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Friday, December 30, 2011

Restored to Sanity... or Humanity?

During my visit to Kodiak, I got to experience some of the cultures that make up Native Alaska: Yu'pik, Tlingit, Aleut, Athabaskan and Alutiiq. They all have unique characteristics, and by careful observation the differences were quite observable.

These societies have their own unique ways of looking at the world, not all of which do I necessarily understand or properly appreciate, but then again I've only been the one time. But, I had a discussion with one of the Yu'pik seminarians, Fr. Michael Nicolai, that really got me thinking.

In the course of our conversation, he explained to me how being polite and acting properly is seen in his culture as being a person. When someone is impolite, he stops being a person. He loses his humanity when he fails to act like a human. On the other hand, when someone is respectful and gracious, whether he is Yu'pik or not (the word Yu'pik literally means 'real person'), he is a person.

Therefore, when someone damages his relationships with others by acting improperly, he loses his humanity.  He becomes something else.  It is only when acts properly that he is really who he is meant to be.

We in the West tend to look at humanity more as a biologically inescapable existence.  Sure, we pay lip service to concepts like 'inhumanity' or 'inhumane treatment,' but over all when someone is acting stupid, we are more likely to say that they are 'sick' rather than 'no longer human.'  Therefore, acting inappropriately does not mean someone loses their humanity, but the humanity no longer works. 

In the Big Book of AA, it says in Step 2:

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

AA assumes that humanity is remains throughout the disease, and that the disease of addiction makes one 'insane.'  This implies a dysfunctional humanity.

The Yu'pik definition of humanity is much more 'rigorous,' which will make recovery a challenge for them in this respect: to admit you are an alcoholic and have behaved improperly means you have lost your humanity.  You can see why people would not be willing to admit they were alcoholics, since alcoholism is a form of improper conduct, thus a loss of identity as a human being.

Yet, at the same time, we in the West tend to tolerate a great deal of inappropriate conduct which causes everyone to suffer, all in the name of 'tolerance.'  We even tolerate addicts and often try to excuse their behavior without any real consequences.  After all, the addict really isn't losing his humanity, is he?

The Yu'pik sees the process of addiction as a loss of humanity, and I think this is very important.  The 'sanity' spoken of in Step 2 really is a return to life.  When we are 'medicated' in the disease, we stop living.  The addiction is a means of escape; it is a form of death.

This is a very Christian worldview: the wages of sin is death.  Addiction leads one away from God and into death.  Sin is a loss of our personhood, our humanity.

The loss of this message in the communication of the Gospel has led to many of the problems we now see in the 'Christian world.'  It has been lost in heresy or negligence.  And, it has fed the addictions boom.  No longer are their immediate costs to acting improperly.  We can sin, but the only ramifications happen in the afterlife so they think.  What we do on a daily basis, and the healing and growth we need, is of little concern.  Popular preachers no longer teach about real change, but only the façade of a smile without repentance.

This is not what our Lord Jesus Christ taught.  Christianity means divine change... it means that we are called to put on the 'Real Adam,' who is Christ.  This is why we are called to share His humanity, and thus become real, living humans.

Many people have pushed Christianity into a corner neatly marked 'afterlife' which excuses them to do anything they want to in this life so long as they 'give their hearts to Jesus.'

A Yu'pik, I believe, would be offended by such a notion, and so should we.  When we harm others, we are not acting like humans and we are undermining our humanity.  A sick humanity is no humanity at all.  If we want to be human, we must be a healed human, a complete human, a well human... a real human.

Addiction is a loss of humanity.  It is a state of not-being-human.

Recovery from addiction is a recovery of our humanity, lost in the disease.

I look forward to learning more from all of the seminarians as we set up a remote video lecture series with them to explore the disease of addiction and how they can help their parishioners once they are ordained and return to their communities.  There is much for me to learn.

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