Addiction Makes One Thing Better

addiction and virtueAt least that is the argument Kent Dunnington makes in his book.  He’s not saying that addiction makes life better, but that it brings one thing – name your addiction – into focus and holds that thing out as a clear, unobstructed goal or purpose for life.  Everyone, including the addict, is in search of the “good life” – however we may define it.  In fact, it’s that however that has created the problem which has lead to such widespread rates of addiction, especially in the Western world.  The moral relativism of our age has left the “good life” undefined and therefore susceptible to addiction.  There exists no overarching meta-narrative for our culture by which people can guide their lives.  We lack telos, or purpose.

Dunnington argues, “addiction can be interpreted as one available modern response to the lack of any common consensus about the telos of human action.” (104)  To this end, addiction addresses three problems of modernity (and post-modernity?): arbitrariness; boredom; and loneliness.

Without a guiding telos members of our culture are forced to decide on their own what really is the good life.  As a result life has become fragmented and chaotic.  Addiction brings into relief the possibility of a singleminded pursuit of something, anything.  The Greek polis of Aristotle’s day and the Hebrew community of Jesus’ day were premised on the common good – love your neighbor as yourself.  Modernity is premised on individual good; a good that is defined relative to each individual who seeks it.  Therefore, the good is merely, “a chasing after the wind.”  Addiction names the good, so called, and gives the addict a pursuit worthy of total investment.

This focus on the individual good has become an even greater issue in the industrialized West.  As the amount of leisure time has increased, even among the poor in the West, so has boredom.  After all, if defining what is good is so difficult then pursuing it must be equally difficult.  Addiction provides the addict with an answer to the question, What do I do with my time?  John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) understood this reality and gave his people three simple rules: do no harm; do all the good you can; stay in love with God.

Addiction provides a ready answer to a third problem of modernity – loneliness.  The more we interact via socialmedia, the more local the global world becomes, the more we are able to hide from any real relationships.  Addicts find that their drug of choice helps them identity feelings and personality they would otherwise not be able to identify in such a fragmented society.  At the same time, it allows the addict to experience some level of solidarity – a broken solidarity albeit – with other addicts; namely, addiction.

In this way, “Addiction is in fact a kind of embodied cultural critique of modernity and the addict a kind of unwitting modern prophet.  The church has a great stake in listening to such unwitting prophets.  If the church will listen, it will be led to an examination of its own culture contributes to the production of addiction, whether it offers an alternative culture and what such an alternative culture would require.”

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