Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Can Religion Be an Addiction?

Published on May 15, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

Praying Religion

Valerie Tarico,/Waking Times

“I’ve never been happier since I quit my 30-year addiction to Jesus.” – Blogger and Christian Heretic, Sandra Kee

To a medical researcher, the word addiction has a specific biological meaning. But in common vernacular, it means approximately thisthe state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, such as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

Based on this definition some religious experiences seem a lot like addictions—at least that’s what former believers say.

Blogger Sandra Kee, a self-described “Christian Heretic,” looks back at her family history and sees religion and addiction as a messy tangle: “My family for several generations was in a dysfunctional and addictive religious life, using God (or what we believed about God) as a drug. Many of the family who left religion simply traded for another addiction. The generations that entered into religion did so to escape alcoholism and other addictions (though it wasn’t called addiction back then). Many who remained in religion developed additional addictions as well.”

Former Mormon Brandon Olson is even more emphatic:

Karl Marx said it right, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ I’m still recovering from it. Part of my recovery is helping others get free,” says Olson. “I quit believing in a god when I was a teenager, but I was afraid of hell / damnation until I was about 35. It took me until I was 40 to speak up and revoke my LDS cult membership. I am now 50, and I consider religion to be an imposed addiction – no different than holding a baby and shooting it up with small doses of heroin, increasing the doses as the baby grows.”

In recent decades, the idea of recovery from religion has taken root. Recovery websites provide platforms for sharing stories, like exChristian.net, or offer support and help, like RecoveringfromReligion.org. Many draw on the language and strategies of other recovery programs.

Even within Christianity, some people use 12-Step language to talk about religious addiction or what a newly-released book calls Sober Spirituality. Author Elizabeth Esther describes how church experiences produce a “high”:

“There’s the ubiquitous mood lighting so that you can only see what’s meant to be seen… Loud music ensures you hear only what is meant to be heard… Several high-energy warm-up acts make you feel only what you’re supposed to feel… By the time the featured attraction steps on stage… you’re so amped up you’ll hand over your body, soul, and wallet. It doesn’t even occur to you that this might be destructive, because feeling elated is the desired outcome.”

The result, says Esther, can be a destructive quest for righteous euphoria. Father Leo Booth similarly uses the language of Alcoholics Anonymous in his book, When God Becomes a Drugwhich promises readers “practical ways to overcome excessive devotion and attain healthy spirituality.”

Addiction Symptoms

When does spirituality start looking like addiction? On the internet, checklists abound (for example,herehere, and here) and include symptoms that would sound familiar to any addict or Al Anon member. Here are some highlights:

  • Do you use religion to avoid social and emotional problems?
  • Are you preoccupied with religion to the point of neglecting work?
  • Would people who know you describe your religiosity as extreme or obsessive?
  • Does your commitment to a religious leader or institution take precedence over your children or other family relationships?
  • Does religion isolate you from outside friends and activities?
  • Do you use religion as an excuse when you are abusive to friends or family members?
  • Are your religious contributions financially imprudent?
  • Do you feel irritated and act defensive when someone questions your religion?
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