Our Addiction

Dear Terrence,

Coming out of confession yesterday morning, I had a thought. The main thing I had to confess was the simple act of living in a state of doubt. You see, when I converted to Catholicism a few years ago, I was converting from atheism, a belief I’d held for fifteen or more years and had shaped how I viewed everything: myself, the people around me, history, all of it. Much of my atheism was intellectual (Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian was by Bible, so to speak — irony intended), but one side effect of my atheism which was quite pleasant to me was a sense of superiority. I wasn’t among the deluded masses, foolishly putting my faith in a sky god. I was man enough to face the simple fact that when I died, that was it: the end. Finished. It was intellectual machismo, I guess you could say. And yet, sometimes I’ve wondered, after my conversion, if I wasn’t simply deluding myself. I had very good reasons for converting, I thought, but what if I were wrong? What if all this kneeling and genuflecting and bowing and crossing myself at Mass every week were just empty gestures? And so I lived my life for a little while like it all was just empty gestures.

I told the priest all these things, and he said, “That voice that says you’re deluding yourself is not your voice.” For my penance, I was to open myself up to God in prayer, “lay it all on the line,” he said, and then listen. So I did. And after some moments, a thought came to me: that atheism is just like any other addiction.

Addictions offer false promises. Addiction to substances comes from accepting the lie that that euphoria one feels after sniffing or drinking or smoking or injecting is something real, something powerful, something meaningful. That it’s somehow more meaningful, more important, than just about anything else.  I understand that with many addictions, there’s a physiological element as well, but there’s also an emotional and psychological element, and that’s probably what gets them to try it to begin with.

I came to see my cyclical turns to atheism, my tendency to return again and again to those thoughts that it’s all bunk and that anyone who believes it is just deluding themselves, is an addiction in than it offers some kind of false security, some false sense of superiority.

What does this have to do with you? I wonder if you know what your addiction is. I’m not suggesting that I know what it is, as if I’m somehow trying to lead you to realize something I’ve already realized. I’m just wondering if you’ve given it any thought. Most haven’t. It’s a tough line of questioning to ask of yourself — it takes tenacity — but it can yield some helpful results, so why not give it a shot?

In recovery,
Your Teacher

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