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Friday, June 29, 2012

Identity and Addiction

Years back, there was a group of people in recovery who decided that because the 12 Steps describe addiction as a permanent condition, that their only real hope was to avoid drinking.  Nothing else.  No obligation to change their lives in any other way than to stop drinking.  Now, by my estimation, they stopped recovering at that point, since recovery is about a complete change of one's character to the extent that God changes it.

These people were able to ignore the vast body of evidence that recovery is all about transformation largely because of their interpretation of the identity of the 'addict.'  Identity is that important, and we can often use identity to combat reality, or ignore, a great deal of reality.

More recently, I've had some discussion with a person new to recovery, and this person described how his/her notions of himself/herself have been utterly shattered.

The most common response is to find new identities and labels to slap on one's self.  But, I think this is wrong.  The Steps begin with removing the worldly labels we have for ourselves and God.  To be 'anonymous' means to have no label, like the can in the back of the pantry where the paper cover has been torn off.  Now, you are truly defined by what is inside.

The problem of identity is that once we settle on a notion of who we think we are, we will often squeeze into its confines even when they do not work.  We will deny or suppress the parts of ourselves which are not in keeping with what the label says.  This is destructive, since we end up breaking out of these restrains and destroying our self-imagined identity.

True Christianity begins when we 'strip naked' at Baptism and lose the identity of our clothes.  Recovery begins when we strip off our surnames and enter the community of recovery just as humans.  If that's how you start, its probably a good idea to stay that way.

Monks renounce their family names, and with good reason: they forsake the world for God.  We out in the world can do the same thing internally, but not putting labels on ourselves.  Think of the labels you wear: son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, employee, student, supervisor, teacher, mentor... and how each of these has a definition you try to fit into.

Instead, what we really ought to do is think less about who we are and spend more time focused on what is in front of us.  Rather that trying to fit the identity, just do what is right.  If your child stands before you, stop trying to think about what a 'good parent' would do and just do the right thing.  Stop trying to live up to expectations and just do good.

Too often, our desire to live by labels causes us to ignore or hide parts of ourselves that conflict with our labels.  This robs us of peace and can drive us into sin.  We must be ourselves first and foremost, even if we are flawed.  After all, if we can acknowledge our flaws, we can repent of them and be healed.  But, if we hide them, God cannot help us.

We must learn to live without depending on labels.  We must live as ourselves.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Virtues - Part 7

So, seeing now how we are progressing, Gratitude for what we have replaces our Envy of others for what they have.  We experience joy in the present moment, and relative security in our contemplation of the future.

This leads us to the virtue of Generosity.  If all things come from God, then we are free to share with others according to their need and our ability.  If God provides, then He provides for all.  How does He provide?  Through all of us.

Look around you... all of the food you eat and the possessions you have were made by other people, and now they have come to you.  See how this exchange of things seems to work quite effectively.  Yes, God uses others to provide for us, and we are also supposed to be part of this great exchange.  We, too, are called to give to others.

This starts with the exchange of wages for labor, and then money for products, but it goes beyond this.  What do we do when we encounter those in need?  What of those who have fallen on hard times?

If we are content with God's care for us, and we see that what we have is from God rather than simply a limited supply of the world, then we can give.

The insecure person hoards and refuses to share.  When the passion of Greed comes into play, the hoarder will refuse to share even when the other person is suffering and he still has far more than he will ever need.  The greedy person will hold on to what he does not really need even to the harm of others.

The generous person sees what he has and immediately wonders how he can help others.  

Addicts are incapable of acting in a generous manner, as they are turned inward in self-concern and self-obsession.  Though most people struggle with generosity (ask someone who works for a charity how easy it is to raise money), addicts find it nearly impossible.

Generosity is a sign of spiritual progress.  As an addict comes out of his self-imposed isolation, he will seek to be both generous with his money and his time.  Service to others is a large part of generosity.  We are not called simply to give things, but be generous with sharing our selves.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Virtues - Part 6

Just for reference, there are the charts:

Passing to the other side of the chart, the Passion of Envy dominates those who hate others for having what they themselves cannot have.  Envy sees nothing but its own lack and projects the notion that others have undeserved plenty.  So, Envy hates and destroys.

Envy is the vandal and the cruel overseer who delights in being stern to those who are 'carefree.'  Envy always demands more of others not to really get anything from them, but to break them.  Envy does not seek progress, but rather hopes for the despair and surrender of others.  Yet, even then, it is not satisfied.

In the world of Envy, there is always plenty... just outside of reach.

On the other hand, the person of Faith sees the world through God's providence.  All things that are necessary come from God, and so even lean times have a reason, and that reason is the later return of bounty.  In his Humility, the humble man recognizes that God cares for him in every way, and that he lacks for nothing.

Therefore, he has Gratitude.  Gratitude cannot hate others for what they have, because Gratitude sees itself as complete, and so what other people have or don't have is between them and God.  Gratitude does not see the blessings of the world as a limited supply which must be fought over, but rather that God has a rich abundance for all people.  So, what one person has does not mean that I have less.

Gratitude is the companion of Moderation, since one who thinks he has enough from God will not take more than he needs and abuse the goodness of things.  Gratitude also prevents Sloth, or akedia, by providing us with the contentment and joy in our circumstances that inspire us to be responsible and caring.

