“I consider religion to be an imposed addiction — no different than holding a baby and shooting it up with small doses of heroin, increasing the doses as the baby grows,” he says. “Religion is as poisonous and as attractive, to many, as heroin — Karl Marx said it right, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ I’m still recovering from it. Part of my recovery is helping others get free.”
Can you really become addicted to religion? Well, the risk of any activity or substance becoming an addiction depends in part on the characteristics of the substance or activity, and, in part — some experts believe most significantly — on the characteristics of the situation and user.
For even the most intense pleasures — those that tend to create the highest rates of compulsion — most users retain their capacity for autonomy and balance. Most people can ingest a pleasurable neurotoxin like alcohol or even cocaine in moderation, for example, while others find themselves drawn inexorably toward self-destruction. The same can be said about pleasurable activities like sex or gambling. And the same is logically true of religiously induced pleasures — including intense feelings of euphoria, transcendence, hope, joy, absolution, security, immortality, certitude, purity, purpose, belonging, or superiority.
Chris Scott, a former devout Bible-believer from Phoenix, notes how the euphoric feelings spurred by religion have the potential for poor outcomes. Scott says that his experience was “most definitely” like an addiction. “The best definition of addiction that I’ve ever heard,” he says, “is anything that provides a mood-altering experience but has adjoining negative consequences, and yet the behavior is continued anyways.”