Believers Anonymous

I used to know a man at work who volunteered at a residential facility for young addicts in Hartford.  The facility was part of a network founded by a Pentecostal minister in New York, and its recovery rate was high.  I remember my co-worker telling me that hardcore street addicts in his experience were not the toughest nuts to crack.  He said religious types were far and away the most difficult to work with.  This might seem like a odd statement, given the particular facility he worked in and his own background as a born-again Christian.  But I knew what he meant.

People who have gotten religion are generally regarded as well-meaning nuisances by family and friends, mostly because their enthusiasm is far less infectious than they imagine.  It is one thing to close the door on well-dressed strangers wielding copies of Watchtower magazine and quite another to deal with people who live under the same roof with you or who otherwise can accost you by name.  True believers are a bit like people who insist on showing up at work when they are sick and giving you what they've got. 

How can sincere belief in God be such a bad thing?  The problem becomes clearer if we substitute any other universal concept in place of God, such as gravity.  Suppose we went around loudly proclaiming our belief in gravity, extolling the virtues of gravity to our family and friends, singing its praises for holding the entire universe together and lionizing Isaac Newton as a prophet for having discovered the laws of motion?  People would think we were nuts, even if they agreed with everything we said, because the law of gravity is an accepted fact of life. 

There was a time, of course, when Newton's theories were challenged, even within the scientific community, as a work of the occult.  Were this still the case, I wonder whether disciples of Newton would be knocking on doors and distributing scientific tracts explaining how gravity works.  I doubt it.  If you know gravity exists, you know the universe will continue to hold itself together, whether people believe or not.  Our own belief in gravity is not the least bit contingent on acceptance by others. 

With all the 12-step programs for various types of addiction, why not one for true believers?  These programs are generally aimed at people who, in traditional Christian terms, would be regarded as sinners.  But, as my former co-worker observed, the real tough nuts to crack are the saints – not that they ever call themselves that or even necessarily think of themselves that way.  I’m talking about those ravenous souls who are as desperate for a spiritual high as any addict in search of a fix.

The first step to recovery is always to bring yourself to the point of being able to recognize your true condition.  As long as you remain in denial, you are like a god unto yourself, imagining you are in control of your life.  To own up to your addiction is accept that you are powerless over it.  Your self image is shattered, and you can make room in your life for a “higher power” to operate.

Spiritual addiction is especially pernicious because it is so easy to mistake belief in God for God himself.  Religious fervor, mystical experiences, spiritual disciplines, prayers and practices -- to the extent they are merely adornments of self -- are all bound up with one's role as a believer.  All must eventually be stripped away, until you are down to the nub of the real you.  That's when you discover there is no "real" you; there is only God.  Then you know you've reached the end of your spiritual journey, as you once imagined it, and are on the road to recovery. 

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