Gratitude is one of the most obvious benchmarks of spiritual development.  Someone who is constantly complaining about people, places, and things has no Gratitude, and so they are far from Faith in God.  Addicts especially struggle to become grateful, knowing that gratitude brings peace and cures the age-old problem of worrying.

Someone who is grateful to God does not worry about the future, because he sees the care he receives in the present.  Each day is evidence of God's generosity.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Virtues - Part 5

Aside from Sloth, and where many addicts find their 'shining hope,' is Gluttony.  Given that Lust is the manipulation and (mis)use of people, Gluttony is the abuse of things.

Gluttony is different from hoarding and Greed, because Gluttony relishes consumption.  The glutton consumes, regardless of quality.  This is why the food addict does not bother with fine, expensive meals when a trip to the fast-food joint down the street can provide perfect pleasure.  The alcoholic will drink cheap wine or beer not because he enjoys the taste, but because he enjoys the effect.

The glutton seeks an effect that is not really related to eating or drinking.  He is not really hungry or thirsty... he is craving something else.

Not all Gluttony is addiction, and addiction can present over a wide array of behaviors, but Gluttony represents the largest slice of the pie chart.  Gluttony is now easy: the world is awash in food, alcohol, drugs, and time.  If you think back a few hundred years, living on a farm without modern conveniences meant every hour of every day was taken up with some task of daily life.  You didn't have time to consume in excess (except certain holidays and feasts, usually rare and tightly controlled by rituals) and you certainly did not have a reliable surplus from which to pull your supplies needed to live in excess.  Famine was always around the corner, and so your life was about putting up food for the lean times and exercising.... Moderation.

Moderation is not utter abstention, but the correct use of things as they were provided by God and created for our usage.  Moderation in all things means an appreciation for their actual usefulness rather than how we can distort them.  You eat when hungry, and drink when thirsty.  You what 'enough' really means.

Moderation means leveling out the highs and lows.  A successful year does not mean the following year one does not work, but rather the extra gains are put away for the lean times, because the surplus in God's gift to us to help us when things go bad.

It requires a long view of life, and can only really be attained with experience and maturity.

Our sense of Moderation is tested with fasting, when we set aside what we enjoy for a time.  How do we react to deprivation?  Do we find ourselves craving things, worried that they will not be there when we are done?  How many of us have eaten out of fear that if we do not eat it, it will be gone when we are ready?

That is not Moderation, but rather Gluttony, driven by fear that we need this or that so much we will eat it even when we do not need to.  Moderation is peace, knowing that if we have a need, God will provide the right things at the right time.  When something appears to be in short supply, there is a reason and God has a purpose.

The comfort of Moderation is that man is free from his dependency on things.  They are not his cruel taskmasters.  Moderation liberates us from worry and fear of lack, and at the same time sees things as they really are.

Our modern society mocks Moderation.  We live in an era of 'extreme sports,' ever more extreme foods, drugs, etc.  Of course, we are always chasing after more.  We are never satidsfied.

Moderation is satisfaction.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gateway Drugs or Gateway Dispositions

I'm interrupting the virtues series of posts because this story came through on from the Daily Mail about the rise in suburban youth (code language for 'white kids from middle- to upper-class homes' in the US) abusing heroin:

The author describes how prescription pain killers are becoming the new 'gateway drug.'  After all, they are plentiful in American homes and highly addictive.  After my last bout of surgery, I was prescribed Vicodin, and had to ween myself off because of the withdrawals.  The doctor gave me three refills on the prescription, but I only used half of the first refill because a) I hated the effects and b) I knew I was becoming physically dependent.  I also knew I needed to get off of them while I was still in pain because if I used them while there was no pain, the risk was higher that I would start to experience the 'high' that many Vicodin patients have that cause them to fall into addiction.

Americans have an expectation of 'no pain,' and so doctors tend to over-prescribe and we over-use these powerful narcotics.  Combine curious and over-stimulated teens with powerful opiates... now you have a recipe for disaster.

The article goes on to suggest that inner-city kids no better than to mess with heroin.  That's stupid: for generations, heroin has been in the inner cities and the small farm-towns in California, brought up from Mexico through the illegal border crossings.  Heroin has become a problem now in the suburbs because it is easier to get than prescription medications that offer a less-powerful version of the opiate high.  When I was in college in Los Angeles, heroin was just starting to come on campus after students started bringing it back from their Tijuana party junkets.  The local gangs soon added heroin to the inventory for student buyers.

The reason I am reacting to this article is that the notion of a 'gateway drug' really blames the drug rather than the condition of the person taking it.  If the drug is the problem, why isn't everyone addicted?

I think we need to start looking at the 'gateway conditions' of addiction, both in youth and adults.  On my short list, here are some of the gateway conditions that lead to addiction:

1) Boredom
2) High levels of stress
3) Immaturity
4) Anonymity and privacy even in the home
5) Lack of purpose and identity

These conditions provide enough inner suffering that when  drug is introduced, its power is immediately apparent.  Its force numbs out the negative feelings described above and instantly creates a new reality for the experimenter.  

