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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dangers with the 'New' Drugs

There are plenty of horror stories in the news:

The 'Causeway Cannibal' case, as it turns out, is not all that unusual.  The new craze with 'Bath Salts' has blossomed forth with numerous incidents of psychosis.

Our brains, through which our sensory information and thoughts pass through, are very delicate.  Even small events, like a headache from a cold virus, can radically alter our thoughts and perceptions.

Pouring chemicals into our brains is something that should be avoided, addicting or not.

While I'm sure to hear about how 'non-addictive' marijuana is, the 'Spice' market shows us the unsafe lengths people will go to to get high.  Wanting a buzz is one thing, using dangerous chemicals is another.

Even prescription drugs are unreliable.  Last night, while driving through town, I heard a doctor on the radio telling of the chilling discoveries that have been made of late with approved medications.  While I have not read all of his material and he may well be off on a few things, his credentials are impeccable and he seemed to have quite a bit of research in his favor.  Here's the doctor's website:

Here's an article on marijuana triggering psychosis, a more common problem than it was a few years ago:

The big problem there has to do with THC dosages.  Marijuana plants have been hybridized to the point where THC levels are in some cases 10x higher than in plants from standard strains grown 100 years ago for rope.

Yet, the problem remains with drug usage: how do we predict its effect?  This is not even reliably done with alcohol.  We all know people who are 'happy drunks' while others become angry and aggressive.  Even the most common glass of wine can have remarkably different effects.

But, the 'New' drugs are even scarier, because they are more complex than their ancestors and much more powerful.  What young people often miss is that repeated usage predictably causes permanent damage if not long-lasting after-effects:

Yes, you can get there with alcohol, too.  The difference is that many young people are tricked into the old tales about these drugs being 'safe' and 'fun' in a way that their grandparents' beer and whiskey isn't.  Well, a can of Coors isn't going to shut your kidneys down the way a hit of 'spice' can and does in enough individuals to have lawmakers reevaluating laws on 'spice.'

What we are seeing right now in the news are more and more psychiatric problems links to drug usage.  Almost daily, new reports are coming out about random acts of violence as people are losing impulse control due to drugs, either prescribed or illegally-obtained.  Mexico has become a new Cambodia, with thousands dying in recent months, even innocent people not tied to the cartels.  Individual killings have been subjected to 'grade inflation' and are now unheard of as massacres become the norm.

It is into this maddening storm that we are called to bear silent witness to the peaceful joys of God.  Both Christianity and the 12 Steps are based on repentance, and so there is hope for a broken world.  What we must do is live out our own lives as good examples and practice what we preach.  God will do the rest.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hatred - Envy, Greed and Anger - Part 3

One of the most omni-present of the passions is Anger, and I do mean 'omni-present' in that most people do harbor some kind of anger and resentment towards someone else.  In the spiritual struggle, it is only second to Pride in being both difficult to completely cure or even handle when it is 'righteous anger.'  And, right there, is part of the problem: there are good and bad expressions of Anger, though most of us experience the pathological kind.

What's the difference?

The passion of Anger is one based on fear and resentment.  Righteous anger is a force used to repel evil with power that is completely manageable.  The righteously angry person may act with violence, but can immediately stop as the situation dictates.  He does not 'accidentally' cause collateral damage.

Anger as a passion is a loss of control (as are all the passions).  Emanating from Envy, it looks at others and sees what they have but don't 'deserve,' and it becomes enraged in comparison to its own lack.  When people 'disobey' us or don't keep the rules we think are important to us, Anger wells up.

In the 'Big Book' of AA (p. 66), it says:

...if we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.

The 'dubious luxury' of Anger and resentment is one that people frequently indulge in.  They allow themselves to judge others, and by the 'judging' I mean condemn.  There is a difference between seeing another person's wrongs and acknowledging them, versus becoming angry with that person and hating him.  When we condemn the other person, it is an act of the passion of Anger, which does not hope for the other person's repentance and conversion.

You can see now its envious roots: Anger seeks punishment and destruction, not positive change.

Many religious people use God and the Church wrongly to cover over the passion of Anger.  They become angry at atheists, hedonists, criminals, heretics, the careless, and others they consider to be 'rule-breakers' who might... GASP!... get away with their sins.  Those possessed by Anger talk incessantly about these other people and how horrible they are, and how they will be condemned and punished in hell for all their sins.

Of course, being possessed also by the passion of Pride, they ignore the mercy of God and seek rather to find a way to forcibly convert the other person or punish him.  We clergy must always guard ourselves against the temptations of Anger, since it can well up within us and draw us off our actual task: to guide people towards their own repentance and conversion to God.

The passion of Anger has no compassion, no pity, and no love.  It is utterly selfish, and this can be quickly gauged by what makes us angry: am I angry because this person is not obeying my wishes or view of the world?  Anger that arises from our loss of control over someone or something is unhealthy and selfish.  Love respects another person's free will and the right to exercise it, even to his own detriment.

