Pornography, Methamphetamines, and Jesus: Addicted to Religion


Pornography, Methamphetamines, and Jesus: Addicted to Religion

by Daniel van Voorhis

(You can hear our episode on this topic here and here)

We admitted that our lives had become unmanageable and came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  So we kicked the booze, pills or other addictions and turned our lives over to a higher power.  But we are addicts.  We are professionals when it comes to taking something that could be good and twisting it in a myriad of awkward ways to benefit ourselves.  So why wouldn’t we do the same to our higher power?


It wouldn’t be surprising to find non-addicts doing this as well.  Anyone could take something as big as the creator of the universe and turn him into something to simply scratch their own peculiar itch.  


So how do you know if you or someone you know needs help kicking their “God” habit? We can break it down the same way we break down other addictions.


First, is it used as a shallow coping skill to dull the outside world? Note the word shallow.  An antidote to poison isn’t a shallow coping skill if it really works, but rubbing spit and mud on it are shallow and cheap fixes to spiritual problems.


Second, are parts of your life negatively affected by your obsession?  Have you started spending less time at work, at home and with friends? If your attention to one thing eclipses your proper attention to other important things, you may be an addict.


In Jeff Mallinson’s Sexy: The Quest for Erotic Virtue in Perplexing Times he explains that Neuroimaging (a kind of MRI that tests the brain’s responses to various stimuli) has detected the same part of the brain that registers sexual pleasure and narcotics also lights up when religious imagery is put in front of the subject.  At a basic, reptilian level we can get the same pleasures we get from sex or substances with religion.


This is not intended to affirm or deny biological evolution with regards to the validity of one’s spirituality.  But it suggests we might want to look closely if aspects of our religious lives begin to seem oddly consuming to the detriment of our various callings in life.  


Religious Zealotry and the Religion of Respectable Men


In the recovery community it is common to find a zealotry with regards to religion once the person has surrendered their life to a higher power.  It seems obvious why this is the case.  Leave one fix-all genie for another.  Eventually it takes too much to get the desired response and so you move on to the next thing.  And now if you are tapped into the Atman or Spirit or the Force you are promised more control over those unmanageable parts of your life.   And so Sunday mornings might bleed into Wednesday nights, Thursday morning meetings and Friday evening meetings.  Soon, the religious addict is volunteering for every event and joining every planning committee to put on everything from Christmas plays to potlucks.  If the addict starts this way, we don’t usually condemn them.  Our lives as addicts had been so consumed with something physically harming we don’t become too concerned with a mere spiritual fixation.  It too shall pass, perhaps, or maybe it will simmer down and look like the religion of respectable men.


But the mention of a religion for “respectable men” might mislead.  Rather, we might set our ideas of what is respectable based on the appropriate and commensurate response to what has been revealed.  


One might ask, supposing religion is an addiction, is it true that religion is the opiate of the masses? Yes. And it depends.  It can be a useful thing for a central government to have a set morality and religious structure to keep people in line, but that phrase makes no mention of the type of one’s religion and whether or not it’s true. Regardless of whether or not it is or isn’t an opiate, our response to a religion should come in proportion to what it claims to “do”.  


Is Everything Going to Be Ok?


If the religion offers a deity that is not unfamiliar with pain and suffering and offers a way out maybe our other addictions take a back seat.  We realize that our problems, the really big ones like failure and death, have been taken care of.  Is everything going to be ok, even in our addictions, whether to sex drugs or religion?  If your religion isn’t something that needs something from you, has a God that has been tempted and suffered like you, then yes, everything is going to be ok.



Daniel van Voorhis



Dan is the director of The League of Faithful Masks which produces the Virtue in the Wasteland podcast.  He received his PhD in 2008 from the University of St. Andrews and was recently a professor of history and political thought as well as Assistant Dean at Concordia University, Irvine.  He is the author of Monsters: Addiction, Hope, Ex-Girlfriends and Other Dangerous Things.

Daniel van Voorhis