When children see their grown-up models unable to handle life in a peaceful and mature way, they have almost no hope either to grow up themselves or handle physically-addictive chemicals.

Even 'Christian homes' where the parents think they are doing a wonderful job for their children by giving them lots of material goodies, forcing them to do homework, and even compelling them to attend Sunday school, really do little to help their children deal with the problems I listed above.  In fact, most parents aggravate these conditions by looking at their children as 'things' to be managed rather than persons who need formation into adulthood.

More especially, when young people see adults afraid of pain and popping pills at the slightest discomfort, they get the idea that pain should be avoided above all else.  This is the 'gateway disposition' that leads to addiction.  

We should be less worried about the chemicals we expose children to and more concerned about the kinds of adults they are surrounded by.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Virtues - Part 4

So, let's look again at the Passions versus the Virtues:

Moving through the 'Manipulative Axis,' we pass from Lust to Sloth.  Sloth leaves everyone else to pick up the mess and take care of the slothful.  Sloth is codependent, since it seeks its contentment from others, but by not being in control and yielding itself to others.

But, when we come to respect others, the Sloth is pushed out by Responsibility.

Responsibility is a byproduct of Humility, because it requires the proper self-knowledge for one to understand who he really is and what he is capable of doing.  You cannot be responsible if you first do not know yourself.

If Pride tells you that you are greater than you are, then you will tend to over-emphasize your responsibility, which will later lead to resentment and Sloth.  Pride can also directly tell you that work is beneath you and that you ought to leave it to others, which is Sloth.

But, Responsibility lies in the proper understanding of one's self and others.  We see that we are not entitled to encumber others with our 'needs,' that we should strive to both do what we can for others, but also realize that we cannot do everything.  If I feel responsible for others well-being, I must know why exactly and what I am really capable of doing.  I can neither be overly-responsible nor negligent.

Responsibility is a balance.  One must know what to do, but also what cannot be done.  It asks for help in order that worse failures can be prevented, but it does not encumber others with millions of requests and demands.  In fact, Responsibility never demands.  If others do not pull through with their own responsibilities, this Virtue allows us to remain calm and know that we have kept our side of the street clean.

Be responsible means having a clean conscience: we do not feel ashamed or guilty when we listen to its counsel.

It takes a great deal of spiritual healing to be truly responsible and to live within its boundaries.  Pride wreaks havoc with our self-knowledge, making Responsibility virtually impossible to attain, since we either feel irresponsible or overly-responsible.  But, when we reach it, we attain peace in our daily interactions with others.

Responsibility also helps us take satisfaction in our labors.  There is great comfort in it, knowing that we have harmed no one and provided for ourselves with the gifts God has given us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Virtues - Part 3

As you no doubt recall, the Virtues I will be using here are corresponding to the previous chart of the Passions.  If this does not make sense, please go back and compare the charts to see where this is heading.

So, let's look at the Passion of Lust.  As defined, this passion ignores the humanity of the other person and gives us the 'ability' to use another person for our own gratification.  Lust is the most profound form of disrespect, since it robs the other person of their totality and reduces them to 'usable parts,' the rest of which is disposable.  Lust fragments the person who is lusted after.

However, if one lives in the light of God, the Creator, and sees His glory and love surrounding all people, and more important, sees His love in other people, then Lust becomes an impossibility.  One's vision is transformed, and all people are seen as being in the Image and Likeness of God.  Therefore, every person is treated as a whole person, but also as someone 'related' to God.

Therefore, the respect one has for God extends to all those around us.  rather than treating people as pawns in our little mental games, we treat others as 'relatives' to the One who loves us.  Everyone is an honored guest and valued presence.  The joy of the saints was in this realization, which is why monastics practice hospitality and take in the pilgrim even when to do so is a major interruption.

Other people are worthy of respect and love because of who they are, even when their actions do line up with their true identity.  This makes forgiveness much easier: we are better able to overlook the failings of people we respect, yes?

The Virtue of Respect heals all of our relationships, bringing us the gifts of patience and tolerance of others.

Now, this is different from idealizing others.  Respect is not idealizing, since idealizing means exalting a person beyond the truth.  No, even the lowly private in the Army is accorded some respect because he serves.  The Virtue of Respect encompasses a recognition of who a person really is, and by extension what it is the person is trying to accomplish.  Therefore, you can respect a criminal not as a criminal, but as a human being who's criminal activity can be seen as 'beneath him.'  On the other hand, one can respect a saint both for being a human and a saint at the same time.

Respect never creates a false narrative or ignores what is true.  But, the truth that Respect looks to is often too big for many of us to grasp without a great deal of spiritual work.

Respect, emanating from our honest appraisal of ourselves, Humility, passes through others back to the God of our Faith.  This is why Christ commanded in the same breath that we love both God and our neighbor, since how we think of one naturally effects how we think of the other.  They are intertwined since both are 'other' to us by nature.

Respect takes away anger and frustration with others, and bring peace to our hearts.  It fills us with joy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Virtues - Part 2

So, we begin with the top of our chart:

Let's assume that someone is taught about God.  The addict (or anyone else for that matter) learns who He is and come to believe that He will help him in his struggles.  God is the addict's "Higher Power" not in the sense of being a bully, but being someone who will love and protect him in his struggles through life.  In essence, this God is the proverbial 'cavalry,' who comes charging in at the last minute when all hope seems to have vanished.

