This week I am reading the book Addiction and Grace by Gerald G. May for my training course in spiritual direction. A new concept for me in reading this book is aversion addiction. I had never before considered something like anorexia nervosa an addiction. It is an aversion addiction to food. Like most people, as May points out, I am familiar with attraction addictions, where one is compulsively drawn to have or possess or do or engage in something. Aversion addiction is when we are compulsive in our repulsion or rejection of things. May says “We often call these repulsions by other names: phobias, prejudices, bigotries, resistances, or allergies.” He describes aversion addiction as a mirror image of addictions that most of us are familiar with:
“Instead of tolerance, where we can’t get enough of a thing, we experience intolerance, where no matter how little of a thing we have it is still too much.”
Reading May’s work on addiction forced me to grapple (again) with my (attraction) addictions: food, the internet and social networking, and the need to be accepted (among others). It also helped me to understand, as a UU Christian, why some Unitarian Universalists have such a hard time with Christianity. It is an aversion addiction. There are plenty of people in our congregations who, no matter how little Jesus is mentioned, the word God is used or the Bible referenced, it is too much. There seems to be little or no understanding that all Christianity is not biblical fundamentalism and there are ways to freely follow Jesus down a largely non-dogmatic road and see what his spiritual teachings say about how we should live. There is no good news at all here, no grace, only bad news.
I have heard this tendency referred to as anti-Christian bigotry and prejudice. I myself have referred to it as an allergy and resistance. I have never thought of it as an addiction before. Until now. As I initially began to make this connection, I thought it might be too severe, but I have encountered too many intelligent, well meaning, good hearted people in the congregations I have served who, no matter how many times or in what manner, sane, reasonable, and especially non supernatural Christianity was presented in the congregation, were repulsed.
It is absolutely fine to not be Christian, even a UU Christian. I do not need everyone, or every UU to freely follow Jesus with me. I certainly want to give others their spiritual space. Religious and spiritual freedom is essential, but it is also essential to grant it to others, especially to others with whom we share community.
“The destructiveness of addiction lies in our slavery to these things, turning desire into compulsion, with ugly and loveless consequences.”
When the aversion addiction of rejecting any and all things Christian enters our communities, it takes the desire not to be dominated or hurt any more by Christianity and turns it into a compulsion to never hear, see, or speak of anything related to Christianity. Like many addictions, I begin to wonder if the addicts even know they are addicted.
The aversion addiction related to being repulsed by Christianity inhibits grace, forgiveness and love from operating in our communities. May says that “our addictions can lead us to a deep appreciation of grace. They can bring us to our knees.” I think that this aversion to Christianity has brought the UU community to its knees. It has inhibited us from joining the larger conversation in the American Protestant Church, a church writ-large began by our own ancestors in the faith. It has created a stumbling block for us in becoming a missional people because mission is not just engaging in social justice, but grounding the community in a saving message built on a deep theological foundation, so as the Rev. Tom Schade noted in this blog post (and as the missional church community would agree) we become evangelical as well as missional. Thus, this addiction stops us from spreading not only the good news, but our good news and the way we practice religion -if we can control our addictions – is truly a world transforming message.
“I live a life infused by the bondage of addiction and the hope of grace; I think we all live such lives.”