RELIGION ADDICTION 'SOUL MURDERING,' AUTHORS CHARGE The Denver Post Sunday, November 3, 19

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RELIGION ADDICTION 'SOUL MURDERING,' AUTHORS CHARGE The Denver Post Sunday, November 3, 1991 By Virginia Culver Denver Post Religion Writer Religion can be harmful to your health, say three new books about the latest addiction identified by psychologists. "No addiction is more toxically shaming and soul-murdering than the religious abuse that flows from the actions of religious addicts," says John Bradshaw, a popular author and lecturer on recovering from a troubled childhood. Many people are addicted to religion or have suffered religious abuse by their families or churches, writes the Rev. Leo Booth in "When God Becomes a Drug." Booth, an English-born Episcopal priest from southern California, is a self-described alcoholic, co-dependent, religious addict and "recovering priest." Addiction can be developed in any church, he said, but most notably in those promoting fundamentalist beliefs. The addiction "entails using God, a religion or a belief system as a means both to escape or avoid painful feelings and to seek self-esteem. It involves adopting a rigid belief system that specifies only one right way, which you feel you must force onto others by means of guilt, shame, fear, brainwashing and elitism," he writes. Addicts, in turn, become abusive toward those who don't meet their rigid standards. Even Jesus was abused, Booth said, "because religious people put him on the cross." Rod Cooper, counseling co-chairman at the conservative Denver Seminary, said more than 30 percent of his patients suffer religious addiction. "Grace and the love of God are not something they can fathom. They believe they have to perform to please God." Such addicts stay in "toxic" churches, with rigid belief systems that reinforce their fear and shame but provide a familiar "comfort zone." People can become addicted to anything, said Larry Graham, professor of pastoral theology and care at Iliff School of Theology. "Religion can reinforce the idea of the idyllic life, a fix-it God, a final reward and acceptance by other people." Addicts "use religion to acquire power and control, often becoming religious abusers," Booth said. "Their only means of gaining self-respect or self-control is to lock themselves into rigid, intolerant perfectionism. Perfectionism and purity are the double whammies. They are killers because no one can be perfect or perfectly pure." An outgrowth of the addiction is an unhealthy view of sex as being dirty and sinful. Through the centuries, Christianity has promoted this view, Booth said. That can lead to a Jimmy Swaggart-type of behavior, in which long-sublimated desires finally surface in inappropriate conduct. "Dysfunctional religious messages about sin, sexuality and God as an angry judge or Cosmic Fixer have created toxic beliefs," Booth said. At the core is the message that people are inherently bad, powerless and weak. Addicts then try to reconcile concepts of sin, pain and suffering with the idea of a loving and forgiving God. They struggle to stay on the right path, living in terror of sin. The vicious cycle spins the addict; constantly aiming for perfection, becoming increasingly addicted, and feeling unloved, unworthy, full of fear and shame. Addicts never attain their goals but believe their reward will be heaven. Booth said people "get high on being saved" and won't tolorate disagreement. Television evangelists have "shamelessly manipulated" that behavior, he said. The more people pursue "religiosity" the more isolated they are from reality, friends and family. Symptoms of addiction include the inability to question authority, "black-and-white" thinking, and a belief that God will fix him or her. Addicts adhere rigidly to rules, are judgemental, make unrealistic financial donations, compulsively overeat or fast, suffer psychosomatic illnesses, fall into trance-like states and eventually experience mental, emotional or physical breakdown.

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