This opinion about God is 'Faith,' but faith is more than an opinion.  An opinion is something that is taken for granted.  This is not.

The original word used in the New Testament is πιστις (pronounced 'peestees'), which was translated into English when the word 'faith' meant more like 'faithful' than 'opinion.'

Faith means not only that you believe something to be true, but that you act according to it no matter what.  Faith means you can walk into seemingly impossible circumstance and press forward even when you cannot see how you will get out the other side.

It is the only cure for fear.  If you do not have faith, then all you have is either certainty in a good outcome or fear that a bad outcome is approaching.  Fear and faith are polar opposites.

With faith, we no longer have a need for pride.  You cannot have uncertainty without a certain degree of pride, and the more uncertainty you have, the more you will have to rely on pride if you want to make any kind of progress.

The biggest delusion we can have is that we can fight our pride by deciding to be humble.  This is a falsehood and a type of hypocrisy.  So long as you have fear, you cannot be humble.

Humility has a foundation in certainty.  Even to be 'humiliated' bears with it the certainty of the embarrassment.  That's the difference between humiliation and shame: humiliation is the end result, but shame is not only to be put down, but subject to even worse outcomes.  Shame goes on and on.  Once you are humiliated, the bus stops and you get out.

Humility is the sense that one has 'arrived'.  Things do not need to change, they are exactly as they are supposed to be.  There is no further need beyond what one already has, and the outcomes are guaranteed by faithfulness to the source of one's faith.

One cannot have faith in one that will not save.  This is also very important.  You can't have faith in an idea, because ideas do not have the ability to cut through the entanglements of reality and get us out of our predicaments.  There must be a will behind what we have faith in.  Faith demands action.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Virtues - Part 1

Most of you are familiar with the previous discussions on the Passions, which I summarized in this chart:

Now, it is time to get familiar with another chart (sorry, I tend to do this because I'm a visual learner):

This chart will invariably annoy theologians, professional and amateur alike, because it does not have a strict Patristic lineage as my previous chart does.  But, my intention is not to reproduce theological discussions, but provide a framework for understanding the human condition.

What this chart of virtues does is shows what happens to a passion once it is 'cured.'  Each of these virtues are to be found in the writings of the Fathers, and I challenge anyone to a light-hearted discussion about whether any ancient Christian source would reject any of these virtues.

The difficulty with the Passions chart is that it paints a rather bleak picture.  Certainly, sin is bleak and despairing, but Christianity and recovery are both far from being morbidly despondent.  Both promise joy.

The problem is that most people don't know how to be joyful.  They have forgotten what real happiness looks like, and so they have no idea which way to go.  This chart is designed to point out what happiness looks like as it emerges from us in action.

This is critical: just as the passions naturally emerge from our lack of faith in God, the virtues naturally emerge from faith.  You can't really 'fake' these, and self-will alone is not enough to have these virtues come on a regular basis.  While we may have to 'force' ourselves to act appropriately at times, unless we do the real work up the chain, our attempts will soon fail.

These virtues must emerge from within.  Over the next few posts, I will try to explain more about how these virtues come out and impact our relationships with others.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sugar Addiction?

We've discuss food addictions before, and when I saw this article it addressed some of the basic problems when we talk about how food can effect a change in the brain that can contribute to addiction:

This article suggests that fructose, a type of sugar derived from corn syrup and an ingredient in most processed foods we eat, creates a chemical imbalance that can lead to addiction:

Fructose is easily converted to fat in the body, and scientists have found that it also suppresses the action of a vital hormone called leptin.
"Leptin goes from your fat cells to your brain and tells your brain you've had enough, you don't need to eat that second piece of cheesecake," says Dr Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist.
He says when the liver is overloaded with sugars, leptin simply stops working, and as a result the body doesn't know when it's full.
"It makes your brain think you're starving and now what you have is a vicious cycle of consumption, disease and addiction. Which explains what has happened the world over," he says.
Is this addiction?  Well, no, not really.  If you are hungry because your body is telling you you are hungry, that is different from addiction.  An addict will eat even when he is not hungry.  What is being described here is 'abuse' of food rather than food addiction.
Someone with a food addiction is eating not because he or she is hungry for food as described about, but because of the endorphine affect:
David Kessler, the ex-head of the US government's most powerful food agency, the Food and Drug Administration, believes sugar - together with fat and salt - appeals to our brains in the same way as addictive substances.
"It gives you this momentary bliss," Mr Kessler says. "So when you're eating food that is highly hedonic, it sort of takes over your brain."

What he means by 'hedonic' is that it contains substances which the body, in response to the substance, releases endorphine into the brain.  Endorphine causes a 'relaxation response' which in turn causes the release of dopamine:
Dopamine is 'addictive' in the sense that it causes the numbing effect addicts are looking for.  Engaging in too much endorphine-releasing activities can lead to an addiction.  Dopamine is not really related to hunger at all except during real starvation, but it would not be released normally until food is eaten.

