On Recovering from Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Schizophrenia, and… Addiction to Religious Certainties


Famed Christian faith healer, Rev. A. A. Allen, died an alcoholic when his liver and/or heart finally gave out. Rev. Allen was also a yearly Bible Conference speaker at Bob Jones University and president of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. Allen was addicted equally to spirits from the bottle and to his fundamentalist beliefs and died an alcoholic in his hotel room hours after bragging on radio that people were lying about his addictions and that he would be appearing at an Evangelistic conference that night. In other news, Dr. Rod Bell, the outgoing president of the FBFI (Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International), also is suffering from addiction to alcohol according to Dr. John Vaughn, the new president of the FBFI.

One can only be grateful to some Christians for helping some people get hooked on Christianity rather than alcohol or drugs. In a similar fashion one can only be grateful to some Scientologists for helping some people get hooked on Scientology rather than alcohol or drugs. But even converts to Christianity and/or Scientology have gone back to their addictions. Of course neither Christianity nor Scientology publicize such failures.

And sometimes former addicts to alcohol or drugs go further still, and after adopting religious certainties in place of alcohol or drugs, learn to question even those new found certainties (without feeling the need to revert back to alcohol, drugs, or religious certainties).

Casper Rigsby from, “Diary of a Christian Schizophrenic”:

I have mild schizophrenia. Itʼs easily treatable, and with medication Iʼm an average person. Iʼm not ashamed in the least to tell you this. It isnʼt something to be ashamed of because it isnʼt my fault. It wasnʼt caused by something I did or some supernatural force. But for a long time I was ashamed of it and I did think that it was my fault somehow… When the visual hallucinations began and I started catching shapes out of the corners of my eyes, I became afraid. I wasnʼt afraid that someone was messing with me, rather I was convinced that Satan had besieged me and had infected me with demons. This may seem an absolutely foolish notion to those of you not raised in an evangelical Christian home, but for those who were, you likely understand my fear all too well… When I was 16 it had gotten so bad that Iʼd began drug and alcohol abuse. I would use methamphetamine daily to get my mind going a mile a minute and this would overwhelm the voices and visions to some degree. It wouldnʼt get rid of them altogether, but it clouded things well enough for me to “function”… [Casper was arrested for possession of some meth and marijuana and spent three years in prison, but the prison included] a good staff of general health personnel, and a mental health staff. After being isolated and given a mental health evaluation where for the first time I actually told someone what was going on, I was started on medication and counseling. For the first time since it had begun the voices and visions went away. I was able to sleep and rest. My paranoia and anxiety diminished. I didnʼt feel like I needed to escape some demon that was chasing me… Understanding is something my former religion robbed me of as a youth. It gave me an unrealistic perception of reality and caused me to blame myself for something that wasnʼt my fault. It made me feel scared and alone because I was confused and even more scared to seek out an answer. When people get upset about atheists such as myself stating without hesitation that religion causes harm, I think of the harm it caused me. I think of the fear that I felt. I think of how I considered suicide at just 14 because I just didnʼt know what to do or where to turn. Most of all I think of how I wasnʼt alone in feeling that way then and that there are many who feel that way now. If you are suffering from mental problems, be it depression, anxiety, or something worse, do not resort to prayer or religion in hopes to fix something that they quite honestly are not mentally equipped to deal with. Seek professional help. Talk to someone and please remember that you arenʼt alone and this isnʼt your fault.

David J. from, “Tell me about that hell part again”:

When I believed the Bible was infallible, it felt hopeless, and I drank to drown that out. Now that I see it has mistakes and has been severely altered by men, the constant fear and depression is gone. It is ironic to think back a few years to me quoting scripture to try and stay sober. Now that my beliefs have changed, I have absolutely no desire to drink. I still believe in God and donʼt know what to believe about Christianity. I will continue to read about both as I did about the Bible and see where the evidence takes me.

from “Scratching Walls”:

I went from one of the top students at my high school to a needle junkie to a real holy roller within the space of about a year… I think itʼs clear that a drug addict, and most especially a very young one, is not exactly what I would call a “clear-thinking individual”. When we consider the sorts of decisions this person has been making up to the present time-stealing, lying, cheating, slowly killing their bodies…it seems obvious that they are not in a correct frame of mind to make thoughtful decisions… So now this line of thought becomes personal: I was a drug addict, I needed to change my lifestyle, worldview, etc., but I needed help doing it. For me, help came in the form of a sort of religious quasi-boot camp. The name of this loveshack is Appalachian Teen Challenge (ATC). My brief testimony on their webpage (written a while back) was posted by the director, Jim Nickels. At the time I last emailed him (according to my records, summer of 04, since the testimony has this timeframe), I was already at a stage of escape from this darkness that Jim would consider heresy-to him, I was “backslidden”. However, I felt a deep discord at the idea of revealing the depth of my progress to him, (as I see it) and opted instead for a generic report about how god was really helping me and mostly focused on my goals and plans and marriage, see the letter I recently wrote him for more… One of the most interesting things about the Christian culture is their tendency to bury the wounded. What they see as “lost souls” are ripe for evangelism and discipleship, but those who “fall away”, especially those like myself, who spent quite a few years teaching/preaching the faith, are often, as the Bible instructs (Heb. 6:4-6, 1 Jn 2:19), abandoned. Besides giving up hope for a backsliderʼs salvation, there are also a number of scriptural precedents for booting people who lose faith from the fold (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Thes. 3:6; 2 Cor. 6:14-15; Job 24:13). So, I guess I shouldnʼt be surprised at the response I receive(d) from Christian friends and family… I will write more about my deconversion, and edit this accordingly, but suffice it to say that although I am open to new evidence and arguments in favor of godʼs existence and in the religion of Christianity, I think Iʼve already heard the “best” there is to offer, and I find it, on the whole, unconvincing.

