Friday, 2 January 2009

On Religious addiction

Readers of this blog may be interested in the book

'Healing Spiritual Abuse & Religious Addiction', by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabrican Linn, Dennis Linn. and the following quote from that book:

Several years ago, Ann asked a friend of ours to pray with her husband. Ann complained that her hus­band never went to church or to the prayer meeting. All he wanted to do was sit in front of the television and watch football games.

Ann wanted God to make her husband more spiri­tual. For Ann, "spiritual" meant that he would pray and attend church as much as she did. Ann believed Jesus prayed all the time, and so did she. As Ann had become increasingly absorbed in prayer and church attendance, her husband had become less and less interested in these things. His wife wasn't any fun and he figured Jesus wasn't either.

Sensing that the one who really needed healing was Ann rather than her husband, our friend asked if he could pray with her. As our friend prayed with Ann, he could see that she felt deeply moved by what was happen­ing. Suddenly Ann burst out laughing. She said that she had seen Jesus come into her house, go through the kitchen door and into the living room, which was a mess. Ann felt embarrassed, because she would have cleaned up the house if she had known Jesus was com­ing. But the mess didn't seem to bother Jesus.

Jesus asked Ann where her husband was. Ann an­swered that he was in the basement watching television. Jesus went down the stairs into the basement. When he didn't reappear for a while, Ann went down­stairs and found Jesus sitting on the couch next to her husband, watching the football game.

Ann understood that Jesus wanted her to do the same thing. Jesus wanted her to stop overusing prayer and churchgoing, and start enjoying life with her husband.'

For us, this is a story about how sometimes religion makes people healthy and sometimes it makes them sick. What makes the difference?

We have learned about addictions from the Twelve-Step recovery movement. The addictive process was the focus of our book Belonging: Bonds of Healing & Recovery. Our field is spiritu­ality and we have become aware that the dynamics of addiction (using a substance or process to escape from our own reality, especially painful feelings) can affect our spiritual life, so that religion itself becomes our drug of choice. In Ann's case, we don't know why she substituted constant prayer and churchgoing for a real relationship with her husband. If it was to escape from painful feelings in her marriage or in other areas of her life, then we might guess that Ann had a religious addiction. Her efforts to use religion to control others, e.g., by trying to impose her reli­gious practices upon her husband, support our guess.

Many people besides ourselves have become aware of this misuse of religion, and several books have appeared recently that describe religious addiction very well. Sensitized by these books and by our own growing awareness, and armed with the label "religious addict," at times we find ourselves tempted to judgmentally categorize those who use religion to control others. This happens especially if their efforts have ever been directed against ourselves. However, we've learned that all addictive behavior comes from deep pain and contains a cry for healing. If that cry is not heard and answered, then recovery is superficial and the addict may simply substitute one addiction for another. For exam­ple, the alcoholic who has stopped drinking, but whose emo­tional pain remains untouched, may well begin smoking or over­eating. In fact, those who have renounced addictive behavior that looks "bad" (such as sexual promiscuity or drug abuse), but who are not fully healed emotionally, are especially likely to substitute religious addiction because it looks "good."

Although we might wish that those who misuse religion would simply get with it and be converted to our own "progres­sive" attitudes, we know it's not that simple. At least it hasn't been that simple for us. Dennis and Matt's recovery from religious addiction is an ongoing process, and all three of us are slowly recovering from spiritual abuse. We have not always been as ready as Ann to let go of distorted forms of religiosity.

This book contains what we have learned about religious addiction and spiritual abuse. The first two chapters describe religious addiction and spiritual abuse, and the healing that can come from spiritual re-parenting. Because addiction and abuse are rooted in shame, Chapters 3 through 6 explore the shame-based patterns we learn in childhood that can make us vulnera­ble to religious addiction and spiritual abuse, and how these patterns can be healed through recalling positive and negative memories. Chapter 7 expands this healing to include the abuse and shame suffered by our ancestors (still expressed through conflicts in many of the most troubled places in the world today). Chapter 8 discusses how scripture has often been used to reinforce religious addiction and spiritual abuse. Finally, Chap­ter 9 is about healthy religion, in which we, like Ann, are free to do what Jesus would do.

This book is not only for those in recovery from religious addiction and spiritual abuse. We are writing for anyone who, like ourselves, is searching for a more life-giving relationship with God and with a healthy faith community.

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