Archive for Saturday, August 4, 2007

The higher power of Addiction

KU professor takes aim at ‘religious right’ and liberals who enable them in new book

Robert Minor, a Kansas University professor of religious studies, published a book titled "When Religion is an Addiction" on Wednesday.

Robert Minor, a Kansas University professor of religious studies, published a book titled "When Religion is an Addiction" on Wednesday.

August 4, 2007


More than anything, Robert Minor views his new book as cultural commentary. But he hopes it serves another role.

"It's sort of like an intervention," he says.

The Kansas University professor's eighth book, "When Religion is an Addiction," may become his most controversial. He suggests that some members of the religious right have become so addicted to their church activities that they have to continue advancing their causes to get new "highs."

"It's like any addiction," he says. "At some point, it doesn't do the trick for you, so you need to strengthen it. Religion wasn't enough for them, so they entered politics to get a stronger affirmation of righteousness."

"A high of righteousness," he adds, "is the same as a high of cocaine."

And, before any liberals think they're off the hook, Minor has a message for them: "I'm not really writing it to convince people they're addicted to religion. It's more written for people who are liberals, who are enablers."

The book, published by Humanity Works!, came out on Wednesday. Minor is expecting to rile people on all sides of the political spectrum.

"That's all right," he says. "I've written things that got hate mail before."

'Family drunk'

Minor has been a professor of religious studies at KU since 1977. His areas of study and teaching include religions of south Asia, sexuality and religion and gender.

His previous books include "Scared Straight" and "Gay and Healthy in a Sick Society."

He says he's been thinking about the concept of religious addiction for years, and he admits it's not a new concept. Religious scholars and authors such as John Bradshaw and Leo Booth have written about it before.

But Minor hopes to cast it in terms of the rise of the religious right in the past 20 to 30 years.

He says the high of advancing beliefs through political activism has replaced the highs of church activity.

"Like the family drunk," he writes in the book's introduction, "they are high on a bender, and their current drink is political."

The addiction can manifest itself in other ways, Minor says, including "winning a political battle, doing political work, feeling like you're doing the work of the Lord ... more Bible readings, more studies, more testimonials."

He gives the example of gay unions and marriage as an issue. Passing the federal Marriage Protection Act wasn't enough, he says. Conservatives then decided to work for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, or work so gays can't adopt children.

"The fix never lasts," Minor says, "so you need another issue."


Minor doesn't profess to be a psychologist, so he doesn't know the exact cause of the religious addiction. But he thinks it is connected to low self-esteem issues, because some fundamental Christians believe they "deserve eternal child abuse from a heavenly father," and that "you can only be OK if somebody else (God) likes you," he says.

And, he says, the media has helped further the right-wing cause. He notes a study by the watchdog group Media Matters of America that said right-wing religious leaders were interviewed, quoted or mentioned 3.8 times as often as other religious issues.

"The media thereby define the debate in almost all national discussions as the religious right-wing on one side and the other side occupied by science, social science, academics or anything and anyone else," Minor writes in his introduction. "It's as if, for example, debates over stem-cell research pit science against morality with only a right-wing Christian religio-political version of morality posed as the 'other side.'"

Liberal 'enablers'

Minor blames liberals for enabling conservatives in their religious and political changes through the years.

"Through minimizing the potential power of the religious right-wing, denial, obsessive positive or negative emotional attachment to it, and even self-blaming, we often became like abused spouses believing that there must be something we could do to control, change or save the addicts," Minor writes. "Our focus became changing them. That, we believed, would solve our problems."

Liberals' reactions, Minor contends, includes several responses:

¢ "Liberal guilt," of not wanting to offend conservatives.

¢ "Covering up for explaining to be nice." It's basically like abused spouses wanting to explain the actions of their abusive husbands, Minor says.

¢ Needing to atone to past mistakes, saying things like "I need to understand them better," to "educate them" or to "love them more."

"There's a liberal guilt," he says. "They don't want to offend them."

