Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (2011) is a wonderful book—equally educational/informative and challenging. I’ve shared his basic insights but never did the interdisciplinary work he has behind his arguments. So I’m happy be reading him. I don’t have a background in working with those in Recovery but ministry opportunities and needs three years ago placed me in the thick of leading our local church’s Recovery program. I faced a big learning curve, but I have to say that it was exactly the context I needed to bring together the theological and practical on the dynamic processes of human transformation and spiritual formation.
Had I stumbled into Dunnington three years ago, I don’t know that I would have been in a place to digest or integrate it, certainly not as I’m presently able. See what you think from his Preface below. There are issues and questions at play that we’ll be discussing in Loder and Willard.
Recent years have witnessed a massive growth of research on addiction. In 1962, when the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies was moved to Rutgers University, it was the only research institution of its kind. Today approximately one hundred addiction research centers are housed at major universities across the United States. Most of the work is being done by natural and social scientists. Theologians have written comparatively little on addiction, philosophers even less.
This book inserts philosophy and theology into the investigations taking place within the field of “addiction studies.” I argue that efforts to understand and ameliorate addictive behavior have been unnecessarily limited by scientific accounts of addiction. In particular, because so much of the public discourse on addiction is conducted in scientifically reductive terms, many Christians who rightly sense the spiritual significance of addiction are unable to articular this significance in theologically substantive ways. This book is an attempt to provide such an articulation.
The book defends three broad theses. First, it demonstrates that philosophical analysis of human action is required to clear up many of the conceptual confusions that plague the discourse of addiction studies. Within that discourse, addiction is construed as either a disease or a type of willful choice. Neither of those categories is adequate to the phenomenon of addiction. For instance, the disease concept obscures the extent to which persons may be expected to take responsibility for their addictions, and the choice concept obscures the distinctiveness of the addictive experience. This book argues that the category of “habit” is indispensable for charting an intelligible path between the muddled polarities of “disease” and “choice.” The category of habit permits us to describe addiction in a noncontradictory way, without doing violence to the testimonies of persons with addictions.
Human persons develop habits in order to facilitate the pursuit of specific human goods. Thus, if addiction is appropriately characterized as a type of human habit, we may ask about the specific kinds of goods that draw persons into habits of addiction. This is a strange way of speaking; we are so gripped by the destructive effects of addiction that we are not accustomed to considering its constructive appeal. The second broad thesis of the book is that the prevalence and power of addiction indicates the extent to which a society fails to provide nonaddictive modes of acquiring certain kinds of goods necessary to human welfare. Addiction is therefore an embodied critique of the culture which sustains it. I propose that addiction as we understand it is a peculiarly modern habit, and that addiction can be viewed a s mirror reflecting back to us aspects of modern culture that we tend to overlook or suppress. Persons with sever addictions are among those contemporary prophets that we ignore to our own demise, for they show us who we truly are.
Christians must heed prophets. Christians, therefore, are called to appropriately describe the addictive experience and to consider how the church may be complicit in the production of a culture of addiction. To this end, the book endeavors to place addiction within a theological framework. The third broad thesis that the book defends is that the theological category of sin can deepen and extend our understanding of addiction. Addiction is not identical to sin, but neither can it be separated from sin. The power of addiction cannot be adequately appraised until addiction is understood as a misguided enactment of our quest for right relationship with God. I argue that addiction is in fact a sort of counterfeit worship. Thus, although it is true that the church has much to learn from recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, it is also true that the church has much to offer to the recovery movement and indeed to all of us who struggle with addiction…
The first chapter sets the stage by responding to the suspicion and prejudice that is likely to confront any attempt to speak of addiction “philosophically.” The prevailing view of the general public, the media, and the majority of those working within the addiction-recovery movement is that addiction is a disease and that, therefore, addiction is a topic for investigation by scientists and physicians but not by philosophers or theologians I content that attempts to describe addiction exclusively in the language of science—as “disease”—are bound to fail since they rest on a basic conceptual confusion about what is constitutive of voluntary action.
Chapters two and three develop the view that addiction is neither a disease nor a choice but rather a habit. I am interested in asking what the experience of being addicted can teach us about the complexity of human action, and conversely, how a careful analysis of certain aspects of human agency can illuminate some of the more perplexing elements of addictive experience…
Chapter four argue that, contrary to popular belief, addiction is not concerned primarily with sensible goods (hedonic pleasures) but rather with moral and intellectual goods, and chapter five explores the idea that the habit of addiction may be a response to a peculiarly modern lack of certain kinds of moral and intellectual goods. The strategy changes here, from the systematic unfolding of a philosophy of human action in chapters two and three to a more far-ranging and (inevitably) speculative exercise in philosophy of culture.
Chapter six moves into theological territory and addresses the question of whether or not we learn anything of descriptive or normative import by thinking about addiction in terms of the category of sin. Conversely, the chapter considers how our understanding of sin, including the doctrine of original sin, is enriched by our understanding of addiction. Chapter seven is concerned with the relationship between addictive behavior and worship. It contends that addiction offers a powerful response to the modern loss of transcendence. Finally, in chapter eight, I explore the relationship between the church and addiction by proposing what sort of church would be necessary to offer an alternative way of life more compelling than the addicted life.