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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Just add Jesus!

I've been chatting on email with Jason about the culture of addiction that we find ourselves in.

What is it about society and culture in the States that makes us more susceptible to addictions? Is it the rat race? The isolation and loneliness? The saturation with media? The expectations of success that often go unfulfilled? The advertising and marketing blitz of images? Consumerism culture that puts my short-term desires as the primary center of my being?

But what kind of annoys me is the "Just add Jesus" response of many Christians. Have an addiction? Jesus can help with that. Need to break free? Yeah, here's Jesus - that's his job.

This strikes me as particularly ridiculous. Not that it isn't theoretically possible, but for one thing it denies how interrelated the world is. We are what we are due in large part to who we run into, talk with, fight with, love, work with, compete against, etc. Who we are has to do with what we are in. We are people of our environment. Hence the function of the church as an environment of people whose job it is to truly care for each other.

Secondly, this is the wrong mindset because it seems to be an easy-escapism: Just pray a prayer and Jesus will help you. But this is simply reducing Jesus to a Formula-Savior. A kind of magic-Jesus who defeats my addictions whenever I need him. Is the root of this a self-absorbed desire to have a Jesus I can control and use for my own wants and needs?

It's not that I don't want Christ to be the center. I do. I really do. But we cannot expect Jesus to change us internally if we are not willing to change certain lifestyles. We are simply unable to live the Christian life and cultivate an intimate reflective and meditative spirituality if we are working 80 hours a week and saturating our minds with media and closing ourselves off to intimate relationships with other believers and spending all our money on ourselves and focussing our entire lives on personal success. The "Just add Jesus" thing just won't work. Sorry. That's fact. Christians need to take drastic action that is counter-cultural. The "Just add Jesus" becomes a quick fix that gives us an excuse to continue on the rat race. But it won't work. It can't work. Quick fix addictions are tailor made for the fast-food lifestyle. Jesus is a fine wine that you have to savor over time.


Jason Hesiak said...

Good stuff. I would just add - explicitly (since you hinted at it) - that part of the problem with the "Jus Add Jesus" marketing formula is its assumption of an unmediated relationship with Christ. The body (of Christ) is the medium, dude. And "the medium is the message" :)

samlcarr said...

Jon, elsewhere you mentioned Maslow's hierarchy of needs and I do think that has a lot to say about where culture is heading.

What happens when a human being does not have any primary concerns? Somehow i feel that we have a fundamental problem when there are no basic problems to solve. Perhaps we even create problems to fill this void.

Jonathan Erdman said...


You definitely get a star for remembering a previous Theos Project discussion.

Yes. I agree. We do have a problem when we don't have problems to solve. It think the problem has to do with meaning. It seems to be a problem of defining the self.

I can define myself if I have needs and problesm to solve: "I am a food gatherer" "I am a warrior who protects the homeland" "I am the one who provides wealth for my family" "I am the doctor who cures the diseases" "I am the one who loves my spouse" "I am the one who gives love to my spouse"

The interesting thing is what happens when we don't have problems to solve. Or all our needs are met. What do we do when we have to confront ourselves and ask who we are, stripped down of anything else? Who am I if I don't define myself in terms of the world around me, but try to get to the essence? Is there an essence?

This is the beginning of the quesiton of being.

It is the shift from the Modern to Postmodern. From Epistemology back to Ontology via Heidegger.

ktismatics said...

Christians need to take drastic action that is counter-cultural. What about non-Christians?

It's interesting that the AA model begins with an acknowledgment that you're enslaved to your habit and that you need the help of a "higher power," however you may define it. Suggests that the Jesus function is therapeutic even if it isn't the "real" Jesus. Or maybe Jesus is really the guy who's always on call.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Well, if my previous post is correct, then Christian's are more susceptible to moral failure than non-Christians, and as such we need more help......but that's not really what I think your thought is going, so I would put the question back to you, John:
What would suggest that a non-believer substitute in place of Jesus? Or are you suggesting that a non-Christian borrow Jesus for therapeutic purposes??? He's "always on call"?

One more question: If God/Jesus/et al is simply a figment of our imagination then it would seem disingenuous to call on a higher power that doesn't exist. This would be unauthentic and would seem to undermine any psychological/philosophical process that would seek to establish self-authenticity and genuine self-actualization. I know that I am starting to sound like a Christian Apologist, but the point is not to establish Christianity by default (god-of-the-gaps), because that's not really my thing. However, one has to fill the gaps with something.

Dawn said...

I agree wholeheartedly Jonathan! I went to a church years ago that was a "just add Jesus" church and it left me disappointed.

I kept trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Why couldn't my genie, I mean Jesus, help me all the time right when I wanted Him to?

Praise God that He's been patient with me while I figured out that He's not Santa Claus.

Jonathan Erdman said...

That's really cool. Thanks, Dawn.

samlcarr said...

Is it possible to see in Jesus's interactions two layers of discipleship - one for ratracers, 'love your neighbor as yourself' and a second for total commitment 'take up your cross', 'the son of man has nowhere to lay his head', love others more than you love yourself.

samlcarr said...


ktismatics said...

Thanks Sam, same to you.

Jonathan -

I agree with much of what you see as wrong with American culture. It has adverse effects not only on Christians but also on non-Christians. To take drastic counter-cultural action might be an appropriate response by anyone who recognizes the rotten spots in mainstream culture. Do you agree? Or from your standpoint must collective counter-cultural action begin by acknowledging the lordship of Jesus and joining forces inside the Church?

