. Like Sam Clemens, I want to keep a bit of freight on the sinking ship that I can throw off at the last minute. Won’t help, I know, but what the heck…

    I have seen people who jones on religion and its rituals just like I saw boozers and (I know this first hand) smokers do when the supply is cut off.

  4. Jerry said

    I’m quoting Charity’s link, which really says a lot that I can relate to:

    I am angry at ignorance and uncritical thinking.
    I am angry at what the church has done in the name of God.
    I am angry at the oppression of women due to religious beliefs.
    I am angry at the suppression of scientific progress.
    I am angry at the political power of the religious right in America.
    I am angry at the witch-hunts taking place in Africa at the hands of evangelicals.
    I am angry at how some believers demonize non-believers today.
    I am also angry, in some sense, that I basically wasted much of my whole life on Christianity, as a student, preacher, defender and now even as a debunker.”

    What is fascinating about religion as addiction is that addictions are usually progressive — they get worse as the addict throws away a lot of the stuff of life that is valuable, and focuses only on the addiction. I saw this among some fundamentalists (not everyone, mind you). Here’s a real example: There was an older man in our church who had spent most of his adult life on missions to the Caribbean, getting funding wherever he could, but often from his own pocket. His family barely had enough to eat, and he would go into a rage over things like throwing away potato skins that they had just peeled. He would take out second mortgages on his house to fund his next mission because even our little church believe in his work. His daughter got pregnant out of wedlock and he threw her out, returning to focus on his “mission” work. That’s what I think of when I think about progressive religious addiction. It keeps some people from seeing the things that are important in life, especially things like turning into a mirror once in a while to look.

  5. I’ve heard people talk about the human need for some kind of actual or psychological “drug” just to get them through the harsh realities of life. Most people I know go through some very tough times in their lives, and for sure, life is even harder for some than others. But personally, I think the notion that humans need their addictions regularly to get them through life is just a little ridiculous.

    Jerry, I agree that people do not “need” addictions to get through life, but I do think that people “want” something to cling to when things are hopeless or tough. Honestly, I think that every single one of us has an addiction, if you will allow for a very broad definition of addiction that has a bit less of a negative connotation. In other words, we all have things we fixate on more than other things because we like the benefits — whether physical or psychological — we get from it. Of course, the term addiction is, by definition, negative–it is compulsion and withdrawal symptoms. It implies that something went wrong with the human balance (assuming that balance exists or is meant to exist in the first place). An addiction is simply a fixation gone awry to the point that it is seen to have negative consequences.

    Of course, those negative consequences are mostly, if not entirely, subjective. Your Caribbean-mission guy is a good example of this subjectivity: as you noted, he was more focused on his beliefs and his Great Commission than on his family. From a Christian perspective, especially given Jesus’ commandment to reject one’s own family, it is pretty hard to fault the guy. After all, he is trying to help people who might go to hell if he doesn’t tell them about Christ, but his daughter had already heard the Good News. It was her choice to get knocked up and to turn her back on Jesus’ plan for her life…etc., ad nauseam. At least, that’s what I would say to excuse this man’s addiction if I was a Christian. This goes back to a point I am always hammering on: you MUST make a good decision about your choice of worldview — one NOT based on superstitions, and hearsay, and magic, and miracles and stuff that there is no evidence of — or you will have a pre-made fixation-amplifier just waiting to suck your attention away from the people and things that are in existence right here and right now on this earth. Family, friends, and a career — it sounds bourgeois — but those are the things that matter most, not a stupid old book of myths and barbaric rules and regulations and Great Commissions (that stuff should stay in the past with the “humours,” and phrenology). It sounds like I’m preaching progress, but what I really mean to say is that Christianity is absolutely an addiction. Here is a challenge to Christians: stop praying, going to Church and reading the Bible (and all Christian “literature”) and prove to me you’re not addicted! 🙂 You can’t do it, can you? Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is addiction.

