Unitarian Universalist attitudes towards Christianity as Aversion Addiction

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.”

33 thoughts on “Unitarian Universalist attitudes towards Christianity as Aversion Addiction

  1. Sad, but I’m afraid true. Perhaps these people feel that religiosity has gone so awry in the world that it should be eradicated. Then this becomes the new religion.

  2. Tony,

    Thank you for this thought. I’ve studied aversion addictions before, but I had not equated it to the UU reaction to Christianity, including UU Christians. I’ve been working with the concept of relating the reactions that many UU’s have to Christianity through the lens of traumatic stress reactions… and it hasn’t quite fit. Aversion addiction however, especially when you think of how addictions function in systems theory, seems to mesh quite well with my experience in our congregations.

    The question then arises how to address it (for it needs to be addressed). That I will have to give some thought to.

    Thank you!

    Yours in faith,

    David Pyle

  3. I recently discovered UU blogs and have spent lots of time the past few days reading them. Yours is one of my favorites. I am currently in a class at my church called Wellspring which is on faith formation with a strong focus on UU history. Class members have talked of their spiritual wounds from the christian church of their childhoods (seems most common with the former catholics.)

    My church is quite traditional, without a strong aversion to using bible stories and praying to God. Tonight’s topic is universalism and I have found listening to the preaching of modern day universalists more interesting than reading the history of Murray and Balleau (sp?).

    I am still trying to figure out if the ambiguity of UU faith is the best fit for me or if it is too much work and I would be better off back in a Christian church trying to makes sense of and fit the language and belief system there into my personal faith.

    Anyhow, I expect I will be back for new posts and old sermons. My new reading habits have been an interesting break from my usual reading of left of center political blogs.

  4. You mean there are Christian UU’s outside of Europe or in zoos? I grew up a UU and left because of the virulent intolerance in my home congregation towards Christianity and my independent political views which could at times lean towards those of the evil enemy –gasp — Republicans.

    1. Last summer, Horizon UU in Carrllton, Tx, was lucky enough to host the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship’s Revival. There were people from all over the country (though mostly the south) in my church, celebrating the teachings and the stories of Jesus.

      We talk frequently of the similarities in the messages of Jesus and Buddha. We read from the Bible.

      Of course there are those who dislike it. There are those who dislike the Earth Centered services, too. But there are congregations where Jesus is respected for his message of love. Heck, thanks to one speaker at the revival, I even started to doubt my personal aversion to the work of Paul…

      1. Thanks for checking in, Thomas. Yes, I was one of the organizers of that Revival. It’s great to hear of reports from congregations like yours as it fills me with hope. That’s what we need to work toward.

  5. Very interesting. I wondered what had happened to the faith of my childhood- one that was very Universalist and open and accepting of most beliefs. Many of the kids in my UU church attended the Catholic school- it was the best education in town. I now live in the midwest and the UU congregation in my small town is full of christianity averse people. This bothered me, as I am much more firmly a Universalist than a Unitarian. I now belong to a an ELCA (Lutheran) church as it was the most universalist church I could find here. This is an excellent explanation for what I have seen here. I had been attributing it to a congregation full of converts (I understand the desire to turn away from that which you have rejected- and I was the only person in that congregation who was born and raised UU), or perhaps to the midwestern experience of UU in comparison to my New England roots. Whatever causes it- I am glad to see it addressed. I still follow UU issues and believe as a UU- but my Sundays are spent in a Lutheran church- where I am a very active volunteer.