Your post is about addiction. Certain aspects of contemporary culture make addiction more attractive -- sort of like being poor makes stealing more attractive. But for the already-addicted, the most visible treatment program is AA, which adopts key aspects of the born-again Christian paradigm: acknowledge your enslavement to the wrong thing, acknowledge your inability to overcome it on your own, put yourself in the hands of a higher benevolent power. The AA folks aren't particular about who or what the higher power is.

I don't know if anyone has studied whether the effectiveness of treatment differs depending on which higher power is invoked -- Jesus, Allah, the impersonal cosmic forces, etc. The AA people don't insist on picking a particular higher power; they leave it up to the addict to choose (or to be chosen). Presumably the AA people are so committed to getting people out of their addictions that they're prepared to do whatever it takes that might help. Apparently making yourself dependent on the higher power helps. Neither have I seen the evidence about whether AA is more effective than programs that don't invoke the higher power. Addiction is a strong enemy, and you've got to throw everything including the kitchen sink at it without worrying whether any particular thing you throw is or isn't being effective.

AA is a self-help program, run by addicts for addicts. Would I encourage an alcohol-dependent friend to go to AA even though I don't believe in a higher power? Sure I would. Maybe my friend believes, or can at least believe enough to make it out of the addiction. I certainly wouldn't try to talk them out of believing. If I were an alcoholic would I come up with something to believe in just so I could stay in the program? I'd sure as hell try.

To be an addict is to be subjected to a higher power: alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. Invoking a higher power in AA is in some ways a substitutionary move, shifting the addict's dependency from a debilitating power to an empowering one. Is it purely psychological? Booze isn't; it's physiological too. This shifting of dependencies is integral to the New Testament story, so I would think Christian addicts and their friends would find AA compatible.

If you or your church ran an addiction recovery program would you be able to live with the AA model in which any higher power is acceptable? Or would you run an explicitly Christian AA program where the higher power is explicitly Jesus?

ronwright said...

I tend to view addictions as desperate attempts to self-regulate unbearable emotions (which have cultural elements for sure) which reflect a relational absence. That is, humans learn how to regulate emotional states within embodied relations and when that does not occur we often (always) turn to artificial means for help with that regulation. Perhaps what is effective within AA is not the belief in a higher power (although that might be helpful) but that now one finds one's self within a matrix of relationships where one can receive real embodied help at regulating emotional states (e.g. talking with your sponsor instead of going and drinking/using). This would reflect Jason's response about the Body being incarnational and not necessarily about replacing one magical belief ("this substance will make me feel better") with another ("Jesus/higher power will make me feel better"). That type of relational redemption and transformed needs to be affirmed wherever it is found.

Melody said...

Coming late into the conversation...

I think the problem is that we're so used to coming at life as consumers. But God isn't offering us a new magic pill. He's offering the chance to choose our own master.

We're going to be slaves to something. Jesus doesn't really shilly-shally around with that. We have to choose chains or sin or righteousness. And slavery sort of implies that it's hard either way...people don't like that.
I don't like that.

So I think, yeah, becoming a slave of righteousness...that would cause quite a bit of change (for the better) in our lives, but we don't see it that way. We see God giving us the holy lolly of salvation and somehow that's supposed to break our chains.
I don't know that God intends us to be free in that way. That's not the freedom, the question is who will you be sold to, death or life? That's what will make the difference.

The only freedom is to choose your own cage. (L.M. Montgomery)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Doyle says: If you or your church ran an addiction recovery program would you be able to live with the AA model in which any higher power is acceptable? Or would you run an explicitly Christian AA program where the higher power is explicitly Jesus?

This is a good question. I would temper it by first echoing what Ron/Jason are saying about how recovery is a matrix of positive relationships that include but are not limited to God.

Having said that I would have a hard time, as a Christian, telling an AA group that they should just pick their magic fairy. In fact, there is no way that I could say, "Any higher power will do - just believe." In fact, if you think about it it is not the vague belief in the higher power that is effective. It is the belief in the actuality and reality of that higher power. If you take away the actuality of the higher power then somehow the belief in the higher power becomes less meaningful. It seems to be the case that for human beings the belief in God or another higher power only has real meaning in so far as we believe it is actually the case that such a higher power exists. (There are other areas where the actuality of the belief is not so important, and we can find meaning simply through the fictionality of the belief. Novels, movies, Disney Land, losing one's self in a fantasy world of a masterful musical work, the imagination world of poetry, other artistic works, etc....)

Having said that I don't know I could say that any higher power can be the source of belief because for me it is a specific God who is real and other gods are not real and hence not able to help.

That's my biased perspective on the situation.

Lindsay said...

I'm not going to get into this very extensive dissicusion, because it is so far a long.

But look at the painting you posted, and tell me what you see. THere is another picture within the painting. Which goes along perfectly with you subject.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Nice catch.

Raptor said...

I would add extreme individualism in western cultures as one of the possible causes of addiction.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Individualism. Tends to lead to isolationism.

Of course, as I think about it, isolationism is a positive thing in certain contexts. Take the monks for example. They cultivate a peaceful and reflective isolationism that is focussed on meditation and contemplation. This isolationism is healthy.

Melody said...

How do you know it's healthy? Just because a monk does it doesn't make it healthy.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Anyone who wears brown hooded garb and/or looks like a Jedi Knight automatically gets props from me.

Melody said...

Very high standards you have going there.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Well, these days you never can be too careful. You really have to have some positive role models to follow. Jedi Knights and monks are definitely on top of the game.