Kirsten Dietrich: Addiction is our topic today, more precisely: how different religions deal with addiction and drug abuse. I arranged to meet with Simone Bell-D’Avis for this. She is a Catholic scientist, holds a Ph.D. in the relationship between Christianity and addiction, and has worked in several addiction counseling centers.
“Every life saved is good”
I first wanted to know from Simone Bell-D’Avis how powerful a Christian background is in one of the most popular concepts in addiction treatment: the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Their basic assumption: the addict realizes his own powerlessness and places healing in the hands of a greater power.
Simon Bell Davis: First of all, I would say that the people who come into Alcoholics Anonymous or other anonymous groups are usually surviving or dying people who have gotten so far so addicted that they are really afraid of death. Usually such a group helps them, and I would say the approach is a good one, because every life saved is good.
In the concept of Alcoholics Anonymous, groups AA in general, the moment of surrender, surrender, “I can’t go on like this anymore” is associated with the idea of Christian repentance. In general, I would say that AA combinations offer a form of drug replacement. But they do save lives, because if a person is so addicted that a substance they use takes their life, then anything that stops them from doing so is a life saver in the first place. And then you have to see how it goes at some point.
A community like a monastery
lock selection: Another form is institutions that build on the experience of monastic life, i.e. institutions such as Synanon or Fazenda da Esperança, which come from the context of the Franciscan Order, where dependent persons, separated into men and women, live together – without drugs, without alcohol, cigarettes, television, the Internet, fellowship and intense prayer . Could that work, or are you simply exchanging one dependency for another?
Bill Davis: I would also say here that the offer there is, of course, an alternative to the addictive substance. But the same goes here: This alternative saves lives. As a rule, we are dealing with addicted people who have experienced deep loneliness in their lives and become more isolated in their addiction. In the dramatic course of their addiction, a person often loses their job first, then their home, then their family, and may be buried anonymously.
The view of a society in which one gradually learns again to be able to live with others, to gain confidence in oneself and in others, this is a great therapeutic offer, and in so far as it saves lives, it helps. But I would still say it’s a form of drug replacement. But it’s not bad in this case, it saves.
Debt as an alternative drug
lock selection: Do you know of any other addiction treatment options that might not work with this alternative other than just trading the substance for a belief of some kind?
Bill Davis: In the dramatic course of addiction, I believe that in many cases a temporary alternative is irreplaceable. Whether it is the religious methadone program or methadone per se, it is all about getting someone out of the poison physically in order to eliminate the first danger to life.
I think it’s just an open question in every life how things will go next – that is, whether one really becomes fully sober again and can also dispense with alternatives to addictive substances. But first of all, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to take an alternative drug that doesn’t kill as fast as the original one.
Experience God’s love in prayer
lock selection: Can prayer be used as a therapeutic tool at all, or is it an inappropriate purpose?
Bill Davis: I would put it this way: Every person who sends a quick prayer to heaven will use it as some sort of purpose. I think you should always be clear: prayer does not help the way you might think or think that you would think naively.
If you see it this way, we are drawn to the same love with which God loved his Son Jesus, but the laws of nature were not abrogated by this, then I say that I pray for someone else or I pray for myself, then I want to assure myself of this love.
But I cannot suppose that God will step in and give me something practical or save me from illness. This will ultimately be an ironic view of religion: Why does God save one and not the other?
Overcome the constant fear of yourself
In this regard, prayer is not a cure in the sense that “then I can get rid of my addiction,” but of course it can serve as a support for people to assure themselves of God’s love. Where that can lead you when you don’t have to live with fear for yourself is an open question. But in my opinion it should never be used morally as “Pray more and you’ll feel better.” It definitely wouldn’t work that way.
lock selection: Well, many people today do not expect much from religion and certainly not personal healing, but rather from spirituality. What do you think of the explanations that there is some kind of spiritual longing behind the addiction?
Bill Davis: With such longing, I find it difficult. Many people also arise from addiction from longing. It goes like this: the word “addiction” is derived from the Old German word “sud”, meaning to weaken and not seek. A severely addicted and dying person has death on their mind and the least spiritually altered thing like longing.
“Every addiction has a story”
Instead of talking about longing, I prefer the formula I’ve known for about 25 years. And although there is a North Rhine-Westphalia state drug addiction program, it is from the end of the 1990s. There is a sentence that says: Every addiction has a story, and this story does not start with taking the addictive substance and does not end with stopping the addictive substance.
This means that people do have a history, which of course can also have to do with longing, which often has to do with experiences of deficiency, with experiences of hardship, with experiences of suffering, with trauma, with social hardships, and these stories are part of the history of addiction. It is not resolved by the addictive substance, and it does not stop when you stop using the addictive substance. But the debate about it, the question of how well I can shape my life, continues.
Of course you could always say there is a longing for a successful life, but as I said, I sometimes find the term longing as well as spiritual longing somewhat trivial.
It’s always “others” who need it
lock selection: Addiction is likely everywhere, and addicts are part of religious communities as well. Do societies, eg parishes, take this seriously enough?
Bill Davis: I’m no expert on society, but I think we have had a natural centuries-old division of labor between society and charities, especially in the Catholic Church or in the Constitutional churches. This division of labor is not always beneficial and good. As a result, problems are expected outside of society. By that I mean something like: “This is what we have Caritas for.”
Well, there are projects – I’m saying this a bit caricaturedly, but to make it clear – ‘the homeless poor’, ‘for the poor we have to collect’, for ‘poor addicts’. Das ist eine durchaus diakonische Perspektive, für die anderen da zu sein, das Gefährliche daran ist aber, dass man die Armen, die Kranken, die psychisch Kranken, die Suchterkrankten in den eigenen Reihen übersieht das immersiech und sch fak: the others”.
Faith can be a resource
I regard it as a constant essence of bourgeois religion, even if it comes in the form of a deacon. Then it’s always others who need help, and you basically take them out of your ranks.
lock selection: If you had to explain it succinctly, religion is more of a resource or more of an obstacle when it comes to addiction, so: Does God help fight addiction?
Bill Davis: Well, some forms of religion that appear rigid or that one should not be weak are certainly not a source. Religion, the Christian religion, is understood as God’s unconditional promise that we will be on our side in every situation in our lives, that we do not have to do anything for it, can be a source – for everything in life, not just addiction.
Yes, and on the question: Does God help with addiction, I say: God does not start where addiction ends, otherwise he is not God.
Statements made by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschland Funk Kultur does not take the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.