Psychological take

Though the concept of religious addiction has been around for decades, it's "safe to say that field is still in its infancy" in terms of scientific and clinical research, says Steve Ilardi, a KU associate professor of psychology.

Ilardi says chemical or substance addictions tend to activate the same reward pathways of the brain that "process addictions" - such as gambling or binge eating - also activate.

But, Ilardi says, there is "enormous controversy in the literature right now" when it comes to determining what qualifies as a process addiction, which is the area where Minor's idea of religious addiction would fit.

The big factor clinically speaking, Ilardi says, is whether there's harm in religious involvement.

"'Religious addiction' - what does that mean?" he asks. "Does it mean a person who spends hours a week in religious practice at church or at meetings, who reads the Bible daily or prays daily, and it's somewhat rewarding to them? Are they addicted? From a clinical perspective, I would say 'no,' unless it's something that's clearly harmful."

That would include neglecting other relationships, work or other life responsibilities, Ilardi says.

"Is it impairing a person's functioning?" Ilardi asks. "That's the question I would want to see addressed before I'd consider labeling something a religious addiction."

Pastors' reaction

Shaun LePage, pastor at Community Bible Church, 906 N. 1464 Road, is among those questioning Minor's logic.

The Journal-World asked LePage to read the introduction to Minor's book, which was posted on his Web site,

"The book is just another in our psychobabble-hungry culture to declare something an 'addiction,'" LePage says. "If it was sarcasm or parody, it might be funny. But I think Dr. Minor is completely serious."

LePage is especially concerned that the idea of "right-wing conservatives" isn't defined. Also, he wonders, if "gay activists or abortion-rights activists try to work through the political system to influence the laws of the land," are they, too, addicted to their causes?

"Dr. Minor's writing is so condescending I would actually feel embarrassed for him and for Kansas University," LePage says, "if I really thought anyone was going to read the book."

Bill Bump, pastor at Lawrence Free Methodist Church, 3001 Lawrence Ave., says he doesn't consider himself part of the "Christian right." But, after reading the online version of Minor's book, he says he feels uncomfortable with the broad generalizations Minor makes.

"I think he's writing from his perspective, which is fine," Bump says. "But it's not a book I would read or recommend. I think he paints people with too broad a stroke, talking about their personality. I can't say everybody has the same psychology, whether they're Democrats, Republicans, liberal or conservative."

Minor is hoping his book sparks conversation among the entire religious spectrum.

"There will be people who just dismiss it," he says. "They'll say, 'He's a liberal.' There will be people who will try to kill the messenger, so to speak. But I've done enough speaking on the topic, and enough people have said, 'My gosh, you're right.'

"I suspect a whole gamut of reaction. I would hope people would read it first. But the majority (of reaction) will come from people who don't read it."


OldEnuf2BYurDad 10 years, 8 months ago

My only complaint (having NOT read it) is that his focus is entirely on The Right. Any close-minded, non-learning, exclusive way of thinking about faith - whether "right" or "left" - can feed a religious addiction. To imply that only the religious right is judgmental is false; to imply that there are not unhealthy addicts in the religious left is wrong. He'll sell a lot of books with his one-sided attack.

Jeff Barclay 10 years, 8 months ago

Hopelessly addicted to Jesus and craving more of Him in my life.

Janet Lowther 10 years, 8 months ago

". . . fundamental Christians believe they "deserve eternal child abuse from a heavenly father," and that "you can only be OK if somebody else (God) likes you," he says."

You know, watching some of the street activities of some of the fundamentalist churches has left me concerned for some of their members: Some, especially the teenage girls, have that same haunted, fearful look I've seen in the eyes of child and domestic abuse victims.

I suppose you could argue that a fire-and-brimstone sermon IS a form of verbal abuse: You'd better straighten up and do what I say or you'll suffer the pains of eternal damnation.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago

Isn't this guy in the same department as the one that got in trouble before for insulting Catholics? If he is, I think they must be on a mission from God of their own to destroy KU's funding in the legislature.