Righteous anger is always an action in the moment.  Once acted upon, there is no lasting resentment or bitterness.  It is a tool.

The passion of Anger poisons the soul, and boils away even after the excuse has long passed.  Therefore, Anger blocks that very important act of forgiveness.  Why?  Because Anger demands that the other person be lowered to where we are.  It wants everything brought down, and even further if we think we are 'innocent'.  The problem is that if you think you are at the bottom, it is impossible to go any further down, isn't it?  This is why Anger becomes insatiable: there seems no way to punish other people enough.

If we try to forgive, Anger tells us that the person will not only be able to go off in his present 'elevated' status (remember, the person bogged down with Anger senses his own imprisonment, though he won't admit it), but will get to take with his the 'fruits' of his disobedience.  He will 'get away' with what he has done.

What does another person's situation have to do with us?  My problems are my own, so why should I care if the other person is punished?  Will my resentment actually cause the other person to be punished.  Anger says 'yes,' bu the truth is that such is not the case.  We only punish ourselves by being angry.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hatred - Envy, Greed and Anger - Part 2

Another aspect of Envy, the hatred of others, is Greed.  Greed is different from Gluttony, though both share the common element of reliance on material things.

Whereas Gluttony consumes the object of desire, Greed is a 'hoarder.'  It holds onto what it has, and seeks more and more.  Greed derives comfort from 'having' rather than 'using.'

It can manifest in many different ways, and can sometimes be confused with natural tendencies to save and plan ahead.  However, Greed can only be truly discerned when someone is asked to share or get rid of something.  If the greedy person is asked to share, he will lash out with fearful anger.  He is afraid of his inadequacies, and sees the world as having many things that he wants but cannot get.  So, he holds onto what he has.

The true hatred of Greed comes out when people have genuine needs, and yet the greedy person still will not share.  He may have millions of dollars, but will not  part with one of them when others are starving and desperate.

Think of the pre-reformed Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (

The greedy man hates his neighbor, weighed down by his memories of what he lost in the past and his resentments.  It is not a delight in what he has, but a torment in how much more he needs.  He enjoys the moment of acquisition, only to quickly crave more.

Those things he acquires he cannot 'risk' in using, and so he stores them away, even with utter neglect, because his obsession moves from having to wanting to have more.  Our greed will also leave us susceptible to 'get-rich-quick-schemes' that promise even more than what we already have.

Greed is a terrible prison, because we see the needs of others and reject them in favor of dwelling on our own neediness.  We are always hungry for more, yet never satisfied.

It also assumes that we have absolute control over our things.  Greed tells us that something is MINE.  It tells us that ownership is absolute, and that ownership only comes through self-will and determination to acquire.  There is no gratitude, and it certainly does not take into account that what we have comes from God.  Greed has no god at all except its hunger for more.

Greed can often become an addiction, yet it is often ignored or excused as someone being 'thrifty' or 'frugal.'  The difference can be seen in the attitude towards giving: the greedy person will become angry when he must part with his money or things, whereas the frugal person will be glad he was clever enough to put something away to have it at just the right time.

Greed is one of the great struggles for the Christian, which is why Jesus Christ admonishes those who follow Him to be generous and not obsess about material possessions.  He does not tell people to live frivolously, yet He also warns men not to stockpile thinking that live is only about acquiring things.

Churches are often roiled in conflict with people struggling through their own Greed.  Many Christians will carefully examine their financial situation to determine what is the least amount of money they must donate to meet the minimum requirements of other people's expectations, or perhaps even God.  In most cases, God does not factor in because our Greed tells us that we are far more needy than our neighbors, and God has done very little to help us.  Someone else who is less needy ought to provide more.

So, Envy's hateful eye casts about on its neighbors and sees their good, while Greed sees that good as both something desired and a good enough reason not to part with anything.  In the face of genuine need, Greed will let someone die on the doorsteps.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hatred - Envy, Greed and Anger - Part 1

As Pride and its 'expectation of entitlement' approach, there are only two answers that can be made in its presence: yes or no.  Others must either surrender to our Pride or be prepared for a fight.

Lust is only an option when others cooperate and submit themselves to manipulation.  The fancy word for the is 'codependency,' when someone decides his happiness must be linked to the happiness of another.  Now, when that other person decides to make his own decisions without needing to please the lustful person, the lustful person will be denied his 'needs.'

What sets in next is a network of another three passions: Envy, Greed, and Anger.  These come about when we sense that our desires will not be satisfied by others.  The inadequacies that Pride seeks to remedy are suddenly left naked.  Our weakness is exposed.  We are left at risk to our fears.

In casting about for answers, Lust has convinced us that other people have things that we need.  They are, in some sense, better than us.  After all, we are only 'perfect' when we have no needs and no desires, right?  We sense that satisfaction when we take from others and 'consume' them.  It is temporary perfection, but a perfection nonetheless.

