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?
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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