It isn’t my intent to blame Christianity for addiction, yet, I cannot ignore the connection between fundamental Christian indoctrination and addiction. My focus throughout this article is on alcohol addiction, yet these three ways that Evangelical Christianity promotes addiction applies to ALL harmful addiction. These three ways are also present in other restrictive religion’s indoctrination such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness.
I am nearing the end of my first Dry January and I’ve spent the entire time learning about alcohol addiction and honestly exploring my 23 year relationship with it. The knowledge I have now about our collective alcohol addiction, along with the benefits of abstaining may launch me into a dry February and perhaps a dry life. However, I am still taking it one day at a time, in gratitude and awareness.
Sobriety causes deconstruction. We take inventory and dissect every belief we hold about the drug/substance. We ask ourselves honest questions like; why we use, what are we getting out of it, is it helping us live our best lives, how is it hurting us? etc. Since fundamental Christianity shaped my life until losing religion, I had to consider it’s influence in my drinking. What I uncovered wasn’t shocking, yet enlightening, and it is my sincere hope that others will be able to connect the dots within themselves.
It is also my aspiration that the evangelical church will awaken to the ways in which they are promoting the very thing they preach against. I do not believe that to be the intent of most evangelicals. However, it may just be that the system itself creates the ailment in order to be the cure.
This is not an exhaustive list of the ways evangelicalism promotes addiction. However, for the purposes of this blog post, I will focus on these three evangelical ingredients that are important in the recipe of addiction- Dependence, Escape, and Curiosity.
Evangelical Christianity teaches us that we are not whole by ourselves. We need something outside of us (Jesus) in order to be complete, and it is up to us to invite him to live inside of our bodies. This external being, Jesus, is the source of our joy, peace, financial security, eternal security, health, and love. We are taught that without Jesus, we are broken nothings that deserve misery and torture.
We learn that we don’t have the ingredients inside needed to live this life. Jesus becomes a crutch, a coping mechanism. The problem is, often, people feel no differently after being saved. They don’t feel this magical cure all that makes them complete. However, Jesus is the only coping mechanism that is taught in church.
Therefore, a need exists for something outside of oneself in order to cope with and live life.
Please consider this passage regarding addiction found in Annie Grace’s life-changing book, ‘This Naked Mind‘:
Addictions vary from substance to substance, but the patterns are the same. The addict is conditioned to believe the substance will provide enjoyment or relief, that it will help them enjoy life more or ease their stress. The addict generally believes they are somehow incomplete and need something more than what their body can naturally provide. They may believe there is something missing inside of them, an empty space that can be filled with their substance of choice. These beliefs are not generally conscious.
This concept is also found in Caroline Knapp’s memoir, ‘Drinking: A Love Story‘ where addiction is discussed as:
“a sense of deep need, and the response is a grabbiness, a compulsion to latch on to something outside of yourself in order to assuage some deep discomfort.”
Evangelical Christianity subconsciously primes us to latch on to something outside of ourselves for everything we need to cope with and live life. For some, Jesus does fill that need. However, for many others, Jesus does not fill that need because he is not a tangible object. So, not only are we left empty, we now feel guilty, scared, incomplete, and vulnerable to a world full of tangible elixirs promising relief, instantly delivering, and ultimately destroying.
I propose the church raises children as being whole individuals. Jesus should be in addition to a complete person, much like a healthy relationship should be. Jesus should be treated more like a teacher of love, healing, and working for social justice, instead of an invisible, emotional crutch.
Both the promise of eternal life in paradise and being taken early in the rapture (avoiding death) are very seductive teachings. Both play on the fundamental human concern of death. We are all afraid to die. It’s normal to have this fear as we are humans capable of contemplating mortality. No other species on earth can do this. However, our consciousness does leave us vulnerable to predators exploiting our fears.
Both of these teachings give us the fantasy of escape. Both draw us away from life in the here and now. This famous quote by Billy Graham summarizes the evangelical’s view of this earthly life:
“My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.”
This idea is emphasized repeatedly in Christian culture through hymns, Sunday school lessons, sermons, and daily devotionals. We develop the belief that this life is unimportant and we idealize escaping to a place of bliss. In fact, my experience in the church taught me to yearn for the rapture, and I witnessed my peers and elders doing the same. There is great political motivation to bring about prophetic elements to coax the rapture into coming soon. To quote the late Jack Van Impe,
“Come Quickly Lord Jesus!”
Addictive substances provide a euphoric retreat that we have been conditioned to desire. They are an escape from life in the here and now. They provide us with a temporary feeling of “heaven”, where we don’t feel stress, pain, anxiety, and loneliness.
I propose the solution is that the church begins to emphasize the importance and beauty of our lives NOW while minimizing the desirability of escaping into an unseen realm. I propose the church teaches healthy coping mechanisms that have been shown to be effective.
Addictive substances are a tangible item outside of us that can satisfy the need to escape. Again, addicts latch on to tangible objects to provide relief. Faith in a fantastical world of bliss do not provide what we have been primed to desire.
I appreciate the church’s hostility toward addictive/harmful substances like alcohol. They are hurting people. Addictive substances are killing our human potential. They are destroying lives. However, the church’s puritanical approach may be fueling us with curiosity to see what these substances are all about.
Some humans are naturally rebellious. We are the outliers. The ones that challenge the status quo. The entrepreneurs. We resist any form of authoritarianism or control. While the church might chalk this up to having the “spirit of Babylon” or the “spirit of Jezebel”, rebellion is actually a desirable characteristic. It is this very characteristic that propels me in resisting Trumpism, quitting smoking, and challenging my societal conditioning regarding alcohol.
It isn’t negative to go against the grain when the grain is harming humans, no matter what the church says.
However, this rebellion does spring up in having curiosity for the “sins” defined by the church. In evangelical Christianity, everything from drinking to dancing to watching an R rated movie is a sin. Naturally, some humans are going to do the thing someone tells them not to do.
Regarding alcohol, not only was I curious about it, but I found biblical ways to justify it, and there are many, including Jesus’ first miracle.
I propose that the church provides honest education about alcohol and other addictive substances to their congregants. Leave “sin” out of the conversation and replace it with academic research and personal stories about addiction.
In conclusion, these three ways evangelicalism promotes addiction can be addressed and tweaked if the church would be willing. In my opinion, it is vital they self reflect on beliefs that are harming humanity. Tradition doesn’t equal true or healthy.