Is Religion an Addiction?
The God Addiction
Religious belief has been described as a delusion, a weapon, a parasite, and even a virus, but it may be more appropriate to call it an addiction. The similarities between religious belief and drug addiction are numerous, profound, and alarming. Spanning the psychological and the physiological, this article will compare the causes, effects, and symptoms of both conditions. Fourteen points of comparison are made, making a strong case for the classification of religion as an addiction.
Religious Conversion and the Onset of Addiction
1. Many people use the analogy of a virus to describe religious conversion, but a virus would suggest the process is involuntary for both parties. Conversion is a voluntary act where one person espouses the wonders and comforts of their religion to another. Converts will display a curiosity for the supernatural, or a desire for divine rewards. Drug users will similarly communicate the ecstasy their drug imparts. Based on this testimony, the vast majority of addicts will voluntarily surrender to their curiosity, or their desire for pleasure. Thus, both conditions involve spreading the affliction to friends and acquaintances by demonstrating joy and offering rewards.
2. The pleasure derived from drug use typically appeals to individuals in vulnerable states. Indeed, addiction often follows tumultuous life events that leave the victim depressed. The pain may be superficially alleviated by a drug, and continued use will aim to keep the affliction subdued. Nevertheless, drugs do not cure the pain, they are a mask to contain and postpone it.
Similarly, a terrible event such as losing a family member in an accident can force one to dwell upon the fragility of existence and the status of the departed’s soul. The individual is left deeply depressed, intensifying their fear of death, and causing them to yearn for the transcendental promises of religion. Indeed, research shows that religiosity increases for individuals who’s fear of death has been artificially stimulated. Furthermore, cross cultural data shows that religiosity increases for people living in poor and impoverished conditions, or those living in countries with limited public services or welfare.
Much like a drug, religion comforts us in times of need. It induces euphoria by satiating our need to counter negative moods. Though religion has a more complex relationship with our pleasure centers; satisfying numerous drives that are inherent to our evolved psychology; the basic mood-repair function is the same.
A Man Who Experienced Both
Religious Addiction Symptoms
3. Some of the clearest effects of addiction are the exclamations of euphoria once thirst for the drug is satisfied. Religious believers can reach similar heights of euphoria during worship. This can be seen most profoundly in some American churches where being infused with the Lord can produce bizarre expressions of uncontrollable joy.
4. As with a drug, repeated doses are required to keep the mind in a pleasured state. This periodic infusion is maintained by regular attendance at places of worship. Whether through prayer, meditation, or worship, all religions compel the believer to receive regular "hits" of the religious experience, mirroring the dependency indicative of an addiction.
5. Acquaintances of drug users often report considerable character changes in addicted individuals. Acquaintances of newly converted Christians will report similar changes. Typically, the Christian will appear unnaturally content or happy in their belief. They will attribute everything to God, and will feel a rapturous rush when talking about their religion. To many people they are a new person; to Christians they are “born again”.
6. Drug use reduces the brain's response to external stimuli. Similarly, a religious individual may see something that is normally quite provocative or arousing and fail to become aroused. Whether this is a pornographic image, or a fascinating story of scientific investigation, curiosity for the natural world is quashed through the belief that the Bible provides all the required answers. Indeed, religions typically promote an ascetic and abstinent lifestyle, prohibiting or discouraging sexual, hedonistic, or intellectual pursuits.
The believer's dismissive nature can be understood with the premise of a God that has become an equidistant thought, pervading all processes of the mind, and leading to an extreme lack of interest in all that threatens or fails to appeal to its entrenched state. Such a parasitic thought becomes a pre-occupation for the mind, emphasized by the development of an internal personal relationship with God, and mirroring the detachment from reality seen in drug addicts.
7. A common trait among drug addicts is a loss of decision making ability. Addicts will only make decisions that are tuned towards satisfying the addiction. Similarly, religion asks us to substitute reason with faith; requiring that every thought or decision is justified by an explanation that is dependent on God being a causal influence. Commitment to the religion is reinforced because if God is always the answer then one must keep learning about, and praying to, God; one must stay addicted. The entire mind is corrupted towards satisfying the religious addiction, just like in a drug addict.
Costs of the Religious Addiction
8. Once an individual has endured addiction for some time, any attempt at withdrawal may be difficult. With relatively few renunciations, the comparison in religion is clear. The difficulty in ending one’s association with religion is evident in the consequences that one must endure; most notably an acceptance of our impermanent existence, and the loneliness of a life without God.
While most fail to withstand withdrawal, others will replace one addiction with another. Alcoholics anonymous (AA) was set up to wean people off alcohol and onto religion. This transference of dependency is made easy by the addict's vulnerability for accepting quick solutions for pain.
9. Drug users may ultimately overdose and die, demonstrating the detrimental effects on the health of the addict. The religious comparison is borne out by missionaries and martyrs. Throughout history, believers have refused to renounce their faith under threat of execution, and many have committed acts of murderous martyrdom. Christians will travel the world, risking injury and death to bring the gospel to those who are susceptible to its message. The underlying cause of these actions is a decreased fear of death. Belief in an afterlife makes this life less valuable.
10. More than one new-born baby per week is being treated for heroin addiction in the English city of Sunderland. Similarly, a child growing up in a religious home has almost no chance of escaping the God addiction. The child will become dependent on religion from before it can rationalize for itself. Whilst not a physical addiction, the prevalence and continuation of different religions in particular regions of the world supports the claim that religious parents produce religious children.
How Dopamine Works
The Physiology of Religion
11. During drug use there is a bodily emission of dopamine into the brain, which provides a pleasurable reinforcement of the act. Recent studies have shown that religious worship prompts a similar release of dopamine into the blood-stream. This demonstrates that the religious addiction involves a chemical component.
12. Everyone has a different tolerance for drugs. Those who are psychologically or genetically predisposed to addiction are more likely to suffer. Research is finding that the same is true for religion. We have a congenital capacity for theistic belief based on the presence of specific genetic markers. This makes some people more susceptible to religious claims than others.
13. Drugs have a multitude of different effects that depend on the psychology and physiology of the individual. Ingesting quantities of alcohol may cause tiredness, or aggression and violence. The brain responds in the same way to religious belief. Some will aggressively spread their religion while others take a more pacifistic stance. We see some Christians killing abortion doctors and being abusive to homosexuals, while others are harmless. The religious drug affects different brains in different ways.
14. The potency of a drug plays a role in drug addiction. In the same way, the potency of a religion partly determines the prevalence and spread of the God addiction within a society. Islam and Christianity are particularly potent religions, and they are spreading throughout Africa. As monotheistic religions provide a more personal experience with God, this could explain their widespread success.
Religious belief is analogous with an addictive chemical drug, with both being an alacritous remedy for vulnerability, desperation, and depression. Rather than physical addiction, religious conversion generates a psychological dependence that exhibits as a desire to perpetually experience the pleasure derived from comforting religious beliefs.
Religious addiction symptoms include sacrificing rationality through the ardent acceptance of agreeable yet questionable theory, and the dismissal of all theory that could disrupt the entrenched position of comforting beliefs. The physiology of religion confirms this addiction-reinforcement process through the release of dopamine, and genetic consistency among believers.
Our evolutionary course, navigated on the precepts of survival and reproduction, has determined our acceptance of religion. The faiths that have survived cultural selection will be perfectly engineered for our minds. These parasitic thoughts ensure their perpetuity by utilizing the same psychological mechanisms that maintain addictions to chemical substances. Essentially, religion is the habit of alleviating psychological pain with self-reinforcing delusion, and this makes it a highly addictive and insidiously pernicious condition.