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addiction & church

I have been reading Damian Thompson’s book The Fix (“How addiction is taking over your world”).

Thompson includes addictions to iphones, painkillers, cupcakes, alcohol, computer games, and sex. He is arguing what I suspect many of us intuitively know – a lot of contemporary products, and the way we encounter them, are specifically designed to stimulate our addiction to them. He is is a recovering alcoholic, and draws from his own struggles with a range of addictions.

Thompson argues against the model that addiction is a pathological disorder. Instead, he argues that addiction is dopamine-driven wants, rather than endorphine-releasing likes. There are many ways this connects with church and spirituality. Thompson writes:

A few years ago, I attended a service at one of London’s most successful Anglican charismatic churches. Essentially it consisted of a sequence of spiritual hits in the form of rock songs and slick stand-up routines – perfect for producing dopamine spikes in the audience of born-again Christian hipsters. (p.254)

Thompson is drawing from scholarly knowledge of religion. He studied history at Oxford University and holds a Ph.D in the sociology of religion. He was religious affairs correspondent of The Daily Telegraph from 1990 to 1994, and subsequently Editor-in Chief of the Catholic Herald.

Are we, as Christians, in danger of drawing from the addiction-creating/fostering consumer culture in which we are immersed, and (even sometimes consciously!) using what we know and see “to work” in our culture as a model to draw people in and addict people to our worship services?

Thompson says:

Here’s a prediction: any established religion that fails to help people with appetite management issues will be pushed out of the marketplace in the next few decades. By the same token, any religion that can place the recovery of physical health, good looks and appetite control at the centre of its spirituality stands a very good chance of attracting followers. Movements may still choose to define themselves in terms of their doctrines. But, in practice, their growth will depend on their ability to mould their teachings around our narcissistic anxieties. The interesting question is whether they will do so by challenging or exploiting those anxieties. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. (p. 254)

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3 thoughts on “addiction & church”

  1. I think I know the church to which Thompson refers. His prediction may be right, and his question as to whether religions will challenge or exploit our anxieties is spot on. I’ve put the book on my wish list.

    June Butler

  2. It’s the same themes which keep playing out across human history: competition, manipulation, dishonesty, excuses for abuse. Versus individual power, success, control. And occasional spiritual and moral victories which show there is some higher aim.

    No one wants to be a victim, but when we subscribe to ancient traditions that’s what it often means.

    Women, children, sick, disabled, slaves….

    When I look at what is ascribed to Jesus Christ, the Sermon on the Mount, the ‘golden rule’…he was questioning the very narcissim which is fundamental to our world.

    Addiction is a way of coping- the repetitive behaviours which ( even negatively ) ensure survival and coping mechanisms. However temporarily.

    But who can hear the message?

    Try it youself: get weak, sick, old, an under-class. Poor.

    Where are you now?

    People don’t choose to be suffering, they are mostly placed there by the self-concerned actions of other individuals.

    There ARE enough resouces in the world if people work together and nobody grabs more than their rightful share.

  3. The paperback came out here last week Bosco, and it is absolutely spot on so far as I am concerned.

    I feel vindicated now for thinking so many things supposed to promote connections, convenience and wellbeing are deeply unhealthy!

    I thought it was just me being a recluse…

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