    • Jerry said

      I pretty much agree with you, Robert, but I think you’ve broadened the term addiction to include so many things that it loses its meaning. I’m not an expert on addiction like Charity, but for me, an addiction is based on an obsessive compulsive disorder that has made its choice, and it’s more than depending on things to get you through the day. It’s a fixation that excludes everything else in one’s life, and I think the negative connotation is well deserved. I depend on my two cups of strong coffee every morning, and on my significant other, and my family of felines to keep me going but I don’t think those are addictions. I’ve definitely seen a lot of Christians who can never put down the Bible or stop going to church, but I’ve also seen the Easter/Christmas-only Christian types who seem to put Christianity in its place. Good for them. Where I really agree with you, though, is when you imply that Christianity allows people to avoid living this life and taking responsibility for it, while they imagine a world of goodies beyond this one. That kind of nonsense is what permits people to ignore their own personal problems all in the name of something “higher”, which doesn’t exist anyway. If I were to be honest, I would say that I pretty much despise Christianity for all the lies it has told and the lives it has ruined (wars it has started, etc). But if it didn’t exist, I’m sure earthlings would invent another crazy religion to take its place. Is it just human nature to want to live outside reality? Is reality too painful?

      • Ann said

        “But if it didn’t exist, I’m sure earthlings would invent another crazy religion to take its place. Is it just human nature to want to live outside reality? Is reality too painful?”

        To answer your rhetorical question, I think the answer is yes, and yes–for some people. Imagine being around when Christianity and the other major world religions took root. Nowadays we aren’t at the mercy of the natural world as much. Although Haitians would probably tell you reality is a bitch, and has been for them for a long time considering the conditions they were living in even prior to the earthquake. Humans have fought for dominance through much of their history. And it seems like there has always been some form of slavery and people with more power than others. I think it’s entirely possible the development of religion, maybe even through genetic changes over the centuries, was part of the human will to survive, and even more so, to have power over their environment and the other humans that enslaved or ruled them.

        So believers tell themselves, “I may not be free now, and I may be suffering pain today, but some day this suffering will all pay off for me and mine.” Slaves and serfs and the poor who suffered would some day get their just reward, if they only believed and followed the commandments established within their religious traditions. Being meek and serving others, enduring suffering, which was all they could be as people without power, became the righteous way to live. Those “bad” people with power and wealth would not make it into the afterlife unless they became meek and righteous and servants, loving the poor and weak, and so on. I like this quote from Wikipedia on the Beatitudes: …the word “praos,” translated as “meek,” originally meant “becoming tamed, as a wild animal is tamed,” suggesting “a capacity for going against all natural resentfulness and passion and anger.” Read this way, far from fostering a slave-like mentality, the Sermon on the Mount recommends developing the inner strength to manage one’s automatic reactions and aversions to reach a level in oneself called the Kingdom of Heaven.” Morality began to favor the masses of weak and oppressed people. Now, even though conditions are generally better for a lot of us, religion is still about the enduring of suffering in this life (with the reward to come).

        Now that some humans realize religion and God are fabrications of the human mind, there is nothing to it for them but to face reality as it is. Wishful thinking, believing, and living a certain way doesn’t change reality. Reality is just, real. Unfortunately, even science relies on the human brain–we decide what to study, how to study, and we even use our brains to interpret the results of our studies. But science is the only way we have to study and define reality. And we keep getting better at it, with better controls in place, building on the knowledge we have from previous generations of scientists. Not a scientivist, I’m a realist that relies on science to learn more about my world.

        An expert in addiction? Naw. But I’m definitely moving in that direction. The science of addiction is fascinating. I don’t think religious activities are so much an addiction as they are simply mandates that people feel compelled to follow to maintain a moral life (although they can support an addiction to Jesus and they could possibly become addictive activities for some people). As if morality equals religion. If a person stops reading the Bible, praying, and going to church, they may run the risk of losing their religion and morality as defined by God and have to face reality and define their morality freed from religious dogma.

      • Jerry, yes, I purposely made the term “addiction” must broader than it actually is. I had hoped that my later statement, “Of course, the term addiction is, by definition, negative–it is compulsion and withdrawal symptoms,” would make clear that I don’t think my broad definition should stand. I wasn’t writing the best transitions in that message. To clarify, I only think the term addiction applies to desires that are compulsive and have a clearly visible negative effect (relatively speaking) on a person’s life.