There's a lot of quality research being done at this university, but childish nonsense like this makes the whole school look foolish. If you're going to take on religion,or religious conservatives, be my guest, but at least try not to look dumber than your subject. As it stands now, religious conservatives will be handing this illogical book out as exhibit one as to why they want to cut KU's funding.

I'm personally trying to figure out why a state university needs a department of religious studies anyway. We have quality anthropology and philosophy departments who can cover the material as needed and so far none of them have embarrassed the school with childish temper tantrums and shoddy sophomoric "scholarship".

Between Bob Hemenway and idiots like this we'd be in a whole lot of trouble if Bill Self didn't have such a great basketball program for everyone to rally around. Go Jayhawks!!!!!

happyhovel 10 years, 8 months ago

I love this guy! This is one of the chief reasons I can't work where I am working anymore. Amen! (hee hee)

deec 10 years, 8 months ago

I think the professor makes a valid point. There are plenty of folks out there who immerse themselves so fully in their religio-political agendas that they ignore their familial responsibilities.

tinytim 10 years, 8 months ago

I think this is one of the weakest academic arguments that I have ever heard. Our country is rooted in encouraging political advocacy among citizens. People can pursue these activities based on whatever personal, moral, political, social, or religious reasons that they have. There are many ways to criticize the religious right besides this.

Stick to religious analysis and stay out of the psychological arguments around addiction.

situveux1 10 years, 8 months ago

I'm so thankful for KU and it's quality 'research.' Before reading this article, I had no idea I needed to seek help. Now that I've been re-educated, I think I'll find my nearest ACLU funded rehab center, so I can go through further re-education and be the quality conformist, do-as-your-told citizen I should be.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

I look forward to reading the book.

To me, it seems that the addiction is not to religion per se, but to the feeling of righteousness, martyrdom, and condescension. While these feelings are central to religion, they have roots in any dogmatic, ideologically-driven enterprise. Animal rights activists who engage in vandalism, sabotage, and terrorism come to mind.

The behavioral similarities between religious fervor and addiction clearly exist. It will be interesting to see if the same brain centers are involved in chemical addicition and religious addiction. New functional magnetic resonance imaging technologies can answer this, and KU Med has a state-of-the-art fMRI facility. I would encourage use of this machine by Dr. Minor and/or others to analyze brain activity patterns of feelings of righteousness and martyrdom. It would be a difficult experiment to control scientifically, but I think it could be done.

Jamesaust 10 years, 8 months ago

I would agree with Bump - these are quite broad generalizations. I would go further to note that putting such generalizations into an academic framework does not transform them into an academic exercise, which should be what the efforts of the university community focus their resources on.

LePage "wonders, if 'gay activists or abortion-rights activists try to work through the political system to influence the laws of the land,' are they, too, addicted to their causes?"

That's not the reciprocal situation, so, the answer would be 'no.' A reciprocal would be if "gay activists" worked to make members outside their group second-class citizens or if "abortion-rights activists" worked to force abortions on those who view abortion as sinful. Yet, "addicts" like LePage think little of an obsession with limiting others' civil rights or substituting their judgment via the gun-enforced governmental powers over other's judgment.

I do agree that it is questionable that any of this is an addiction because it is difficult to identify the resulting impairment in the supposed addicts' lives. But I suppose that might be found indirectly.