  6. This is a good article. There are countless people who have been deeply wounded by “Christians” and bashed intensely with twisted scripture to the point of being absolutely repulsed by any Christian terms. I see an incredible need for more liberal churches to be compassionate instead of intolerant. The pendulum of those leaving conservative churches tends to swing so far to the other side and in their accusations of conservative churches not being more tolerant..the liberal side becomes just as intolerant. My husband and I had a long talk about this today and he asked me how I would respond to someone from a church similar to the one we left as he giggled and offered a mock prediction of my tongue bleeding from being bitten so hard. And he’s absolutely right. I have triggers that flare up when I hear some things being said and my knee jerk reaction is to bolt for the door, speak my mind, or vomit. I can’t help it. There are some things I just can’t stomach anymore, but in an effort to be gracious and allow them their own freedom, I must exercise the fruit of the spirit, temperance. We don’t have to agree and I don’t even have to make my opinion known. And as a Christian myself I have an easier time being tolerant of people who despise Christianity because I have experienced the pain from some extremist groups. The public criticism that Christianity gets today is valid! Many scammers have infiltrated the Christian community and done AWFUL damage to people. At the same time, there are people that are so liberal minded that they go to a liberal extreme and abuse drugs, steal, and kill people. so I can understand the far right conservative side that is putting their foot down for a higher standard. I think each church offers something for different kinds of people and if we all would keep in mind that we each have the freedom to choose how or where to worship with then we can find more peace. Sometimes just living out our faith in our community speaks louder than our verbal condemnation of other denominations.

    1. I have a serious problem with liberal “extreme” being equated with abusing drugs, stealing and killing people. Liberal Theology is all will be saved and liberal politics is working for whats best for the common good.

      I will agree, heartily, with living out the faith rather than condemning not only other denominations but also condemning UU’s that do not have the same path.

      1. Hi Kathleen, I have a problem with liberal extremes being equated with abusing things too. That’s not what I have been talking about. I agree that liberal theology encompasses the idea all are saved and many more ideas, too. What I am talking about is the behavior of people who can’t let go even one instance of something that doesn’t sit with their own view of the world or trigger something of their painful past. It is the behavior of addiction. We are way past the point of naming it. When this behavior surfaces in our youth groups, we have young people who call each other this type of acting out, but it seems we let adults act like this and poison our congregations. It has nothing to do with the theology or philosophy one holds or doesn’t, it is the compulsive, addictive behavior of having to react, remove one’s self, have others alter their speech because of your intolerance. Let’s be clear, I am not talking about people having or sharing different theologies or view points. I think that the strong reaction to raising this and to pointing out in a public, direct way how damaging and dysfunctional it is, is rather a testimony to accurate the analogy is.

  7. What an interesting point of view. I think this idea is spot on! I’ve often wondered about the aversion in others and in myself as well. My favorite line of yours is: “Religious and spiritual freedom is essential, but it is also essential to grant it to others, especially to others with whom we share community.” It is definitely something I see us struggling with.

  8. This is an interesting idea, and may have some merit, but I noticed a trend here that needs to be addressed. There seems to be a need to have a blanket explanation for “why.” This blanket mentality causes many needs to go unmet. Yes, aversion addiction explains a great deal of why many damaged people have problems, but as my professors told me when I was studying psychology, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

    Many problems are misdiagnosed. Many are way off-base. Maybe it is aversion addiction. Maybe it is a PTSD reaction due to trauma. Maybe it is a simple request for more variety now that UU is making a swing back toward more Christian style worship than humanist discussion (and that request gets interpreted incorrectly). Maybe it is the end of a discussion where the first part wasn’t heard.

    Consider how much the “religious Right” has been on the rise, and gaining acceptance since the 1960’s when the people stood up and made the powerful people back down. Maybe this “anti-Christian” sentiment is just the reverse tide of that hate and bigotry taught by these extremists-now-mainstream.

    I have many issues relating from my childhood (abusive Independent Fundamental Baptist military home), and I have issues with extremist Christians who are hateful and brash. My PTSD does indeed give me trouble sometimes. On the other hand, I have defended those Christians that follow the teachings of Jesus on a regular basis, because I grew up learning how to loudly stick up for my beliefs, and they spent that time learning how to be quiet, kind, and how to turn the other cheek. I also have regular, insightful discussions with reasonable Christians about religion, and neither of us seem to have burst into flame…. at least not yet.

  9. This is somewhat interesting. Having grown up in a UU congregation, I was well aware that even though I liked Jesus Christ and God just fine, there were other members of the same congregation who associated it with some kind of deep existential pain from the religious lives they had led prior to turning UU. Some are just humanists. Whether its an aversion addiction or not is an entirely new idea to me. Thanks for sharing. I actually miss UUI and having the option for very regular UU church attendance and participation. Where I am in Germany, I would have to found a congregation to have one here.