So, we become acutely able to measure the good things other people have.  We compare our fears to their strengths and their 'possessions'.  Now, these 'possessions' can be attributes or parts of a person, which the sufferer of Pride sees as separable from the whole person.  For example, when Pride leads to Lust of a sexual kind, the sufferer can look at a person and separate his body from his personhood.  Bodies, faces, sexual organs and other integral parts of a person become 'detachable' with Lust and subject to use without care for the whole.

But, what happens when the 'owner' of these 'parts' says 'no?'  This great refusal, which the Lustful person sees as not only inappropriate ("Don't you know who I am?") but downright threatening ("But, I need those!").  Lust then is revealed truly as a 'passion,' because its suffering comes to the surface and begins its torments.

This torment is Envy.

Envy is not jealousy.  Jealousy is the strong value of something.  We can 'jealously guard' what we already have, or be jealous of a person we like who has something we would like to have as well.

Envy is the hatred of the other person for having what we want but cannot have. Envy sees the other person's good as a harm to us.  Pride tells us we deserve it, but we know that we cannot have it.  Envy, as it poisons the soul, urges us to kill and destroy what is good so that we are not alone in our weakness.  Envy wants to exalt its low estate by bringing all others under it in death.  After all, the weak man is still stronger than the dead man.

While this sounds extreme (not all the envious commit murders), Envy commits a thousand small murders a day.  It spins gossip about others to murder the reputation of someone else.  It hates and tries to convert others to that hatred.  It will lead us to harm the subject of our Envy when we have a chance by any means our cowardice will permit.

Envy is the coward's passion.  It sulks and whines about 'injustices' and 'unfairness,' but ultimately never does anything about it except complain.  When Envy starts a 'crusade,' it is to bring others down rather than build anything up.  It has no hope in the face of 'no' other than the destruction of everything outside of it.

Envy goes so far as to murder God: consider these two Scriptural references:

So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”  For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. (Mt 27:17-18)

Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. (Mk 15:9-10)

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,... (Ro 1:28-30)

...but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it. (Wi 2:24)

Envy is behind all violence, especially in relationships.  We hate being weak, and Pride tells us that weakness is intolerable.  Therefore, we will destroy even God if He reveals our weakness.

This is why there is no much 'anti-theism' in modern culture: belief in God means we are weak and left subject to His will.  Most self-identified atheists are in fact 'anti-theists' because they are driven by hate.  In some way, they do believe.  After all, no one but small children believe in the 'Tooth Fairy,' yet I've never heard of the Tooth Fairy being spoken of with such anger as those who say they do not believe in God.  Now, some will argue, "Yes, but humans do evil things in the name of God, so we have to fight religion!"

People also do evil things in the name of 'patriotism,' in the name of 'social order,'  in the name of 'survival,' yet no one says that we should hate and do away with all of these.  Humans will always find an excuse to hate so long as their is fear in their hearts.  Statistically speaking, more than 100 million people died in the 20th century under atheistic regimes: atheism is no guarantee that humans will be better off.  Actually, if you do the math, all of the religious wars combined don't add up to the casualties under the atheists.  

That is because removing the belief in Divine judgment, which so many people fear, also means that there is no Divine mercy either.  The world becomes a violent Darwinian nightmare where man is left to scramble against threats of extinction.  This unleashes primal violence in men that ultimately surfaces as envy.

So, the Communists hate the Bourgeoisie, and Nazis hate the Jews, and both then write themselves permits to murder.

Now, we can see within ourselves the 'small murders' we commit against those we Envy if we are honest, though confessing Envy is probably more embarrassing that any of the many sins we inflict. We still have more on this topic to discuss.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hedonism and Addiction - Lust, Gluttony and Sloth - Part 3

So, now we arrive at Gluttony, which begs the question how this is related to Lust. Very simply: whereas Lust seeks to have one's needs met by people, Gluttony is meeting one's needs with things.

The hallmark of Gluttony is over-consumption, though a gluttonous person can simply be one who is overly-reliant on things in an abusive manner.  This is different from Greed, which we will get into later.  By this, I mean that Gluttony can masquerade being overly picky or being an 'Aficionado' who will devote hours to find the 'right one.'

Gluttony is a matter of any extreme usage of objects that are used rather than stock-piled.

Most addictions manifest here because of their very obvious manifestations: the obesity of the food addict or the inebriation of the alcoholic.  This is not to say that the two problems are identical, as there are significant difference which accounts for why they are treated with separate groups.  However, they have common roots in this passion.

Gluttony allows the glutton to plunge himself into a world within his mind where there is no room for anything but his obsession with the object.  The glutton tunes-out the world and becomes hypnotized in a trance-like state, which is also a hallmark of addiction.  Once the passion arises, interference from other subjects competing for the glutton's attention are blocked off.

In a way, Gluttony involves a type of inebriation even when there is no intoxication.  This is why is is connected to Lust, since Lust also gives its sufferer the same trance-like state.

Lust and Gluttony also share the same involvement of the body: both passions tend to rely heavily on sensory perceptions.  Yet, there can be manifestations of these passions that are strictly intellectual: one can spend a great deal of time obsessing about something without actually doing it.  This is the fantasy-world of the glutton or the lustful person.