However, if you are eating a diet where endorphine-activating foods are limited, and then you eat endorphine-activating foods, then you are going to notice a marked difference in how the food makes you feel.  Most of us experience this with a 'rich dessert' or a high-quality meal.
A food addict will chase this endorphine-dopamine rush.  This is often done with quantity rather than quality, which is why food addicts become obese (as if that is a big surprise there).  The point of the article is that fructose suppresses the hormones that lead to this endorphine process, and so the addict has to eat far more fructose-laden foods in order to get the 'high' he craves.
Our perception of the world is largely governed by these chemical processes, and so we must be aware of them and what is going on around us.  We must measure our world not in terms of how we feel about it, but the empirical evidence.  When we see our bodies bloated and distended, then we should realize that we have a problem.
If we are chasing a feeling, we should be doubly concerned.
If you go to an AA or NA meeting, you will notice cookies and sugar often consumed by addicts.  That's no accident: many alcoholics will often have profound cravings for sugar, which is related to these effects described above.  While sugar might be a helpful temporary fix, it is important for addicts to be aware of their food consumption in sobriety.
Sugar might help you deal with a particularly difficult craving episode, but one should exercise caution that the disease does not change modes and start chasing a food high rather than a drink high.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Believing Addicts

Many if not most addicts come from some kind of religious tradition.  Of course, when the addiction starts to become a noticeable problem, the addict will first turn to religion for the cure.  While that is not a bad instinct, it almost never works.


If the 12 Steps rely on spirituality, and religions are about spirituality, then how come the religious exertions of addicts don't work?

Well, it is all about the scale:

You can see here that the scale does not exclude religion.  Even an atheist can have a religion, such as Buddhism ( and Laveyan Satanism (  'Religion' is one's view of the cosmic order and how one interacts with it.  It can have nothing to do with God or gods.

This is why religions can often be abused by people: just as people can have a variety of political opinions, so people can also have a variety of religious opinions.  The problem is that the origins of religions comes not from the self, but from someone else: people are not born knowing who Jesus or Siddhartha are, and so they are taught from the experiences of the previous generation.

But, transmitting religious information and transmitting belief are two different processes.  Just because you go to Sunday school does not mean you will believe.  many people think that by sticking their kids in class every Sunday they will learn their faith.  Nope.  What they will get is information about it, but they won't necessarily get it.

Addicts may have religious formation, but do they really believe?  The answer, upon closer examination, is 'no' and 'yes'.  Someone who develops full-blown alcoholism will have a degree of belief: he may have superstitions about God, or very complex intellectual concepts about God (i.e. Gnosticism), but he is certainly  not a penitent.  He's too scared to take up that burden.

There are addicts who are angry at God.  They drink because of their rage at Him, and these are often the easiest people to help because God means something to them.  If you see the scale, the antitheist still has a relatively higher level of belief than an agnostic, who must be convinced to get off the fence.  the antitheist is over the fence but hates it.  As I said before, you can't get angry at something you don't think is real.

But, my point is this: religions can often have a high degree of self-reliance.  Buddhism is a classical example.  However, there are many forms of Christianity, such as the Amish and Hudderites, who also are very much self-will oriented.  A fundamentalist is a person driven by the rules he must fulfill to receive what he wants.  If he fails, then God will not help him.  This makes him his own primary means of salvation.

Believing there is a God and believing that He will help you even when you cannot help yourself are two different things.  See a Creator and seeing a loving Creator who has an interest in you are also two separate categories.

Addicts tend to believe in the former, but not in the latter.  But, the former will not save you, and so really what recovery is about is not whether an addict can be made to accept the existence of God, but rather can he accept a certain kind of God.

If you move up the belief chart, you are moving in this direction of a loving God who will help you even when you reject Him.  Whereas the further down you go, the less 'god' has any interest in you, to the point that there is the ultimate disinterest of non-existence.

Only a loving God is worth believing in.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Agnosticism, Atheism, and Antitheism

I've gotten some interesting feedback from people as I've been presenting my 'Levels of Belief' chart:

So far, nobody has really taken issue with it, though I have been asked explain my definitions more thoroughly.

By definition, an Agnostic is someone who both has some beliefs and yet is not entirely sure of them.  He can go either way, and so I placed him in the middle at the 50/50 position.  To go in either direction means that his certainty as to what he believes increases, either in favor of God or in favor of materialism and himself.

An Atheist is certain there is no spiritual world, so there is no God to worry about.  This position requires 100% certainty.  This is different from an Antitheist, who is someone who is angry at the idea of God.

This is where people get hung up.  They ask, "Why do Antitheists score higher than Agnostics in terms of belief, when they hate God?"

Hatred of God is a type of belief in God.  You cannot hate something you do not believe in.  In fact, the most hateful thing you can say is that something is not real.  Do you remember the schoolyard taunt... a faker?  It does not make sense to say that God is faking being God, but you can say that the who proposition is fake.

The 'upper' stage of Antitheism is the belief that God is real and that He is also bad.  He allows suffering or even creates it.  Teenagers or those emerging from Agnosticism will usually go through a stage where they become aware of both God and human suffering, and automatically assume that God, being all-powerful, is also all-responsible.

