Addiction and the Church

The Episcopal church has new guidelines about drinking. I admit, I’m not impressed by recovery and addiction language that infuses the debate. By and large, the church has elevated 12-step, along with the Myers-Briggs, to doctrine and I remain skeptical. To me, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection, and policing alcohol misses the problem.

I won’t go into a longer discourse about 12-step language: they work for some people, and for that they should remain in the tool box of practical solutions. But the all or nothing, shame based, approach probably inhibits other people from being more responsible and reflective about their consumption. Still, some have shown that 12-step is not the panacea it claims to be.

Addiction is complicated. There’s some evidence to show it’s not a disease or the problem of a lack of will. If anything, that first drink is one of the places where we do feel powerful.  Naltrexone can provide some help without the stigma, by inhibiting the sense of pleasure that comes, for example, from drinking. That said, the best way to deal with addiction is to help others find an alternative sense of meaning.

And this is why it’s so tragic when pastors become addicted. In those cases, I wonder, what drives them? The tragedy is not that we serve alcohol.

But when what they believed wasn’t an effective alternative.

Torture and Christians

I am one of those Christians who believe that torture is outside the realm of Christian behavior. It distinguishes the legitimate actions of the state and the church, and the church must have no part in it.

So I was initially surprised when reading about a poll that indicates that Christians, overall, supported torture in greater numbers than the unreligious. But on the other hand it makes sense.

For those of us who see secularity, as a logical outgrowth of the Christian tradition, this should be seen as a success. This view holds that Christianity has pervaded the culture so thoroughly that we expect the state to uphold the integrity of the body. Our expectations of the behavior of the state are now different than how a pagan state had viewed torture. I do worry that this hold is shaky – more of the elites in this country are now formed by The Fountainhead rather than the Sermon on the Mount. But that non-religious people do not support torture should be comforting. There is no intrinsic reason why they should have inculcated such views.

But over the last 40 years, as liberal protestantism has diminished, Christians by and large have become captivated by the Republican party. They are its foot soldiers. So it might be that what is really happening is a defense of the Bush-Cheney years, a way of reconfirming one’s previous position. It takes too much psychic energy to admit one is wrong and change one’s mind. In short, Christians who support torture do so because their political allegiances form how they are religious.  They are politically captive.

The benefit of knowing Christ means that we realize we can afford to be wrong, to be transformed, to change, while also remembering we are still worthy of love and respect even though, and perhaps because of, the mistakes we make. A faithful Christian must be able to take the risk of being willing to change one’s mind and conform with Christ, not with the needs of the imperial state.

The purpose of torture has always been, primarily, to silence dissent, invoke fear, and force conformity. After 9/11 the administration instructed the CIA to conduct these exercises, creating conflict within the organization. Those responsible for ordering these practices should be held for war crimes.