Gluttony very often has a strong phantasy component both in preparing for the acting-out as well as the acting-out itself.  The build-up is often an exultation of the object, in which the sufferer thinks about how wonderful the object will be to consume.

Sadly, most gluttons will settle for third-rate objects rather than go without, and so the food addict will dream of filet mignon but consume three greasy cheeseburgers.  Alcoholics will often find themselves consuming other people's drinks or even drinking poison in this fantasy state, thinking that what they are doing is appropriate.

This leads to a profound abasement of the sufferer, since he is no longer able to hold onto reality.  After all, once he comes out of his fantasy and sees the depths he has plunged, he must either choose to stay in reality and repair the damage or find some easy means of escape... back into the fantasy.

Lust and Gluttony destroy one's sense of reality by making reality an unpleasant place to be in through repeated acting-out and the subsequent damage that it causes.  Soon, reality seems far worse than it actually is, mostly because the fantasy world has no suffering in it, and so what little suffering there is in the real world seems overwhelming.

This is what addicts seem so fragile: for men who have spent too much time in a  space station, normal gravity feels like a heavy burden.  The addict is so isolated from the usual burdens of life that he finds it difficult to cope.  The addict is a spoiled brat because he does not have to do hard work in his fantasy world.  He thinks, and it comes to be.

We can see why gluttons become enraged when their obsession is threatened.

This also accounts for why addicts do not mature.  Maturity is a process whereby someone learns about himself through his failures as much as his successes.  The addict, living in a dream-world, does not go through these experiences, and so he never grows up.  He spends all of his time in his dream-world, where he is the 'omnipotent god' of his reality.

Yet, he is a 'needy god,' and so the passion of Gluttony springs the trap: once the object is consumed, it no longer exists.  Now, the clock begins to tick: how long until the next one?  The fantasy is always momentary, and the Glutton must reenter the pain of the real world to get more of the thing he desires.  Real life becomes more and more an experience of suffering not only because of the damage, but also because emergence from the comfort of the fantasy means that the needed-thing has run out.

If physical dependency becomes an issue, then withdrawals set in and we are talking about a whole new level of pain.

This is what is so cruel about these passions of Lust and Gluttony: they offer comfort, but become a prison.  They drive us out of our lives and into a delusional world that makes real life intolerable.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hedonism and Addiction - Lust, Gluttony and Sloth - Part 2

So, let's look at Sloth.  This is more than simply laziness, but a whole family of behaviors that all have one thing in common: dependency on others.

Yes, Lust is also a type of dependent relationship, but Sloth is more personalized in a way that Lust is not: for example, some forms of Lust involve pornography or inanimate objects.  Sloth may involve certain delusions like this, but the real core of it is the necessity of others to meet the needs of the slothful person.

The slothful person is too lazy to clean, but usually has any of a number of people who will provide cleaning or clean things when necessary.  The hoarder becomes slothful in refusing to make decisions about what to dispose of, until relatives come and 'force' a clean-up, or a safer place to live, or something that keeps the hoarder unscathed by his behavior.

Sloth is a type of passive manipulation, because the lack of action to fulfill what is proper tempts others to step in out of a sense of duty, guilt, or concern.  The slothful person knows that others will step in, and so he is free to carry on according to his passion rather than according to what is necessary and proper.

This is different from clinical depression, which is chemical in nature and unavoidable.  Sloth can be escaped when the person senses danger, something that does not happen with true depression.  Sloth is calculated in a way true depression is not.

This is not to say that all forms of 'depression' are not related to Sloth.  Some people who are 'depressed' are really engaging in behaviors designed to elicit sympathy from others.  So, the neglect and sorrowful affect are part of a show.  This is 'emotional sloth,' where a person refuses to veil his negative emotions the way people usually do so as not to impose on others.

The emotionally slothful person can be the 'drama queen' who relies on the patience and charity of others while she acts out without regard for consequences.  Whereas the lustful person schemes as to how to get emotions or behaviors out of people, the slothful person does not care, but passively relies on the sense of decency in others to keep the situation in control.

Sloth is permanent immaturity.  There will always be a 'mom' and 'dad' to clean up after you.

A further refinement of this passion is akedia or acedia (  This sense of both irritable discontent and inability to focus is often associated with monastics, but is fairly common among ordinary folk.  Akedia is a type of dissatisfaction with the world, which drives the sufferer away from constructive activities and eventually makes him a parasite within his community.  

Akedia involves a great deal of Pride, since the discontent it harbors comes from the person's willingness to judge others and think himself superior.  Again, there is also a certain degree of Lust as well, because the sufferer will invariably manipulate others to afford himself more comfort from his suffering, but in the end he will turn on those whom he has manipulated and will impose his negativity on them.  He will expect them to support him.