For example, in Kansas, we just finished with amending the state Constitution to prevent marriage rights for same-sex couples. In reality, this was done primarily to stigmatize such couples, such marriages already being contrary to the marriage statutes and no credible basis to believe that didn't put paid to the topic. But, the amendment was SOLD as a means to 'protect marriage.' We are now almost three years later after having 'protected marriage' and yet there's no discernible change in the state of the institution: marriage is as easy to get into and as easy to get out of as before and people do so about as easily. Yet, the "addict" has expended considerable effort and attention to the topic and remains vulnerable to the consequences of their own marriage being destroyed. That is an impairment of the "addict's" life. Its no different than an overweight person who exercises themselves into the ground because they can't stop eating and so doesn't lose weight - there's a considerable expenditure of scarce effort and resources but no progress in overcoming the problem because the effort is misplaced. In this context, the "addicts" in Kansas, by misplaced attention, have wasted the limited attention of people from on-target efforts that would have stabilized the institution of marriage. Just like the overweight person who remains overweight but ends up injuring themselves from over-exercise, so are families in Kansas no better off than they were before, even while the cost of limiting the civil rights of a minority still has to be paid.

Tom McCune 10 years, 8 months ago

Other addicts seldom try to use the political process to impose their addiction on normal people.

Jeezus 10 years, 8 months ago

psst.comehere.i've gotwhatyouneed. and itonlycost10%ofyourstuff. and allofyourfreewill. and yoursoul.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

"I would agree with Bump - these are quite broad generalizations. I would go further to note that putting such generalizations into an academic framework does not transform them into an academic exercise, which should be what the efforts of the university community focus their resources on."

Having not read the book and only read a LJW article and the book's intro, I am not yet going to pass judgement on the "academic validity" of the arguments. Indeed, newspaper articles and forwards tend to include generalizations.

I will comment that if the above stated standard is applied to all current university activity, then most humanites, social "sciences", and arts would have no place in the university.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

"Dr. Minor's writing is so condescending I would actually feel embarrassed for him and for Kansas University," LePage says, "if I really thought anyone was going to read the book."

And it is clear that the right reverend LePage knows of which he speaks...

pdmoore 10 years, 8 months ago

This man really is brillant. I had him as a professor and even though he is tuff he knows his stuff really well.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago


Think about it, using medical science to try and prove your political opponent is nuts? I don't think so. Is this something you'd like to see Bush use on opponents to the Iraq war? After all, if you don't want to defend your country from terrorism you gotta be nuts, right?

The analogy is just silly. How many addicts do you know who give a hoot in hell what happens to society, or what other people, including God think of them?

it's embarrassing. There are a lot of solid sociological and anthropological studies of religion available to any serious scholar. This is just a spin off of the Christians telling the Muslims telling the Jews that they're going to hell, except that this is now being held up as an example of scholarship at KU. Just what we need to bolster our reputation at a time when we're trying to convince the bio-science community that not everyone around here sits around and thinks about religion all day. Thanks for the wonderful book, Dr. Dip***t.

Jamesaust 10 years, 8 months ago

"I will comment that if the above stated standard is applied to all current university activity, then most humanites, social "sciences", and arts would have no place in the university."

Hardly. What a diss to the "arts" half of the "arts and sciences." That's sort of like visiting The Tate collection modern art in London and terming it 'a random collection of crap' under a theory that (a) 'crap' exists and (b) some portion of the collection might indeed be 'crap.' While there's a lot of blather in academia that doesn't mean that the definition of academia is blather.

To the extent this article is accurate (sometimes a dubious assumption), and despite the agreeability of the theme of the book, it does indeed sound quite a lot like 'opinionating' rather than an academic exercise.

Which is almost certainly why the publisher isn't academic but rather Humanity Works! - along with Alamo Square Press' other imprints: Herbooks, Pagan, Loveyoudivine, Onlywomen Press, Lavender/Fire Island Press, etc. Somehow, I doubt this book is quite as academic as those of the University Press of Kansas ("Patrolling Baghdad: A Military Police Company and the War in Iraq," "Hunger for the Wild: America's Obsession with the Untamed West," or "Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party").

So, no, I don't see any problems applying my description of THE standard of what's academic to this book. Minor is free to write whatever he wants but I see no basis, per this article, to think that the book is "academic" in nature. As such, I hope he wrote it in his own time (or that this article mischaracterizes the book).

(Would you give Rush Limbaugh an office on campus under your standardless standard?)

