They still can’t quit it
It’s no wild prediction to say that the year ahead will see even more of the “culture wars” ginned up by religionists who use their religion the way any addict uses their preferred addictive substance or process. They’re primed to do so.
Begin with right-wing religion’s teaching that people are basically so evil and lost that they deserve eternal, abusive Divine Parental punishment. Add its effectiveness at convincing people of this innate evil because they’ve been prepared to do so through child-rearing methods that punish inherently bad children.
Enforce such messages by promoting political leaders whose solution to problems is more punishment. The result: these adults have a desperate need for a fix to provide relief from self-denigrating, self-abusive feelings.
That’s what makes a high of feeling righteous so addictive. And with the past (and present) political successes of the right-wing, its framing their crusade as a war to be fought to the death, and the enabling of FOX news and most mainstream political outfits, these people who use religion as an addiction can’t give up their fix: their user activity for so long now has been the high of winning politically that to them proves they’re righteous.
For our part, then, we cannot continue to respond in ways that make us their enablers. Those old responses function for them to enable their addiction.
This is especially so given these last decades where the religious right-wing has turned LGBTQ people and others into an opposing army who is out to destroy all they have.
But we can respond to them in ways that are more like interventions than family enabling:
1. Stop arguing about religion and religions.
Religion is not the problem. The same texts, stories and institutions are used by other non-addicts for purposes of liberation, understanding, inclusivity, and liberal causes. Everyone interprets these things.
It’s one thing if people want to educate themselves (religion does not have to be used addictively – see my final chapter in When Religion Is an Addiction for how to tell addictive from non-addictive religion), but the loudest culture warriors are using religion to hide from the real personal reasons for their prejudices. It’s too traumatic for them to face these realities.
They like arguing religion because it keeps them from facing those real issues. In fact, arguing religion with them is a relief. It’s a way for them to blame God for their own issues. And therefore, it reinforces their position.
2. Stop wasting time looking for the logic in their position.
Addictions are not logical, and looking for rationality in them, Al-Anon members know, is a waste of time. What drives their need for winning is the high they experience: political victories as the proof of their righteousness.
So, are we still trying to find the logic in what they do? Are we wasting time trying to make sense out of their “real” motives and intentions?
It’s important to understand that logical thinking is not the problem. This is more about feeling the righteous validation of power and the fear of losing it.
3. Forget the idea that calling them “hypocrites” is an argument against them.
Labeling them hypocrites actually lets their religious views, and most of the people who endorse them, off the hook.
Any right-wing religionist can agree that someone didn’t live up to the standards they blame on divinity. “We’re all sinners,” after all.
But if these sinners are willing to seek forgiveness, to the right-wing it really doesn’t matter what they did. Their slate is cleansed, and right-wing religion is thereby reaffirmed.
Hypocrites to them are only not an anomaly but merely human beings who’ve backslidden and are easily forgiven, while the beat goes on.
What the term hypocrites doesn’t do is stick to them long enough to affirm what it is that’s inherent in right-wing religion itself that not only spawns hypocrites but drives right-wing religion’s judgmental meanness.
4. Realize that trying to meet them halfway actually affirms their extreme position.
Be aware that a willingness to negotiate and compromise our positions on equality, justice, fairness, and acceptance is interpreted by the addicted as evidence that we don’t really believe what we claim. When people aren’t in the ever-shrinking moveable middle, movement toward that middle is seen as proof that we don’t value anything enough to fight for it.
Sadly, many addicts never come to until they’ve hit bottom and destroyed their lives and the lives of their families and acquaintances. Yes, some do go into forms of recovery when they see that they need to for their own sakes.
5. Face our own issues around relating to these religious people and religion itself.
Without doing so, our own issues — our need to be loved or validated by them, our need to win arguments, our anger at how they’ve abused us, our liberal guilt, our feeling that their addiction is somehow our fault for not doing or being enough — will prevent us from acting resolutely, lovingly, creatively, and effectively.
Are we emotionally unable or unwilling to speak truth to the addict, saying the addiction is wrong, sick, and destructive? Are we unable to separate from the addiction ourselves?
Are we unwilling to envision the equivalent of support groups like Al-Anon or to form Mothers Against Abusive Religion, or Fundamentalists Anonymous?
Do we ourselves have a positive enough self-image to refuse to be abused by others who won’t face the addiction — such as politicians who treat us like crazy but rich relatives whom they come to for support but hide out of the way in the closet when people want to know who those relatives are?
6. Remember that dealing with addictions requires saving oneself first, not the addict.
Are we willing to face the fact that we’ll still be affected by the addiction and, therefore, must live our lives in the light of that fact, that we must protect ourselves and our safety? Are we able to affirm that they, not we, are the problem?
This often involves the sadness of watching the addict crash and burn. Sadly, many addicts never change until they’ve hit bottom and destroyed their lives and the lives of their families and acquaintances. Some do, I repeat, go into recovery — there, after all, have even been support groups to do so.
And it’s going to take a while for addictive religion to hit bottom. It’s still on its drug with user activities such as protests and angry, even violent, armed confrontations, and it has most of mainstream media as enablers.
But are we also enablers? Are we still making excuses for the addict?
Once we’ve named an addiction, it’s our choice how we live with or without an addict. It’s our choice about whether we seek an addict’s love and support or walk away and mourn our choice.
And it’s also our choice, knowing that addictions can be hard to overcome, whether we’re thinking in terms of the long haul because, in the end, we want to effectively work to stop addictions from hurting everyone.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.