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Can religion be an addiction?

 Can religion be an addiction? (Photo: iStock)

We throw the word addiction around a bit too casually, like a man keeping tabs on every football march or a woman who obsessively shops. Well, if those behaviours cause dysfunction, in the sense that the subject is unable to attend to other important aspects of their lives, say family or work, then yes, it is addiction.

But what about dedication to God? What about being a regular church attendee, following a belief and rules set by a particular church? Being a regular tithe payer or a 'kingdom funder' in a local church?

Our headlines are tainted with gruesome 'murders' where a preacher is still on trial for stirring up church members to starve themselves to death. The preacher aside, what could have been behind the congregation? Mass hypnosis? What could make them take such bizarre decisions? Maybe Religion Addiction, hard to tell. But Yes, Religion Addiction is a thing and I wish to talk about it in depth, current events on hold.

What is Religion Addiction?

Addiction is a state of psychological or physical dependence on substances and some behaviours. The term is often used as an equivalent term for substance dependence and sometimes applied to behavioural disorders, such as sex, work, fashion, social media and, as improbable as it sounds religion.

The process of addiction:

Any addiction follows a similar route, conditioning. It has everything to do with the reward mechanism in the brain, the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical, any behaviour that could trigger its release is potentially addictive. Just like a 'high' experienced after smoking bhang and even the reassurance that engaging in a murderous fast is an express ticket to paradise. The fantasy of a utopia thereof becomes a star around which their world revolves around.

People want things bigger than life, we all do, who could blame us? Life is hard. And we are striving to escape this garden of asphalt and thorns, we are all seeking salvation through money, fame, power, indulgence and yes, religion.

Signs that one may be a Religion Addict

You can look out for a few signs in your loved ones or even yourself. See if you have crossed the line from a devoted Christian to a Religion Addict.

First, do you avoid responsibilities? Using resources meant for family upkeep or school fees for religious purposes. Or spending time meant for work or parenting for the same.

Being obsessed with rules is another sign, in every institution there are set guidelines stipulated and when one follows them without question or is preoccupied with them, what could be sin and what is 'righteous'? Settings rules like starving one to death are unrealistic and should be questioned and even avoided. Don't scriptures tell us to question and we'd be answered, call us to reason?

In a healthy church environment, rules only make the congregation better, morally upright and avoid trouble with the law.

When a person becomes detached from the real world, turns their entire existence into spirituality and grossly misinterprets everything happening around them, they could be addicted. Some teachings like not being driven by material gain could be extreme. Like children refusing to go to school claiming it is devilish.

When a person gives or 'tithes' to the extent they go bankrupt or are unable to cater for essentials could be dealing with religious addiction. They could be doing it out of their addiction but some religious leaders have been marked notorious for manipulating the congregation to give more for their own selfish gains. Look out for consequential financial strains.

How to help a loved one:

Talking someone out of addiction rarely works, reasoning with a fanatic is futile. A shining ember of it could be the words of B.F Skinner, An American Psychologist. He premised that any behaviour learnt can be unlearnt.

Be a mirror, show don't tell, show them how their addiction is ruining their lives. Show them how neglecting their families is affecting them. Help them strive for a healthy relationship with God. Show them it is ungodly it is to keep at it, as far as I know, there are scriptures to back it up!

Eve Waruingi is a counselling psychologist

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