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago


Exactly! This guy is every anti-intellectual's foothold into an attack on the university and their excuse to ask why they can't have a Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies.

KU has a very high caliber staff in the arts and sciences (in part owing to tough labor markets in academia). Many have national and international reputations for the high quality of their research. Some of the titles of their work may not be as sexy, or controversial, but it's a hell of a lot more meaningful, powerful, and productive than Minor's diatribes against his theological foes.

Some of the work they do focuses on identifying solutions to the social aspects of aging, addressing learning disabilities, treatment for real addictions, etc. Now, thanks to this clown, even here on this blog, amongst folks who should know better, we have the image of the arts and sciences being nothing more than just another op-ed section of society in general. I guarantee you none of these preachers would be able to tear apart the research I just mentioned as easily as they did this silliness, nor would I suspect that they would want to.

This department,in general, seems to be nothing more than an extension of the denominational squabbles that occur off campus every day between the so-called mainline churches and their more evangelical brethren rather than a solid academic center. Maybe it's time to sign this joint over to some local church group and divide any meaningful coursework up between the relevant academic departments.

Godot 10 years, 8 months ago

Using Media Matters as a source? Apparently this work of Minor's is the result of an obsession with and an unhealthy idolotry of George Soros.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 10 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't it Karl Marx who said that "Religion is the opiate for the masses"??

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

"What a diss to the "arts" half of the "arts and sciences."

Indeed. I apologize for the confusion. My comment was not meant to criticize humanities and arts at universities in general, but to criticize what is currently offered up as scholarship in the arts, humanities, and social "sciences'.

I haven't read the book, so it is difficult for me to judge the quality of the research contained therein. However, your description of "opinions", "generalizations", and I would add personal feelings, is what dominates humanities, arts, and social sciences "scholarship" today.

Maybe this book fits that category; maybe not. If it does, it will be no different from the majority of scholarship in these disciplines.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

"Think about it, using medical science to try and prove your political opponent is nuts?"

You really missed the point here. My comment was to use brain imaging techniques to determine if righteousness, martyrdom, and condescension activate the same brain centers as addictive drugs. Religion is one way (the predominate way) to achieve these feelings, but most any dogmatic cause will do the same.

This is a scientific means to test the idea that one can be "addicted to religion", instead of merely thinking the thought and assuming its true.

"I guarantee you none of these preachers would be able to tear apart the research I just mentioned as easily as they did this silliness, nor would I suspect that they would want to."

Don't underestimate the dark side of the force. There is a little thing called evolution, based on 150 years of solid scientific investigation and fact, that many preachers attack with relish. Evolutionary biology is 100 times more rigorous than most of what is done in humanities and social science, and it is still attacked.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

"(Would you give Rush Limbaugh an office on campus under your standardless standard?)"

No, but some at KU and other universities might. You misunderstand. I have a high standard for academic scholarship. It is my experience that most humanities and social sciences scholarship fails this standard, which includes evidence, reason, replication, and objectivity. These are more difficult to apply in the arts, which are subjective by nature, but are readily applicable in the humanities and social sciences.

camper 10 years, 8 months ago

Why do we always make things left and right issues? Maybe because we are addicted to conspiracy theories?

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago


Good points. I get very touchy anytime someone tries to explain a political position biologically. I have visions of some politician figuring it out and tickling this brain cell and that one until we all slobber in tune.

As to the attacks on science. The critiques of evolution are focused on its creation myth which is no more replicable than theirs and hence subject to attack. I have not seen them attack micro evolution. Or at least I'm not aware of any.

MariposaUnfolding 10 years, 8 months ago

I believe it was Sigmund Freud who said "religion is the opiate of the masses." I could be mixing this up with something he wrote in his book, Future of an Illusion.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 8 months ago

"The critiques of evolution are focused on its creation myth which is no more replicable than theirs and hence subject to attack."