The difficulty here is that if God is all-responsible, then people have no freedom to choose.  The infant that is born with a horrible disease is the byproduct of a choice by at least one person (in the case of rape) to have sexual intercourse.  Babies don't just happen.  The moment someone decides to have sex with functioning gametes, they are creating the potential for new life and also the potential that this new life will suffer.  God did not make that choice.  God has set the rules that there are diseases and suffering in this life until the Parousia, and it is we humans who roll the dice.

The Antitheist does not except this proposition.  He at once wants his choices AND protection from them going wrong.

The Atheist accepts life's rules without anger at God because he does not believe at all.  He looks at the sins of religion and equates them with all the rest of the excuses people give when caught acting selfishly.  They don't blame God for religion or religious people.  They blame the people themselves for abandoning common sense.

True Atheists can appreciate religious art for its artistic merits.  They can cherish churches and temples for their beauty.  The Antitheist would see those same things and seek to desecrate them.  The Antitheist sees a power in those images, a power over people that they hate.

The Antitheist may deny God's existence, but in the end he still hates God.  Many an Antitheist will get the foolishness of this hatred of what is not real and refine the argument to say that he hates the people who follow religions.  Then I reframe the question, "But, if the God these people preach were to actually be proved real somehow, would you not also hate Him?"  It points back to the problem: the end-point of the hatred ultimately points back to God, because he is at the core of the proposition.

Again, you cannot hate what you do not think is real.

Another example of Antitheism is the old Soviet Union.  Look at the pictures of the church desecrations from the 1920s and the thousands of people who gathered to watch... many of whom were 'pious Orthodox Christians' a matter of weeks earlier.  How could they go from believing to disbelieving?  The truth is that their anger shows that they did still believe, but they were angry because they began to blame God for the oppression of the Tsar and their poverty.  Peasants were promised a materialistic salvation in place of a religious one, and they chose what seemed easiest.  But, that did not root out their old beliefs.  So, rather than looking at their churches as beautiful but meaningless art, they blew them up in their rage against the God that let them so often suffer, ignoring the fact they they were largely responsible for cooperating with their suffering by not revolting against their oppression sooner.  The peasants have always outnumbered the lords.

Their hatred was not that big of a jump.  It would take several generations to create true Atheists in the Soviet Union, but the continuing hatred of religion by Soviet authorities shows this method was of forcibly removing religion did not work.

Nowadays, Atheism has come through wealth and comfortable materialism.  Northern Europe, coddled by decades of wealth and technology, has largely abandoned God but not gone around and blown up its churches.  Throughout Europe, people proudly show off their churches as museums, all the while believing that there is no God.  This is the 'true Atheism.'

Along the way, many Europeans have taken up the eclectic belief systems of Gnosticism.  Europe had long ago fallen prey to superstition and then fundamentalism (known as the Reformation/Counter-reformation), and so it is not dying out as utterly atheistic.  Americans are following a similar path.

Yet, the great numbers of Antitheists, both in Europe and America, should give us hope.  There still is belief, though it is distorted.  However, it is easier to take someone one step up the ladder than three or four at a time.

If someone is angry, they still believe.  A slight adjustment and one can move much closer to God.

So, we should not get angry when someone says they hate God, but affirm their belief.  We should also be willing to accept the times we are afraid or are angry at God.  Why?  Because we are still living in reference to Him and closer to Him than someone who is practicing witchcraft or adjusting their chakras.

Anger is a sign of belief.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Negative Emotions: do we decide to feel bad?

I came across this Gallup world-wide poll, and thought it made for a very interesting observation of the human condition:

Here's the key chart:

What's most fascinating about this poll is to see how societies reporting high levels of negative emotions versus low levels of negative emotions are spread across all the various levels of socio-economic conditions.  If you compare this list to per-capita GDP by country, there is very little correlation between the two lists:

The reason this is important to observe is that addiction often begins with the assumption that having something means being happy.  Happiness is ties to getting one's way, but particularly when it comes to possessing things.  The alcoholic wants unfettered access to the object of his obsession.

A great deal of human unhappiness is also blamed on not having the things one desires.  We assume that poverty automatically leads to unhappiness, and this unhappiness excuses both crime and addiction.

Yet, we see here that wealth does not automatically mean happiness, since the two tables are utterly different: some of the happiest countries have the lowest GDP, whereas high GDP countries are all over the chart, including rather high scores of unhappiness.  What's going on?

There are social factors: Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures tend to be more emotionally expressive than Northern European cultures, and so one would assume that the callers would get higher scores in Lebanon than in Sweden.  Funny thing: Sweden and Kuwait are tied at unhappiness scores.  Social factors play a part, and certain social groupings can be seen, but there is still some wiggle room.

What's important here is to see that unhappiness is perceptual rather than measured by materialism.  This makes it a person, or even a societal, decision.  This is important to remember when dealing with addiction, because addicts will often blame their unhappiness on external factors.  This chart reveals on a larger scale that such is not the case: some of the lowest unhappiness levels are found in the poorest of countries.

Unhappiness is a choice, and sobriety begins when we start taking responsibility for our unhappiness, and quit try to blame it on other reasons.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pascal's Wager and Gambling with Sobriety - Part 2

Continuing to examine the chart, the line 'Belief' represents the increase in God's daily impact on a person's life (from the perspective of how the idea of God effects one's opinions, thoughts, emotions, etc.):

At the end marked atheist, the person's knowledge of God, and therefore God's perceivable impact on the person's moral life, is zero.  As we move along the line, various truths about God are revealed until one comes to the end of the line marked saint, where he has achieved an uninterrupted consciousness of God.  Of course, sainthood also includes a moral transformation: the closer one draws to God, the more his character is changed.