Sloth is very common these days because we are in an era where people generally see themselves as consumers, either of commercial or governmental services.  We no longer have a sense of being responsible for producing anything, but our production is tied strictly to our ability to gain things.  Someone else will have to clean up the mess and pay the bills.  There is no appreciation for our own work.

Sloth tells us that there is no need for self-improvement, because it is too difficult and really unnecessary if one can find an easier way of getting what one wants.  So, Sloth sets in when the person chooses to forget honor.  Here, we have another manifestation of Pride: "I'm too good to care what you think about me."

This is behind that casualness of modern culture.  For example, the young man who goes to a job interview in a 'hoodie' is demonstrating his Sloth by telling the interviewer that the job is not that important, and since 'you really need me, you'll have to hire me anyway whether I wear this or a suit.'

After all, not having to care is a luxury.  Sloth demands luxury without labor or merit.  When one does not receive it, then the 'pity party' begins and the real sloppiness takes over.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hedonism and Addiction - Lust, Gluttony and Sloth - Part 1

So, let's go back to the chart to see where all of this is going with Fear and Pride:
Pride affords us entitlement.  It says that we are not only alone in our problems, but that we are special enough to ignore the boundaries and needs of others to get what we need.  Pride and consideration are polar opposites, since consideration of others is selfless, versus the selfish orientation of Pride.

For the addict, the sense of entitlement is critical in keeping the disease going: as he becomes more dysfunctional he will have more and more needs.  His Pride, in response to his overwhelming fears of both the unknown and the just retribution his acts beg for, will escalate to the point where people become mere cardboard cutouts: he will lose the ability to empathize with them at all.

So, as our Pride escalates, it is only natural that we manipulate and use others.  This is Lust.  Lust is desiring the body, or the resources, or the attention, or anything else from another person without any respect for them or consideration of their personhood.

So, a lustful person may desire to have sex with another person, but not to care for him or her.  When we watch porn, it is not because we care for the people in the pictures or movies the way we would watching videos from a family vacation or seeing friends on Facebook.  We only focus on particular parts of the person we like and ignore the rest.

Lustful relationships are much the same: two people come together, but each is seeking only a selection of things from the other.  One might be looking for sex, while the other is looking for money.  This is the 'Trophy Wife' stereotype.

In order to attain these things, our Pride tells us we are entitled to lie and manipulate.  So, lying is really a byproduct or tool of Lust (I know that this may sound odd, but it does seem to fit this way).  when we are lying, we are trying to get things out of people with consideration for them as a whole.

But, at the same time, Pride leaves us feeling isolated.  We experience increasing loneliness, which in turn leaves us more fearful and needy.  So, we can become ever-more lustful, seeking to take some sense of companionship from those we feel 'above.'  After all, those who are above do not consort with those below, and so we can only take 'parts' of those beneath our dignity: a corporate executive may visit a prostitute, but he certainly may not marry one! (Sorry, Julia Roberts.)

I've discuss the problem of porneia in other posts ( ), so I won't repeat all of that here.

However, the previous discussion of porneia stopped short of paining the complete picture, because to do so would require discuss two other passions that are related to Lust: Sloth and Gluttony.

It is easy to see how these three go together in their most prurient and depraved form, such as a 'Roman Orgy' or a sultan's harem.  But, their more subtle manifestations are often harder to catch.  We will explore these in terms of their more common forms.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pride and Addiction - Part 3

Pride is our own worst enemy.  The fall left us susceptible to fear, but Pride is our own choice.  In the Gospel, Jesus Christ experiences fear: in the Garden of Gethsemane, He labored in prayer because His humanity suffered with fear of what was going to happen.  He persevered not through Pride, but quiet humility which He demonstrated all through His arrest and crucifixion.

A proud man would have fought back.  He would not have submitted to such humiliation.  Yet, by avoiding Pride and humbly accepting in His flesh the Divine Will, His humanity overcame death and the devil.

You see, Pride would have alienated Him from His Father and us.  His Pride might have appeared to have justifications: He is innocent, His death would not be fair, the Pharisees were too unjust to judge Him, etc.  Pride can also look very reasonable.

But, Pride is more than being puffed up.  It is an alienation from others.  Pride keeps us from helping others because we so often do not want to get our hands 'dirty.'

Pride will tell us that our ideas are better than others, that our opinions are more important than someone else's needs, that we must 'stay the course' in what we believe even when it is not working or not helping.  pride says 'no' to service, and sometimes with what seems to be a perfectly logical reason.

When I went to seminary, I was taught many things, and I developed a whole list of things that I swore I would never do (largely about compromising my ideals about the Church and the Faith) and things that I would do.  Then, I was ordained and set to people who suffered.  In my first few years, I really struggled with my own pride telling me to hold this 'line' I had created in seminary.

Eventually, I realized that my expectations were false.  My duty was not to enforce my self-created policies, but help people in need.  I have failed in this even today most often because of my own Pride, which I struggle with because I have not been fully cured of my fears.  And, boy, do I have some fears!