Quod erat demonstrandum.

seattlehawk_78 10 years, 8 months ago

Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and the rest of the religious right sold out their own Christian faith in the name of politics long ago. Not that it matters but I don't think they even qualify as Christians. I can't say if Minor's theory is valid but it would serve the religious right well to consider any theory that would help them reconnect with their faith.

Tom McCune 10 years, 8 months ago

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people."

-- Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago

Sorry Worst, no latin background here. Did I miss again?

jhawkrawk 10 years, 8 months ago

As someone who was once in ministry, i am interested in what this book has to say. It sounds more political than anything else, but I will hold my judgment for now. I am interested in finding out how many people are reading this article because they are recovering from religious addiction.

deec 10 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, that's right. There's a question on the KU state job application asking prospective professors to take a loyalty affirmation that they are atheists. I think you have Ku confused with the shrub administration, and its overweaning emphasis on fundie Christianity.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago

"Anonymous user

yourworstnightmare (Anonymous) says:

Quod erat demonstrandum: Thus it is shown."


Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago


Thanks for the reference. The point made that there are excellent works of scholarship to be had in this area without involving the university in a denominational squabble when it has no dog in the fight. I just wish the JW would focus on some of the research I referenced that's going on at KU. It may not be sexy, or controversial, but actually helping the poor and the elderly, finding new more efficient uses of energy, perhaps a synthetic fuel will solve moreof the world's problems than condescendingly inferring that people you disagree with suffer from some addiction.

Indeed, since addiction is seen as a disease, admitting that one is addicted to religion could be an entre into the welfare system. How's that for an unintended consequence of Minor's book. the whole religious right goes on welfare and devotes their time to political organizing to demonstrate their ongoing addiction.

nestorius 10 years, 8 months ago

I think it's very interesting that some people here must know the religious faith of professors in this department, but not in other departments. Why is this an issue?

And, despite the fact that there are two rabbis on staff, and (at least) two ordained Christian pastors on staff, the entire department gets branded as "all athiests" just because they don't publicly profess a belief in something you approve of. Not that there's anything wrong with being an athiest - I've never been ripped off by an athiest, but I've been lied to & betrayed many times by so-called Christians.

I don't know about the professor in question here, but I do know, as a whole, that the Religious Studies department at KU is an exemplar of excellence within Humanities studies - not just at KU, but in the entire midwest. To answer Uhlrick's point, this department serves as a shining example of multi-discplinary studies. When studying and ancient text, for example, there are many things to consider - literary sources, papyrological issues, historical context, etc. If one is just trained in history, or just trained in antrhopology, many issues would be missed (again, not that there's anything wrong with being a historian or anthropologist).

Re: lunacydetector - Sure, I concede that the doctor may have an addiction to something else, but how can we pass judgments on someone we don't know? In fact, did the big man himself say something to this effect? (And, by the way, since when is equality an "agenda"?)

But I have read several books (some of which contain good academic studies) on so-called "process" addictions. I do agree that research is in its infancy stage, but only because they've been mostly ignored by researches. The evidence for them is undeniable. One good popular book about a common process addiction is "When Food Is Love" by Roth (and isn't it interesting that when she writes about food addictions nobody claims she is insulting all overweight people, but somehow the above author is accused of insulting all religions). Also, i believe there's a book by the same name by John Bradshaw - "When Religion is an Addiction". And the best work on addictions is by Sir Gabriel Horn (biologist & specialist in neural mechanics), Dr Anne Wilson Schaeff, Dr. Frederick Franck (student of Albert Schweitzer), and even Ken Wilbur writes about process addictions in his work on holonomy.

Re: machiavelli_mania - I also like "Religious Reich" (instead of right or rite)

Re: Jeezuz - i need it. i need it bad. gimmegimmegimme.

lunacydetector 10 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago

The JW just did a great article on the Beach Center. I just think KU would fare better in the legislature if they heard more about what was going on there, and less about bubble gummy books designed to gore someone's political ox. And yes, I'm sure there's quality research going on in Smith Hall also, yet another reason to downplay stuff like this.

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