Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On the Similarity Between Crackpots and Crackheads
I hope you caught the comment from reader KN on yesterday's post about abstinence education. Referring to religiously inspired abstinence messages, she wrote: "If sex is sin, then planning to have sex is a sin, too. The shame, guilt, and fear these teachings create keep kids from making decisions that will guard their futures and cause mental issues that will affect their later relationships and marriages."

Abstinence education as it is practiced in schools isn't always, or even generally, overtly religious. But when you get down to its essence, it is undeniably based on religion, because it gets much of its authority from ideas about marriage and morality that derive ultimately from religious belief. Thus, it's no exaggeration to say that abstinence education, and the negative consequences that can result from it, are yet another example of the toxicity of religion. The Salon article I mentioned yesterday is yet another example of toxic religion run amok. Those who believe that the only proper role for women is the one they held in the 18th century are quite clearly addled, and it is in large measure their religious beliefs that are responsible for the addling.

Back in the early 90s, when I was going to church on a regular basis, one of my fellow congregants once remarked that what he liked about the United Methodist Church was that it didn't require you to get saved and re-saved every 10 minutes. Members of other mainstream liberal denominations often say something similar--that their belief is not focused entirely on their own individual souls, but on the broader work that religious believers are supposed to do in the world. It seems to me that conservative denominations are selfish by comparison, by focusing so much on individual salvation. Even their broader work in the world reflects back on themselves as individuals--they fight hard against anything they perceive to be Satanic, because if Satan gets a foothold in the world, he might be able to somehow tempt them away from God.

(Digression: I have said this before, but it bears repeating--the god of the fundies is supposed to be the most powerfulest and awesomest force in the universe, but at the same time, believers can be tempted away from him by such innocuous things as TV shows, rock music, and Halloween candy. That's sure some powerful awesomeness right there, bubba.)

All of this is by way of introduction to an interesting article by Bob Minor, who's working on a book called When Religion Is an Addiction. He points out that for fundies, religious belief functions a lot like crack cocaine or alcohol to an addict--it gives them a high and keeps them from thinking about how their addiction affects other people. Also, religious addiction, like substance abuse, tends to require ever-larger doses for the addict to get off--which explains the ever-ratcheting-upward demands of fundies for more, more, more. It's why it's not enough to simply teach kids to avoid sex until marriage; they also want to teach that condoms are bad and birth-control pills are harmful. It's why it's not enough to ban abortion; they want to restrict birth control and eventually ban non-procreative sex of all kinds. (The addiction metaphor also explains, to me at least, why religious believers so often turn on each other, as in the repeated schisms in the Christian Church during its history. When all the enemies are vanquished, addiction requires the creation of more from whatever is close at hand.)

As Minor observes, religion doesn't have to function this way. For a majority of Americans, it doesn't. But the minority for whom religion is an addiction have power out of all proportion to their numbers at the moment. Having such people in the driver's seat of our country is as dangerous as having a substance abuser behind the wheel of a bus or in the cockpit of an airliner. So nobody should be surprised when the thing crashes.

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