from “Fear leads to the dark side”:

I became a Christian as a result of a burnout on drugs (hash,opium) that I had at the ripe old age of 16 while living in Europe. After experiencing a great deal of paranoia and instability, I encountered a pastor of a newly developing church called International Christian Fellowship. Basically this was a spin-off of the Assemblies of God, made for the European market. Being so young and impressionable I believed all this, burned my albums (ouch!) cut my hair (Oh no Delilah!) and basically became a completely brainwashed Evangelical. We would preach to people of all nations, creeds and backgrounds through our church and I became what others considered to be the best at Christian Apologetics. It seemed as if I had an answer for every argument against Christianity at the time. When the church began to indoctrinate us further and require classes for all assistant pastors I complied and became fully immersed in it. I stopped sleeping with my girlfriend who also became a Christian (what was I thinking?), I stopped smoking (not bad I admit), and became the perfect “soldier for Christ” The church used “before and after” photos of me to show the transforming power of Jesus. Heavy rocker to Christian. Whoopee! But all was not well in paradise. As I became more and more involved in learning about the religion and being a defender of it I became aware of…

Daniel M, from “Returning to Sanity”:

At 16, I had already developed pretty deep doubts about godʼs existence and attributes. When my father got cancer (a devout Xian) I lost all faith in the idea of a personal god. Unfortunately, I was also quite immature and emotionally unstable, and I started using pretty hard drugs during this time of intense confusion and pain. To get “clean,” a court and my parents decided a Xian rehab named “Teen Challenge” was the best answer for me. After 14 months there, this young, confused, hurting person came out a devout Xian again. I had stability in what I believed, and the evidence for godʼs existence was the “change” that god wrought in me. After all, I was drug free!! Nevermind that I was seriously programmed, and that during that 14 months there was absolutely no way I couldʼve gotten drugs had I wanted to. Nevermind that my problem was a mental and philosophical crisis rooted in confusion and disillusionment, and not the drugs themselves. Nevermind that deep down, I never bought into the creationism because I already knew enough about science and reason to reject a literal reading of Genesis. I was 19, and fresh out of Christian boot-camp/rehab. After slowly regressing over the period of years to a moderate Xian, I found I finally had the courage to acquire books…

x-ray man from “I Tried, I Really Tried…”:

Many of my best friends also fell into serious alcohol addiction. Gary one of my oldest and dearest friends from childhood finally stopped drinking and found God. Almost over night he became a preachy born again Christian. I really wasnʼt too fond of his ways, yet he did succeed in putting the cork in the jug. I continued to drink heavily. He always said that Jesus was the way to overcome my addiction. At age 27 I was married with a small child when I finally hit a complete rock bottom. My drinking took me as low as a man could go. On a March night in 1991, I was alone in my house shaking uncontrollably in a pool of cold sweat, with the DTʼs. I had been drunk with a friend for a week straight. When the money ran out and the booze ran dry, I had the worst withdrawals any human ever had. My mind and body were in peril. I decided it was time for me to surrender to Jesus. It was my only hope. This was your typical addict finding God story in the making, and I was the main character. I called the 700 club prayer line, and got on the phone with a prayer counselor and asked Jesus to come into my life. I got down on my knees and prayed with all my heart. I wanted to be saved from the misery so bad. Well, as I was praying and pleading with God, I felt… nothing. Absolutely nothing. No spirit, no uplifting experience. No sense that everything would be OK. Not even a little twinge of evidence that God was with me. I even remember the prayer counselor getting a little short with me, like as in “Hey buddy Iʼve got other calls.” Well for the next few days I continued going through the serious withdrawals. I didnʼt sleep for two nights. It was the worst experience my body had ever endured. The religious experience I had hoped for didnʼt come close to happening. I have never drank again since that experience, but it wasnʼt because I was saved by God, it was because I never wanted to feel that way again. Many will say that it was God, but I know better. It was me finally wanting to turn my miserable life around. Years later I tried to find God again. My wife and I decided to join a local church and get the kids baptized…

The life of the late evangelist A.A. Allen is proof that one can preach Christ and drink himself to death at the same time. His last months were living in a drunken state in a run down hotel room making audio evangelistic tapes for his radio broadcasts while in a drunken state:

On June 14, 1970, listeners in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines were hearing a recorded message from A. A. Allen on his radio program saying: “This is Brother Allen in person. Numbers of friends of mine have been inquiring about reports they have heard concerning me that are not true. People as well as some preachers from pulpits are announcing that I am dead. Do I sound like a dead man? My friends, I am not even sick! Only a moment ago I made a reservation to fly into our current campaign. Iʼll see you there and make the devil a liar.” At that moment, at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, police were removing A. A. Allenʼs body from a room strewn with pills and empty liquor bottles. The man who had once said that “the beer bottle and gin bucket” should have been on his family coat of arms was dead at 59 from what was said to be a heart attack but was in reality liver failure brought about by acute alcoholism. (p.88)

SOURCE: The Faith Healers by James Randi, section on Asa Alonzo Allen (1911-1970). Prominent, flamboyant and controversial Pentecostal “healing evangelist” of the 1940s-1960s. Allen made many outrageous, unsubstantiated claims of miracles.

Harry McCall, ex-fundamentalist seminarian, and son of an alcoholic parent, adds this

If a person can get to a place where alcohol hurts more than it helps, they can quit. Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and any other non-“Jesus” religions can and do put depressed people on a spiritual journey and often apart from any god in the sky.

The fact is, when one is burned out by a section of their life of drugs and alcohol and their body is shutting down, what else can one do but to either change or die.

Call it “god” of self determination…both seem to work and boil down to that if help has a social support context, itʼs religion; if not, itʼs self determination.

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