  10. Thank you so much for discussing this topic. I am a recovering fundamentalist Christian, having left “the fold” in 2009. In an effort to fill the void left by the belief I once held dear, I visited a UU church in my area and enjoyed the community there. Your reflection is right on target. It is a painful process to leave a faith system, and the pain is often magnified because others misinterpret that action as a rejection of community. But it is not that simple. I do miss my Christian friends. Please keep talking about this. Your words have weight and depth in them and that is a good thing. I do think the UU community is doing a good job at creating a bridge to help others progress in their spiritual development. Peace.

  11. >>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. <<
    Nor any understanding that it is precisely those non-dogmatic ways of following Jesus as a model for living — not the 7 P's and not creedlessness — that constitute authentic "Unitarianism".

      1. Still, sweeping generalizations are not helpful. I resemble that remark in that I live and believe there are other ways to “follow Jesus.” However, a statement like that makes it sound like most other people do not have the agency or the will to learn to follow in their own way, and choose to do so. Most of those who identify as humanist, or pagan, or other non-UU-Christian identity have deliberately chosen their path as UU-Christians have chosen theirs. Is authentic Unitarianism just Christian, then?

  12. The fact is that the dominance of the religious right has been toxic for faith dialogue. I have been marinating since I first read this article and watched the firestorm of dialog. Reverse addiction I can see to a point. I am becoming a UU minister so that I can be a voice on the religious left. I have very strong beliefs, some of which are informed by my religion growing up. My mother has become a fundamentalist (she calls it evangelical). The further right she goes, the further left, it seems I go in response. But really, it is more I am articulating my faith, not in opposition to hers, for clarifying what I believe.

    “The aversion addiction related to being repulsed by Christianity inhibits grace, forgiveness and love from operating in our communities.” I see the UU Christians being inhibited in grace, forgiveness and love to non-Christian UUs. Grace, forgiveness and love are Christian words and concepts, but also can manifest themselves in a non-Christian context.

    I’ve spent 3 years in a Methodist seminary. Basically it made me more humanist. As a queer person, the tolerance is just barely that, tolerance in other denominations. That my mother believes in a vengeful God and that I will go to hell is deeply painful. UU Christians who use this article as a jumping off point for judging and cruelly expressing derision non-Christian UU’s is also deeply painful. I practice living out my faith everyday, you will not see me claiming to be a UU Christian anytime soon, or perhaps ever.

  13. As an alcoholic in recovery this is an interesting idea, but it’s just another idea, In the 12 step recovery idea, there is a “higher power” and it is left to the individual how to classify that higher power for themselves. I reject the premise of aversion addiction idea, I know addiction and this isn’t it! I like to think that as a UU member I want to hear about “all” doctrines and from many teachers buddha, ghandi, jesus, but they are “teachers and I love to remain open to other’s beliefs and opinions that does not make me “religious” and I am unhappy to be “compartmentalized’, I joined UU in order to NOT be preached to, to NOT have to follow any doctrine but my own, and to be able to talk with many people and to be challenged in my thinking and open to other’s opinions. I joined UU to get away from “narrow minds”, any particular dogma and I will NOT think my way is the ONLY way, nor will I condemn others that don’t have my same opinion. If you really want more christianaity then perhaps you could choose to go to a more conventional church. and I choose to go to UU because I want a different experience than a conventional church.

    1. Absolutely Karen, it is an idea that may help us help more people and provide the kind of environment you are talking about. How can we make more space for people’s pain and recovery while at the same time holding people accountable to make space for others. A model for understanding how to do this might be to see the problems we have in doing this through the lens of addiction. That’s all I’m saying. If we continue to have problems making space for each other, as you suggest, I will probably end up not in a “conventional” church because that’s why, like you, I am guessing, I ended up here, but perhaps a progressive Christian community of which there are in fact, many.

  14. There are those who are vocally opposed to and critical of the continuum of beliefs and practices of Christians. Is there such a practice or bigotry toward humanists, secular humanists, agnostics,and/or atheists? What do these do when they perceive bigotry or rejection of their beliefs and a lack of inclusion in their UU community? Perhaps we should engage our beliefs in the larger community rather than be frustrated and unfilled within a church community. For one to articulate his or her own beliefs should not mean that one is repulsed by the belief systems of others.