This is important to keep in mind for sobriety: the recovery of the addict necessitates a moral transformation.  Addiction by definition corrodes the addict's moral fiber, and so recovery requires a moral transformation.

This begs the question: can the addict recover and be morally transformed without God?

Pascal's Wager was one having to do with eternal life versus damnation: what's the worst outcome for a believer if there is no God (he loses his bet, but passes into nothingness and won't notice) versus an unbeliever if there is a God (he loses his bet, and must encounter God and explain himself).

There is another wager, one having to do with the social order: what are the predictable moral outcomes of atheism versus belief?

The gamble here is happening right now.  The bets traditionally have always been that a society must have a belief system, yet the modern Western movement has been to change the wager and bet that things will be better without common religion.  This has largely to do with abuses of religion and defective belief systems, but the assumption is that removing all religion will somehow make people better.

Moral definitions then pass from God to the individual.  This arrangement, of course, does not hold up under pressure when millions of people all try to interpret what is right and wrong, and so government, as a conglomeration of the people, ends up regulating both morality on a legal front (i.e. ethics) and on a personal level.  You may wonder how this works.  Very simple: whereas people once appealed to God for help, they now appeal to human institutions.

Remember that 'morality' really is about the standards we hold to in the face of our fears and desires.  Morality regulates our inner disposition and what attitudes are proper and improper.  While states have always regulated ethics (limits on our outward actions), morality has always been a religious affair.  Ethics tells us what is bad, but morality is about what is good.

Morality comes into play when we are frightened and need help.  Morality tells us what is acceptable to do in the face of a threat, and defines our expectations for salvation.  For example, when a ship is sinking, morality tells us whether we should risk our lives to get others off first.  Ethics would merely say not to block the passageways or throw fellow passengers out of the lifeboat.

These days, we expect human institutions to provide everything.  They offer 'salvation' to those in need.  But, this is a gamble, because not all human institutions are beneficent.  Just as there are 'bad religions' so there are also 'bad institutions' where those who run the institution either selfishly run the institution only for their own benefit, or they are incompetent.

So we have a wager between divine help or human help.  Which one will be more reliable?  Which one can meet our needs?  Ultimately, which bet will work when society is pressed, or when we individually are put to the test?

A genuine atheist must believe that only he, and those institutions that see themselves as having obligations over him, have the only abilities to help him.  There are no other options.

The saint believes that God, through the agency of either institutions or some other means, will come to his aid.  And so, we now come to the problem of addiction and the passions: where will your help come from when you are afraid? What's more, what will you do when those commonly-accepted sources of 'salvation,' be it God or a human institution, are sources of fear for the alcoholic?

So, another way to look at this line is that as one passes up the line, the agency of 'savior' moves gradually away from the individual to the Divine.  So, when we are certain we are unable to act on our own behalf, the one who has the locus of salvation further away from himself experiences fear in direct proportion to his perception of self-reliance.  If your locus of salvation is you, and you find that you alone cannot overcome your fear, then you are stuck with it.  However, if the locus of salvation is on God, then the responsibility for dealing with the fear falls on God and you will not sense a need to react.

The wager now becomes more about how do you predict men would better handle their fears... with or without God?

This is the wager of the agnostic alcoholic.  He must bet his life on one of two propositions, either the salvation of God or the salvation of self-will.  Every fear he encounters must settled by one of these two.

The passions (Pride, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Envy, Greed, & Anger) come into play when fear comes and the locus of salvation is on the individual, but the individual finds himself unable to save himself.  Atheism works great when things are going well, but how will you cope with your fears when you have no God or anyone else to help you?

Governments usually turn to violence when they have no hope that God will help them.  So do people, but most of that violence ends up turned against the self.

I apologize if this post rambles a bit, but I'm still processing all of this myself.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pascal's Wager and Gambling with Sobriety - Part 1

I have never pretended to be an intellectual.  Simply put, I grew up in a working-class family that had respect for 'sciences' and saw the 'arts' as silly.  We had little music, only school-mandated literature, and theater was for 'homos.'  When I try to fake being erudite, it usually just comes off as obnoxious.

That means with half of my 'life-expectancy' behind me, I am still learning new things.  Here's one of them.

Have you heard of Pascal's Wager?  In summary, his estimation was that it was better to believe in God than not, because belief in God and an afterlife was potentially rewarded whether it was true or not, whereas atheism and passing into non-existence at death has no rewards true or not.

Pascal's Wager is an effective means to get die-hard atheists who are struggling with sobriety to look at the problem from a different perspective.  As one of my mentors once admonished a fellow who would not go to AA meetings because they were not Orthodox, "Yes, they are not Orthodox, but they are sober... and you aren't."

Atheists and agnostics tend to examine the problem from God's perspective, rather than from their own.  How does belief or unbelief actually benefit you?

