By Robert A. Vella
I’d like to preface the following story by stating that it is not intended as a blanket condemnation of religion and spirituality. Rather, it is my sincere hope that it helps to illuminate the very real dangers which can result from substituting personal responsibility and judgment with religious dogma. I know many followers of different religions who are fine, healthy people. That the tragedy you are about to read happened to an evangelical Christian does not mean it couldn’t happen to anyone else. Furthermore, the story is also not intended as advocacy for prohibition. I know countless folks who enjoy alcoholic beverages without abusing it. Just as booze isn’t the incarnation of evil, neither should religion be seen that way.
She was raised in a low-income, devoutly Christian family having a history of substance abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic instability. Being a particularly pretty girl, she became accustomed to a lot of male attention – both wanted and unwanted. As typical of many attractive females, she learned to use such attention as a crutch. Whenever she needed to escape some painful situation, or when her interpersonal relationships didn’t go exactly as expected, she would seek comfort in the arms of another man – most of whom did not have her best interests at heart.
Her early adult years were marked by a series of failed and sometimes violent romances. She had her only child – a girl – in her mid-30s out of wedlock. She and the father fought constantly, and there were threats of suicide and murder. When she took her daughter to live in another state, he followed in pursuit. An uneasy truce developed in order to accommodate his parental rights. She married a single father, who also had a daughter living with him, some years later. This too didn’t work out, and they legally separated a couple of years into the marriage. The separation was especially devastating for her because she was deeply in love with him.
Alcoholism, a disease she was predisposed to which killed her own mother, and promiscuous behavior ensued. It began to cause friction with her rapidly maturing daughter. The young girl became resentful, rebellious, and noticeably self-centered. The two argued on a daily basis, and this only exacerbated the mom’s psychological problems.
With seemingly nowhere else to turn, and with urging from her caring and good-natured father, she tried very hard to live according to the evangelical Christian belief system that she had been taught as a child. She studiously read the bible, actively practiced her faith, and continuously preached to her child. Unfortunately, it proved to be a trap. Even those not so circumstantially disadvantaged have a difficult time adhering to conflicting denominational interpretations of biblical scripture. For those who are so disadvantaged, the task becomes almost insurmountable.
Relying on religion is a trap in another way too. When one depends upon an external frame of reference for ethical and moral guidance, they subordinate or sacrifice their own internal morality as well as other external frames of reference which might be meaningful or helpful in certain situations. This reliance on religion precluded information and advice she was getting from secular sources and allowed her to justify abusive alcohol consumption. Although evangelicals consider drinking alcohol a sin which does not serve God’s will, she believed it would be forgiven and she would go to Heaven by simply accepting Jesus as the son of God and accepting Him into her life. But, that religious doctrine matters not to the debilitating effects of alcoholism. For all practical purposes, booze was stronger than God.
The damage she was doing to herself got progressively worse. Sleep deprivation, stress, and overwork compounded the problem. She experienced confounding nightmares, delusional memories, a stubborn denial of common facts, and eruptive hostility towards those closest to her. She began suffering from headaches, digestive maladies, joint discomfort, urinary bleeding, and chest pains. After the latter became unbearable and caused her to miss work, she reluctantly agreed to seek medical care. The diagnosis was frightening – blood clots on the lung which left untreated could migrate in her circulatory system and cause a fatal heart attack or stroke.
The diagnosis came one month after her separated husband filed for divorce. She discovered at this time that he had been lying all along. Instead of seeking a divorce for solely financial reasons, he really had been seeing several other women while he was pursuing conjugal visitations with her. It was a cruel double-blow. She stopped going to work, retreated into her bedroom and into the bottom of cheap bottles of vodka.
A month later, after family and friends began to abandon her out of pure frustration, her daughter escaped the emotional distress of home by abruptly leaving one night. The girl was taken by her father’s family and she adamantly refused repeated calls by her mom to return. It was an act of self-preservation to which the legal authorities would certainly have sympathy for.
At the same time, her health insurance refused to pay for the tolerable blood-thinner medication she had been taking for the blood clots. It would only pay for a less tolerable drug that required daily self-injections and blood tests. She gave up, told the pharmacy to return the drugs, and shacked-up with a far younger man who would pay for her booze.
The end to this story has yet to be written, and a human life hangs in the balance. Regardless of what eventually happens, ruination by religion must be seen as a legitimate cause. Not because it was responsible for her alcoholism, but because it prevented her from listening to other points of view which might have made a difference at a most crucial time.
“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” – The Crisis by Thomas Paine