Addictions and Augustine, Bunyan and Edwards

Addictions and Augustine, Bunyan and Edwards January 27, 2015

Augustine, Bunyan, and Edwards on Addiction

By David George Moore.  Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.

Fascinating new research http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html underscores what most of us already believed intuitively.  Deep and long-lasting healing comes from being known and loved by others.  There is no good substitute for this as we are undeniably social creatures who thrive in community and languish when alone.

This got me thinking about two of my conversation partners: Augustine and Bunyan.  Augustine is tagged, and understandably so, for inventing the autobiography, and as Thomas Cahill says, being the first person to say “I” and therefore “meaning what we mean today.”  That assertion can certainly be debated, but let’s assume there is some truth to it.

What is interesting to remember is how much Augustine spoke about friendship.  Scholars say Augustine wrote more about friendship than any other ancient writer.  Augustine was inconsolable when one of his friends died.  He also admitted that the pleasure of friendship was one he could not easily give up.  Comments like these have resulted in wild speculation that Augustine was gay, but that is rarely entertained by most scholars.

Bunyan is best known for his work, The Pilgrim’s Progress.  (Some don’t modify the book with the definite article, but it should be there.)  Bunyan’s lead character leaves his family and his homeland.  He heads out alone.  There are many challenges to navigate along the way, but various characters like Hopeful and Faithful start to help him make his way to the Celestial City.  Friends who speak truth, break bread with you, even providing proper places and times for rest are mentioned throughout Bunyan’s terrific work.

I have done some counseling with various people caught up in addictions.  About six years ago while thinking through the problem of addiction, especially drug addiction, I was reading Doug Sweeney’s fine book, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word.  On page 151, Sweeney encapsulates the thinking of Edwards with this: “The will always chooses what the moral agent prefers.”

The writings of Edwards have not impacted me as much as Augustine and Bunyan, but Religious Affections, Charity and its Fruits, and various sermons have been formative.

This view of Edwards nagged me in light of what I was observing with drug addicts.  I decided to drop Doug an email.  I mentioned that Edwards did not seem to cover what we know about addiction where an almost alien power which the addict hates (testimonies I’ve heard) has them in their grip.

Here is some of what Doug wrote back:

 You raise a good point regarding Edwards’ view of the freedom of the will.    He talks in the treatise on the Freedom of the Will about people who drink too much, but he certainly did not know as much as we do about the physiology  of addiction.  He’s probably not a great person to go to on those issues and their bearing on culpable moral decision-making.  My hunch is that, were Edwards here today, he would go easier on hard-core addicts than he goes on town drunks in Freedom of the Will.

Edwards wrote much about friendship with God and he certainly has a model worth emulating as a husband and father.  Friendship with others however, does not seem to play as big a role as it did for Augustine and Bunyan which is why I believe they have more to say to all addicts…which is all of us in one way or another.

Separating ourselves from one another is lethal.  The self as its own reference point brings disaster (Prov. 18:1,2).  Separating ourselves from a body of believers makes us vulnerable to the attacks of the Devil, something commonly missed in teaching about I Pet. 5:8.  The one who is most vulnerable to Satan’s attacks is the one who has separated himself from a body of believers.

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