A quick reminder: most people are 'agnostic.'  There are very few atheists in the world.  Let me show you why I say this.  Here's a quick chart:

'Belief' here is how much the perception of God influences the daily life of a person.  On the one hand we have a saint who is utterly yielded to the moment-to-moment experience of God.  This type of belief effects everything he does in a consistent way.  On the other extreme we have an 'atheist' who not only does not believe in God, but the thought never crosses his mind.  When God is mentioned, he harbors no emotions either way.  The concept of God has no effect on him.

There is a lot of territory in between.  Again, this is a quick explanation, so bear with the brief descriptions.

Below the saint is the ascetic, who struggles between fleeting moments of perceiving the divine and the realization what he forgets God rather quickly.  God effects most things that he does, be he does fail on a regular basis to remember and slips into sin.

Below the ascetic is the penitent, who has realized that virtually everything he has done has been apart from God, but has come to a realization that God exists and that he needs to change.  He lives primarily in reference to his past, whereas the ascetic has cleaned up his past and struggles in the moment.

Surprisingly for some, the next level is the antitheist.  He will call himself an atheist, but is not.  He hates God.  The word alone brings him an emotional episode, and so the belief in God is somehow very real to him.  This is why modern societies like France and Russia, when undergoing a 'revolution' that was supposedly atheistic, engaged in horrible persecutions conducted by the same people that were in church the week before.  It is a type of belief, though an unpleasant one.

Next comes the agnostic, who is unsure what to believe.  He may avoid the topic or actively seek, but he is unsure which message to believe.  Many people fall into this category.

Moving in this direction represents an obscuring of God's personhood.  The agnostic moving in this direction is passing away from God and into areas where the truth about God are gradually eclipsed by other ideas.

Below agnosticism comes the superstitious, who believes in God, but in a more depersonalized and eclectic way. He believes in a multiplicity of forces in the world, all of which must be appeased.

Then we have the fundamentalist, whose belief in God is largely defined by a series of rules.  Keep the rules, and you don't have to worry much about God.  God loses His personhood and becomes a series of principles.  Collect them all!

Next comes the gnostic.  Unlike the fundamentalist who pays lip-service to God's personhood, the gnostic believes in a generalized 'force' which is governed by rules one must know in order to have success.

Finally, the atheist, who simply does not believe.  He harbors no resentment or judgment of others, and so there is nothing pathological in his denial.  he will often admire believers who bear fruits just as easily as he will spurn antitheists with their wild-eyed rhetoric.

What are the benefits of unbelief and moving down the line?  That's for the next post.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The 'Seven Deadly Sins' and Addiction

Those of you who have read through the past week's posts have seen this matrix for what is classically called the 'Seven Deadly Sins.'  In Orthodox terminology, these 'sins' are 'passions,' the deep-rooted sufferings which lead to sins.  They are the modes of sin, which arise from fear.

In AA lingo, these can be classified as 'character defects.'  They constitute the old patterns of behavior that sobriety becomes the escape and healing from.  If one follows the AA Big Book, the 4th Step becomes a study in fear, associating resentments and anger with past events that caused a pathological fear.

Just for review, 'pathological' is made up of two Greek words, 'pathos' (suffering) and 'logikos' (words or thoughts).  Someone who is 'pathological' does what they do because of an interior suffering which compels their actions.

All human suffering, including the suffering that leads to addiction, comes from the same point of origin: lack of awareness of the Living God and the resulting fear.

This is why psychology does not work with addictions: the deepest fears humans experience cannot be uprooted without faith in a Living and Loving God.  Psychology can only offer self-correction of the will.  Now, if the will is relatively intact, and circumstances are 'non-threatening,' then some degree of normalcy can be maintained with a bit of corrective action.

However, if the will is broken or circumstances obviously leave the control of the individual, then distress sets in.  Distress passes us through several stages: corrective action, escape, suicide, or appeal to a Higher Power.

First, we try to manage.  We want to repair what is damaged so that we can continue as we are accustomed.

Second, when we see no successful way to repair our situation without significant change, then the human response is usually to deny the problem or engage in escapism.

Third, after all attempts to deny and escape have been denied, the despair sets in and the agonizing contemplation of death sets in.

However, if one can get through this stage without acting out, the final stage is to seek help with humility.  This is the final breaking of the will, the ultimate surrender.

The addict is at the far end of Stage 2: his will is intact to the extent that he can still 'see' ways to act and 'escape' his problems, either by sedation or distraction.  Yet, he has largely lost control.  Non-addicts tend to operate in Stage 1 and the earlier part of Stage 2.  They know when to apologize, when to back down, and when to change approaches.  They do not get utterly lost in their passions, though they do indulge in them.

Stage 2 is the tipping point, when the distraction becomes its own reality and the addict is formed when he can no longer tolerate the real world.  The soft comfort zone of the addictive behavior weakens the spirit and over-sensitizes the person to the point where he can endure no suffering of any kind.

What is curious about this level of suffering is that the addict becomes so needful of escape that he can find solace in any number of addictions: an alcoholic can resolve to stop drinking by smoking marijuana, endlessly raging at others, gambling, watching porn, or obsessing in some other way.  Once one obsession ends, another will begin.

The Seven Deadly Passions are not absolutes, but rather a way of understanding the various directions human obsessions can go in.  They provide a basic understanding of how we try to escape our fears.