    1. Thanks, Robert. Exactly. What I am trying to get at with this lens of addiction is that just expressing one’s beliefs if perfectly fine. It’s what drew me to Unitarian Universalism, a place where there wasn’t one dogmatic way that had to accepted and maintained. However, that hasn’t been my experience. My experience is that some people in our congregations are fine with being in community with others of different beliefs, while others can broker no thought or opinion that runs contrary to their own. Any time a word, an image, an idea, or song crosses their eyes or ears, they must react and/or act out making know to all in the vicinity how ridiculous such a belief or even a connotation is. Or they must let someone know that they can’t possibly let themselves remain to be present if that type of action, word, language, or image will EVER be used. I stand by the observation, that too often our congregations are help hostage to this type of behavior and even encourage it in members in regards to some expressions of religion instead of fostering a live and live attitude. I certainly think this type of aversion addiction can exist in anyone with any religious belief or no belief and be an aversion to any other belief system and its symbols. My experience in UU congregations has been that the aversion manifests itself most often in terms of aversion addiction to Christian expression. And has been expressed in the comments on this discussion, not surprising so due to so many people having been legitimately hurt and spiritually abused by Christianity. As noted by a first commenter, our big challenge is HOW to respond.

  15. Thanks so much for this. We started a group called ” Sanctuary” 20 years ago in our church where
    UU’s who believed in God could freely discuss their beliefs and share the joy. This has been a great experience beyond just a theolgiacally safe discussion.. I now go to a Methodist Bible study weekly and am very involved in our church
    I would really like to start a UUC fellowship . It maybe that this will help.
    Thanks for your unique perspective.
    God Bless you.

  16. Contrary to what seems to be a popular myth among some UU Christians, not all adult non-Christian UU converts are refugees from emotionally (perhaps even physically) abusive Christian churches. Even if we have a Universalist perspective and reject the disturbing ideas of hell and original sin, we may be troubled by the idea of any human being who calls him/herself God, God’s only child, or God’s chosen, regardless if the person’s name is Jesus, Buddha, or something else entirely: either we are all God’s children, or no one is. In addition, as Karen Luerssen expressed above, many of us don’t want to be “compartmentalized.” UUs tend to be freethinkers in various areas of their lives. In America, perhaps some UUs reject Christianity because it is a cultural default setting that too many people appear to accept for reasons of convenience and conformity rather than true commitment. If we lived in Israel, we would reject Judaism. If we lived in Saudi Arabia, we would reject Islam.

    As a spiritual-but-skeptical agnostic, I personally don’t believe that the existence of God can be proven or disproven. Based on my own life experiences and the state of the world at large, there are times when I believe God exists. However, there are at least as many times when I doubt the existence of God. Although I see little point or spiritual fulfillment in believing in a God who does not help sustain us (by providing strength to help ourselves and others, NOT via divine intervention), perhaps I am actually a sort of Deist, one who believes in spirtual but not material creationism. Often my idea of God is what Jung called the collective unconscious. I want to believe that we all become part of God when we die.

    I am a member of a humanist UU congregation, where I admit I don’t feel entirely comfortable. Nonetheless, I would feel even less comfortable in a Christian UU congregation.

  17. I found your post very interesting because I never thought of UU’s aversion to Christianity as an addiction. I wish I had read your post before our church Small Group Ministry meeting today when we were discussing UU’s Seven Principles. I had to speak out on how our congregation does not really practice the 3rd principle and when I told the group that as a UU Christian Fellowship Small Group leader for the past seven years in our congregation, I have heard many comments over the years that are definitely unacceptable for acclaimed UU’s to say. I gave them examples members in our Christian group have heard during our services or spoken directly to us and most of them were shocked but a few nodded their heads in agreement and a new UU member said she even heard “hissing.” I think I brought awareness of how some UU’s have an “aversion addiction” to the words “God, Jesus and prayer.” I have been a UU since the 70’s and only discovered the UUCF group 10 years ago at a GA meeting. Every time I can attend a UUCF Revival (such as at Carrollton) my spiritual life freely following Jesus’ teachings grows. Thanks, Tony for your blog postings.

