The higher power of Addiction
KU professor takes aim at 'religious right' and liberals who enable them in new book
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.”
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.'”
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.”
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.”
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, www.fairnessproject.org.
“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.”