What I do know is that when I live without fear, God seems to help me.  Sure, sometimes my fears come true, but usually in ways I did not expect.  Pain hurts, but living in fear of it keeps me from experiencing all of life.  Pain is also humiliating: just look at the Cross and you see the humiliation of pain.

But, what this is also telling us is that man was not meant to be Proud.  Pain moves us from what is unnatural to what is natural.  So, the pain of the Cross and death led to the Resurrection and the True Humanity.  Pride avoids pain, but also transformation.  We end up avoiding the glory of God trying to preserve the glory of man.

Most of our pain will involve others, and Pride's demands that we exalt ourselves over others means that we can no longer be of service.  Yet, this service is not only what we were made to do, but also make us coworkers in the Divine: God loves others through us.  If we become stiff and proud, then we are no longer of service and the Divine cannot transform us because we have cut Him off.

In the 12 Steps of AA, the 'spiritual awakening' that is promised in Step 12 speaks of this:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

'Carrying the message' is a humbling experience.  It means being available to people to help them.  It also means being humble enough to admit the truth about your own suffering and the humiliation you have endured.  Pride has no place: nobody wants to hear about how wonderful you are, because your greatness will not heal their suffering.

We can point to our lives as evidence of God's mercy and healing, but only if we are humble enough to admit that we have been wounded by sin to begin with.  Humble saints talk about being sinners, but proud men condemn sinners while maintaining a 'flawless' exterior.

Pride really is a coating, and exterior devoid of content.  This is why proud people are so boring.  Sure, they can be charming as first, like the faux-wood finish on a linoleum floor.  But, spend some time looking at the floor, and you see that the pattern just repeats itself over and over again the way real wood grain does not.  Once you have seen a little bit, you've seen the whole thing.  The stories of the proud always have the same ending: they win and they are wonderful.

The truth is that we do not always win, and we are not always wonderful.  But, truth and Pride have no relationship.  Pride steals from truth, but truth needs nothing from Pride.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pride and Addiction - Part 2

You may ask, "Well, if addicts have a problem with Pride, and everyone else seems to have a problem with Pride as well, why aren't all people addicts?"

If you follow the strict construction of the disease model of addiction, addiction requires a 'physical allergy' (the physical-reaction component) coupled with the mental/emotional 'need' (personal problems), all occurring under the umbrella of an absent or dysfunctional spirituality.

Most 'normal' people don't have all these three components happening at the same time when they are exposed to an addictive substance or activity, which means they do not develop the 'disease.'

However, the presence of Pride is never healthy, and that is because it is a self-created falsehood.  And, because it is false, it can take on many forms.  Pride can say you are the greatest transcending all human boundaries or the worst sinner with no hope of salvation.  Both propositions are false, thus emanating from a single Pride.  Pride says, "I am special!"

But, you may say, "How can Pride convince me that I am the worst?"  If you are special, it means that whatever is good and healthy for average people will not work for you, so the exultation that Pride creates also creates a situation where normal rescue is impossible.  Pride breaks us off from God and others by convincing us we are well-beyond normal humanity, which is limited from both above and below.  Regular humans can be saved by regular means, but the proud man requires special attention.

The proud man goes on thinking that he has no hope because he never received any help when he scales the heights, so how could he possibly ask for help when he has fallen?  Pride blinds him to the fact that, along the way, others did help him, but because of his sense of entitlement, he never recognized such help.

This notion that 'I am special' is what Pride really is about.  The moment you think that you are different from others in a unique way, you are standing on Pride's porch.

While each of us is distinct, we are not different.  While we all have differing attributes, preferences, memories, values, opinions, thoughts... we all share the same humanity and the same God.

The 12 Steps rely on this single underpinning: no human is more or less human than any other.

Christianity takes this a step further: The Son of God took on this humanity in order to transform it.  We share in His new humanity because He shared in our humanity.  If Jesus Christ was indeed born as a human, and His divinity did not 'destroy' His humanity, then we humans cannot, of our own acts, destroy or distort our humanity.  It is, by its very nature, inescapable for us.  We cannot escape ourselves, either by flying too high or plunging too low.

The 'I am special' of Pride says that we can escape the 'mediocrity' of normal humanity.  If we accept this premise, then everything that happens to us afterwards is 'exceptional' because we consider ourselves to be 'exceptional' because nothing that happens to exceptional people is every ordinary, right?  So, the king may have to go potty like everyone else, but he does so on a 'golden throne.'

Religious people can allow their Pride to escalate to in a number of directions, including scrupulosity: 

Anxiety and panic disorders have a strong Pride component because they blind the sufferer to the world around him, in which their is ample evidence that the world around him is not suffering the same panic and danger that he is.

Pride creates anxiety, and the temporary escape from this anxiety can be the addiction.  However, addictive behaviors have a wide variety of occurrences.  Over the next few posts, we'll explore what happens when we embrace the 'I am special' message and go looking for our own solutions to our fear and anxiety.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pride and Addiction - Part 1

Orthodox Christianity does not categorize 'addiction' as a separate 'disease' from the disease of sinfulness.  This trips a lot of modern thinkers into thinking that the Church has nothing to say about addiction because the wording is not the same.