  18. I finally left the UU church because of the constant Christian references. I don’t care what myths people live by but the constant bombardment of Christian references drove me out. After the last service I went to, about the joys of Christianity, we ended with amazing grace.

    “Amazing grace, how sweet a sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

    I spent too many years being told what a wretch I was in Christian churches to sit still for being told what a wretch I was in a UU church. Yes, I am allergic to Christianity, any any other religion that insists people are wretched. Does that mean I am “addicted” to my allergy? Or am I simply repulsed by the soul-crushing message of so many religions?

    The author states that “The aversion addiction related to being repulsed by Christianity inhibits grace, forgiveness and love from operating in our communities.” as if those who are repulsed by Christianity can never show mercy, forgiveness and love.

    As if Muslims don’t know of mercy, Buddhist don’t show forgiveness and Pagans don’t know of love.

    “…mission is not just engaging in social justice, but grounding the community in a  saving message built on a deep theological foundation…”

    The author is again saying that we need to “ground” the community in a “saving” message. In Christian terms evangelize (grounding) the community to the salvational (saving) message of Christ on the cross and his death for our sins. Is our “saving message” saving us from sin? If not, what is a “saving message” saving us from?

    And no, we do not need to deeply study God (Theo) to engage in social justice. All we need is to “Affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.”

    No Gods, no saving message, no theology is at the root of what we are or what we can accomplish. We are compassionate and empathic beings, and all of the theologic overlay of the various religions tend to hinder that compassion and empathy, not enhance it.

    1. I truly am sorry for people who have been hurt by religion, any religion, especially Christianity. Yet, some of the comments to writing on our UU aversion addiction only seem to prove my point. Our past hurts make us unable to see or hear except that which reinforces the picture we might have of “religion” or “Christianity”. There are nice guys and jerks on every block. One problem our aversion addiction leads us toward is theological ignorance. Many UU’s are in theological kindergarten. It is as if the only idea of God that exists is the old man in the sky who controls everything. Not only are there other religious ideas of God, but other Christian ideas and thinking about God. As soon as some people’s buttons get pushed however, Christianity equals the God image taught by whatever religion or denomination hurt them. For example,you talk about the idea of substitutionary atonement as if My speaking of UU’s needing a saving message must be related to that, as if even Christian salvation must be related to that. What saves us is what makes us whole and brings us healing- amazing grace indeed! What is it that makes us whole and brings us healing? If you don’t need healing, if you are perfectly whole, then you are right, you have no need of any type of religious community and little need of any human community. UU communities in general have no room for brokenness, wretchedness or failure. Only perfect people, with perfect minds are allowed. Is it any wonder our churches are so small?

      1. This is a terrific post. Few people are aware of the root of these words — Salvation in a nut-shell means “health”. But when one has been informed by a person or persons with theologically infantile ideas, all he or she can think of is the association with the word “salvation,” not its actual meaning.

        Or the word “Satan” — which I don’t believe was ever intended to be taken as a literal “person”, but more of a spiritual allegory. Biblical texts are comprised of some rather dense poetry. The word Satan means “accuser” — the nasty little voice in one’s head that says, “who cares? you’re no good anyway! You’re a waste of space.” The voice that can leave one feeling “wretched” — or miserable. Same thing.

      2. “If you don’t need healing, if you are perfectly whole, then you are right, you have no need of any type of religious community and little need of any human community.”

        That is not even remotely true. As someone who IS very whole and not in need of healing, I have spent large portions of my life very actively seeking a community of people, especially a community in which my religious views fit. I am probably best described as an atheistic pantheist. I found it in UU; I am a very active member of my fellowship and even intending to become a UU minister. I am not traumatized by Christianity and I can and do appreciate those versions of it with which I have some ideas in common, but I do resent this trend that I am seeing to push UU as primarily a liberal Christian religion…because then I will lose the home that I looked for for so long, since I am simply not at all Christian.
        There are many, many places for liberal Christians in today’s world. We don’t need another one; if your Christianity isn’t satisfied in UU, go to one of those places (the UCC, the Lutherans, the Methodists, any number of churches). What we need is a place for the rest of us. Don’t encourage UU to stop being that place.

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