Saul’s compulsory jealousy of David reveals his addiction to power. He feels threatened and fears of being deprived from the enjoyment of his power, of being the king. Their story in the Book of Samuel resembles the relapse of drug addicts into their previous dependence. The pattern is recurring. Saul fights David, then reconciles, then his deadly jealousy is triggered again.
Chapter 24 offers a promising turning point of this relationship. Saul, after a cathartic encounter, reconciles with David – and has an insight into his ‘illness’, that his jealousy cannot be justified. In his prayer, at least in that moment, there is a genuine repentance from the situation. ‘And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept. And he said to David, thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil….. Swear now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house. And David sware unto Saul.’ Sadly, Saul will relapse soon to his previous demons of jealousy and power.
Saul’s story of ‘addiction’ (to power) makes us think on a wider horizon. What if our culture builds up unhealthy dependency on habits which weaken and then totally block out moral reasoning? The recent understanding of addiction to drugs and other habits can explain a lot as to why faith in God is disappearing from people’s life. Research on the field shows that in addicts, a region of the brain involved in inhibiting behaviour is abnormally quiet. The use of drugs, or other pleasurable activities activate the brain’s reward centre. The reward system, a primitive part of the brain exists to ensure we seek what we need. Pleasure, which we feel through the surge of happiness hormones that drugs liberate, stops our ‘moral part’. Our ‘God part’ is silenced.
Consumerist capitalism is a culture of instant, and permanent gratifications. It has developed into highly complex, intense and manipulative system, which needs ‘pleasure based’ consumption in order to keep the economy (profit-making machine) going. Conscious or not, the end result is a permanent blocking of any God-talk which is responsible for ‘inhibitions’ that would put a critical control on our addictions. As addicts under the influence of culture we tend to desire and pursue enjoyments at the price of suppressing our religious self.
May be it is seemingly an oversimplification of the reasons for religious decline, but we should take this reasoning seriously. A pleasure-centred society will naturally end up entangled with utterances of political correctness which suffocate organised religions. ‘No religious is allowed to emphasised over the other’, Christian symbols and stories should not be used in public discourse and spaces because it hurts other religious sensitivities, etc. The culture of addiction (which never wants honestly face its addictions) naturally ends up with empty churches or declining communities. The ‘centres of inhibition’, one of religion’s primary functions, needs to be silenced if this madness about ‘economic growth’ is to be continued.
This seeming detour from the Book of Samuel wants to invite us to seek out the root-causes as to why our churches are struggling. Can both flourish at the same time, ‘the hyper consumption of profit and pleasures’ and faith in the one God? How to find a way out of our addictions? The ‘addiction model’ offers a positive prospect. Tantalizing evidence shows that frontal brain regions begin to heal when people stop using drugs. The ‘God-centre’ in us can be recovered! (And the function of ‘moral reasoning’ or inhibitions is only one of its functions!) ‘How to rewire our brains’, to bring awareness to what we are doing and feeling, to counter ‘the dopamine flood’ of contemporary life is the biggest existential challenge to our, at present post-Christian or post-inhibition culture.
Are you an addict? The question is not so much about our unconditional yes, but to naming our manifold and unchecked addictions. And these are serious addictions to the unnamed idols of the age.
(National Geographic, September 2017 ‘The Science of Addiction’ pp.34-51)
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..