Addiction, in Orthodox parlance, is the extreme end of a passion.  A passion is suffering, a type of wound, and when it advances to a certain point the sufferer becomes so wrapped in his own pain that he loses the ability exercise his free-will.

Someone who is familiar with addiction can see how this definition works in real life, and how the 12 Steps are in fact designed to heal us from deep wounds that come to compromise the human will.  Pain is a powerful experience: it is designed to help us avoid harm and motivates us to move out from the places we are not supposed to be.  However, the way out of pain is through it, and away from it.

Having the courage to move through pain takes experience... and faith.  Without the sincere belief that we will be OK if we enter into and pass through our pain, we will never grow.  Ancient societies forces men and women to endure initiation rites that were, on the one hand, difficult in some way, yet also quite survivable.  After all, if there was a significant risk, the society would lose many of its members.  Subconsciously, the initiates had to trust their elders' advice to endure the hardship.  That in itself is an act of faith.

These days, we have no such faith-building activities and people are, more and more often, left to their own devices.  We have no enduring relationships other than the ones we construct on our own, and very often these are weak and neurotic at best.  That is because we rely on self-sufficiency as our only guarantor.

This is why we also see such high levels of addiction in modern society: addiction is the sign not only of personal but cultural breakdown.  As cultures disintegrate, men must find their own way in a very scary world.  Once God is removed from the human equation, we begin to experience the seeds of disaster.  Of course, atheism or anti-theism (the hatred of God rather than mere disbelief) work well when things are going according to one's will.  When plans go awry, however, atheism is a very lonely in insecure place.  Here is a chart of what generally happens:
Without God, one experiences Fear when encountering the various threats and insecurities of the world.  We must either run from these threats, or somehow find a way to get through them.  We need confidence, the kind of confidence that faith give.  But, since there is no faith, man must find an alternative that gives him the strength of faith in God without God... and so man begins to pump himself up.

This is Pride.

If lack of faith in God is the 'father' of addiction, then Pride is the 'mother' of all passions.  Remember, passions are suffering, but the suffering of the conscience. When we inflate ourselves, we know that our Pride is false.  When we lie or do something bad, it is our conscience that troubles us, and Pride is part of that.  We know it is not true, and so we at once pump ourselves up with knowing that our pride is false and subject to failure just as we are.

Addiction emerges from the extremes of both pride and the insecurity that it breeds.  pride is not real, it is a false narrative that we create for ourselves to replace the notion that someone, or Someone, is looking out for us and there to save us if we fail.  Addicts are often characterized as 'egomaniacs with inferiority complexes' as a result of both the extreme Pride they exhibit, which naturally triggers great insecurity in the towering ego they have built for themselves.  The higher the walls, the bigger the collapse.

But, once Pride is in place, then the rest of the passions become the tools by which the ego tries to deal with its fears.  Pride provides one's entitlement to harm others and ignore their pain.  Pride also erases evidence that the walls are collapsing at inconvenient moments.

I started to go through this chart in my posts on lust and porneia, but over the next few posts I think I will go through the entire chart in a step-by-step manner just to show how this all works to imprison the addict.

Tomorrow, I will show you how the 12 Steps address Pride in a round-about way.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Two Directions

I've come to realize that there are two distinct directions that information on this blog are going.  

The first direction is towards helping the communities that make up the Orthodox Church better understand the 12 Steps.  In this regard, there has been a lot of progress.  None of the Synods that make up the Church have actively rejected the 12 Steps, and a number of the churches are either positively disposed or even advocating their usage.  From what I've heard, there will be some major announcements in this regard that will be ringing on an international level in the near future.

The second direction is just as important, and this is our task of sharing information about the Orthodox Faith with those in recovery who are looking to deepen their spirituality and break through the veil of anonymity that surrounds the God spoken of in the 12 Steps.

There are plenty of recovering addicts who have resigned themselves either to be Christians outside of any particular 'denomination,' or settle into communities where they fellowship yet feel somewhat alienated because of conflicts between their experiences in sobriety versus the stated theology of their communities.

The origins of AA are indeed rooted in the efforts made by Dr. Bob to find within the New Testament some indications of how Jesus Christ would heal the alcoholic, though the Bible makes no mention of 'addiction' or 'recovery.'  The development of the concept of the Anonymous God largely came out of this problem: there were simply too many entrenched and inaccurate portrayals of Christ to use His name without running into problems.  Rather than attempting to redefine God as interpreted by either denominations or religions outside the general 'Christian' cluster, they avoided the matter altogether by allowing the addict to experience God on God's terms without religious definitions.

Since that time, various denominations have struggled to 'reclaim' the 12 Steps.  Here's an interesting article:

Dick B. has a very interesting book on this based on historical research from Anne, Dr. Bob's wife who kept notes on the development of AA in her home in Akron, OH.