        Although I ended my last message with a clear statement that Christianity is an addiction, I should, to set the record straight, mention that I don’t honestly think that it fully fits the definition of an addiction. It can result in negative outcomes, just like an addiction, but I have never met someone personally who went through withdrawal symptoms when they didn’t get a fix of Jesus. Those people probably exist, but I would never be able to stand more than a few minutes of a conversation with a person like that, so would never be able to verify if their behavior was similar to addiction! 🙂 On it’s face, however, from the standpoint of people who know that none of the supernatural aspects of Christianity are real, the behavior of Christians certainly looks addictive. But I would not choose addiction as the main descriptor for their behavior. Dawkins’ term “delusion” seems to fit pretty well, and I would say that the harm caused by Caribbean-mission man is due to his chasing after delusions. He treated his daughter like shit, because his moral system (from the Bible) is based on the fantasy that there is a supernatural anchor for moral absolutes. Now THAT is a delusion, and any behavior or decisions based off of a fantasy like that will result in positive things only by chance. So that is my answer to the rhetorical question asked in the title of your post: fundamentalist Christianity is not an addiction, but living one’s life based on a delusional will certainly result in addiction-like behavior and negative results.

        • Jerry said

          Can you tell I love rhetorical questions? 🙂
          I also don’t think fundamentalist Christianity is an addiction the way heroine or meth or alcohol might be, but the term “addiction” is more of a metaphor for some of the behaviors that Christians exhibit. For some, maybe many people, their beliefs become an escape from reality in much the same way that drugs are. I know what people say — that we all create our own reality, and that is true, in part. But my reality is based on the world around me that I can see and experience, which is a lot more than I can say for many religious conservatives (Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc) who are completely convinced of a reality that no one on earth has ever seen or experienced. “To the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. . .” Call me a Greek, it’s an honor.

  6. JN said

    I don’t know if Christianity is the addiction, or if it’s the empowerment of a fundamentalist worldview. I think fundamentalists feel empowered by believing in a God that controls everything–from tide of world events right down to the color of socks you wear with your black slacks. They believe they can manipulate the world in a similar way a shaman manipulates the spirits. This kind of mentality is not universally accepted among Christians, as we all know.

  7. Paulo said

    Is fundamentalist Christianity an addiction? It might as well be. It gets you high. It’s habit-forming. It clouds your judgment. Eventually it robs you of reason and consumes your life. You can certainly OD on it.

    • Ann said

      That was certainly my experience. It made me completely irrational, Jesus love. I’m not sure how many times I OD’ed on Jesus before I finally realized, “Hey, Jesus doesn’t love me. This is a fiction I’ve created in my mind as a by-product of reading His Word, studying his life so I can be like Him, and imaginary communication with him.” All of which made me really high. I just couldn’t get enough of him. But, I finally was able to let go and start connecting with reality. Making decisions based on reality and use of reason, versus fiction and beliefs, changes ones life. Do I miss it?, I ask myself. They say in the field of addiction the potential for relapse is always there. With Christianity, I just don’t see it. It’s fake. With the feeling of love, yes. I admit, love is a powerful drug. But there is real love and imaginary love, and the love Jesus had for me was really the love I had for him. Now that I recognize Jesus was just another human being, who lived a long time ago, I am free to love actual people, mere humans, alive today. Instead of an imaginary deity.

      • Nicely said. Belief in Jesus (or “Jesus love,” as you put it Ann) also made me irrational. I used to go through my days imagining that God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Satan and demons were all watching everything I did, every second of everyday. Nuts, right? But totally scriptural. It can make you really paranoid about everything. I can see why people who already have mental disorders really lose it when they adopt the Christian cosmos as their model for understanding the world. If you are already having paranoid delusions about other humans, and you then add invisible, frightening, flying creatures with limitless power…well, you can really add some violent and murderous delusion to the mix. IMO.

        • Jerry said

          Watching you and recording it in the Book of LIfe, so they could play it all back on Judgement Day. Now if anything creates anxiety in the mind of a teenager, that would.

        • Ann said

          My big fear was that God could see me in the shower, you know, when I wanted to be private 🙂 Please, just skip that part for the Book of Life. You can show the time I lost my temper and slapped my sister (when I was 8), and the time I cursed at and flipped off that asshole who cut me off in traffic (sadly, this year). But please God,give me time in the shower, just a little privacy please. And, for heaven’s sake, please don’t reenact my thoughts.

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