Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
Editor’s Note: The following is the introduction to a series from the book, “Moroni’s War on Addiction, A Scripture Hero’s Strategy to Win Today’s Battle for Souls” by Joseph Grenny. An introductory account of the author’s experience with his son’s specific struggle with addiction can be read by clicking here.
Lust. Instagram. Shopping. Candy Crush. Food. Heroin. What do all these have in common?
I think most of us miss the main point of the Word of Wisdom. While the incident that initiated the revelation may have involved sacred meetings held on spittle-stained floors in choking clouds of smoke, the revelation itself doesn’t list warnings about unhealthy substances as the Lord’s primary purpose. He doesn’t immediately dive into the evils of alcohol, hot drinks, or tobacco. Instead He warns that: “In consequence… of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I… forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom…”
The warning is about conspiracy not physiology. The Lord is warning that in the last days men will conspire in various ways to seduce us into surrendering our agency. Substances will be the vehicle of conspiracy.
If we define addictions too narrowly, we replace wisdom with smugness. We reason that our “little” habits are nothing like those dirty drug addicts or disgusting porn users. I’ve come to believe that while our various addictions may differ in degree, they exact precisely the same kind of costs.
Let’s define addiction as: any habit that reduces agency by trading impulses for blessings. With that definition in mind, what are some of your addictions? What highly impulsive habits do you have? And what price are they exacting in foregone blessings?
We get the full benefit of the Word of Wisdom when we open our eyes to the myriad ways those who seek power and gain invite us into bondage. Chemical addictions are just a small sampling of the pleasing options for servitude available in our day. We deceive ourselves when we limit our definition to things you inject, smoke, drink or swallow.
For example, few of us would equate our relationship to technology with an addict’s connection to opium. And yet, brain research shows they are precisely the same. When we open Instagram and see 30 likes on the vacation photo we just posted, our brain releases a surge of dopamine—the body’s pleasure chemical. This is precisely the same thing that happens when a drug addict takes a hit of crack. Over time our brains learn that this meaningless behavior creates a sense of well-being—so we repeat it. Over and over and over. And an addiction is born. Your brain begins to think of behaviors like checking email or responding compulsively to a text as a need not a choice. If that last sentence rings embarrassingly true, you’re an addict.
I don’t want to turn this into a campaign against technology—but I want to underscore the point that all of us are under addictive attacks in various forms. None is exempt. So permit me to elaborate a bit more on this example.
When you awaken in the morning, do you check your phone before you greet your family? Does the arrival of a text or the receipt of a “like” create an inexplicable surge of pleasure in you? If you leave your phone at home, do you feel a sense of dread or anxiety? Do you never leave home without your phone? Do you use technology to relieve feelings of boredom, anxiety or loneliness? Do quiet moments inevitably lead to technology use? When is the last time you went through an entire church meeting block without touching a device? Is it your go-to comfort tactic when you’re avoiding a difficult task? Do you rationalize your use during inappropriate times (at dinner with friends, during the Sacrament, when in nature)? Do you sometimes sneak to have a peek at something? Would you resent it if someone told you you’re an addict? If so, then you’re an addict.
Our relationship with food, appearance, shopping, exercise, work, money, hobbies, possessions, popularity, power, gaming and many other behaviors can produce the same kind of bondage. Addiction has become an industry. Captains of industry hire battalions of social scientists to develop product features that incite impulsive repetitive use. And the result is the same: we gain short term pleasure at increasing cost of alienation from ourselves, the Spirit and others.
Spiritually speaking, shopping and gaming may be less damaging than pornography and heroin—but the author of the addiction, and the evil intent are precisely the same.