Yet, these attempts at forming an openly Christian 12 Step movement has only really resulted in hybrids.  There still exists a gap between these groups and their denominations of origin.

This is where I think there is a primal divergence between Orthodox Christianity and these denominations: the 12 Steps are found in their fullest form within the spiritual praxis (practice) of the Church.  Many sober addicts have found that within the Orthodox Church there is not only the basis of the Steps, but their elaboration and completion.

Too often Orthodoxy is taught either as a historical institution or a set of intellectual precepts.  While these may be true, the center of Orthodoxy rests on the actual healing of the human person, which is central to the hope of the 12 Steps.  It is this deepening of the work begun in AA and other 12 Step groups that the Church can offer countless addicts in search of greater growth and an end to the anonymity that cloaks God in the program.

Quite a few inquirers into Orthodoxy have contacted me, and I promise that I will continue to address your questions as we move along.

There is much to share.  More is still to come.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Back from my journey

Some of you might have noticed that posts have not gone up this week.  I was in Manton, CA, visiting the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco.  It was very helpful for me, and my hope is that some of what I learned there I can format into posts for the blog.

There will also be a new contributor, who I think you all will like and get much from.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Primal Fear

When we hear about man's 'inclination' towards evil, we ought to ask ourselves what that really is.  Is is a desire for evil?  Do we like doing what is bad?

From my own experience, I would have to say that there is less than a desire to do evil (which I observe as a learned response) than a powerful 'force' within us: fear.  There is a primal fear of man, the 'wound' of the fall.  Ultimately, it cannot be reasoned or negotiated with.  It is an unvaried part of our fallen condition.

One may think of it as the 'original sin,' the curse of mankind.  It does not make us guilty, but gives us the ability to be guilty.  As it moves within us and tempts us to act out, we begin to accrue excuses for its existence.

Counselling can remove its justifications, but psychology cannot produce and utterly 'fearless man.'  This primal fear cannot be talked away.  It is unlike all other fears, a deep terror of the unknown, one occupying the space between death and eternal torment.  It is no-place, yet everywhere.  It follows us within.

This is also why, in the end, the greatest fear is the fear of one's self.  It is that horrid cry, "My God, what have I done?"  The terror we have of others is the fear of our own inadequacy.  This primal fear is inward and directed inward.  Like a Black Hole in spiritual space, it sucks all the light that approaches it.

This is why we need another light to illumine us.  We need the help of God to enter within and cure that hole.  As Christians, we believe the ultimate cure is the death of that hole: we must die in order to be reborn.  The hole cannot be 'plugged' or resisted.  It is the 'failure' of the system itself.

Only God can cure our primal fear.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Losing Touch

Orthodox Christianity is often frustrating for Westerners to understand because it at once preserves the importance of the individual while stressing the need for community.  I recently did an internet-radio interview, and several questions came up about how people could deal with a situation 'without a priest.'  I'm not saying these people are trying to get out of a relationship with the Church, but that Americans as a whole are usually looking for a way to do things by themselves.

We are a society build around the 'self-help' book, and it is no wonder that we are leading in internet-based sales, where a person can buy and sell without having to deal with other human beings.  Even our basic relationships are heavily masked: I know people who text each other inside the same house!

Here is an example of how far this is going:

Addiction effects our interpersonal relationships.  In fact, the relationship between the addict and the substance/activity will, over time, squeeze out all other relevant relationships.  The damage of addiction is also measured in the addict's inability to maintain and form new relationships.

At the same time, our society is devaluing these relationships.  The internet affords people easier relationships, which in tern makes normal relationships, comparatively speaking, seem more difficult.  This leads to greater stress as one considers how much easier it would be to sit down at a PC and have a chat rather than going to a social activity.  Americans have lost many of their social centers: we don't have pubs, social clubs, or any of what used to provide ways of making new relationships in person.  Nowadays, we meet over the internet.

The problem here is that by increasing the stress of inter-personal relationships, we are setting people up for isolation, which acts as the perfect Petri dish ( for emotional disorders and the onset of addiction.  Isolation is a spiritual killer.

Addicts in recovery know how dangerous it is, which is why the group is important.  The Church has also known this from the beginning: the Apostles were not taught how to 'do it alone.'  The very nature of Christianity is imbued with the necessity of real relationships with others.  Marriage is a Sacrament, in that the union of two human persons is a spiritual experience rather and a temporary living arrangement.  Even monasticism, rooted in the singularity of 'mono-' was founded on the relationships between elders and new monks, and the companionship of fellow strugglers.

We must make sure in our daily lives to not become isolated.  It is important to have regular, meaningful contact with others.  This is especially true if we have jobs that isolate us, and this isolation can even be when we tend to only deal with people wearing the 'mask' of our 'employment identity.'  Sensing that we are known as we really are and valued as such is very important.

Do not let yourself become a prisoner or technology and shallow relationships.  Make contact, and expose yourself to others, no matter how stressful it seems, until the anxiety goes down.  Healthy relationships are healing.