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Andrew Sullivan on Opioids: Pointing Us Toward God

By Travis Weber

Andrew Sullivan wrote a lengthy and illuminating piece recently digging deeper into the opioid crisis, in part by examining the attraction of the drug itself. One interesting aspect of the article was his observation about why opioids have been such a draw through the ages—they help us escape from pain, from reality. As Sullivan notes, if we simply attack the symptoms on the surface, we are missing a “deeper American story. It is a story of pain and the search for an end to it.”

For millennia, humans have searched for answers to life and the difficulty it brings. Some of these answers have involved God, and others have not. It is certainly clear that right now, America’s families have been hit hard by the opioid crisis.

Yet while we need to go to God, we often don’t, and we reject his advances. Like God trying to rescue us, the police officers trying to rescue the addict by administering antidotes “are hated,” for “[t]hey ruined the high.”

Marx’s claim that religion is the “opiate of the people” is old-hat. As Sullivan points out: “Opiates are now the religion of the people.”

We must go to God in our pain, not try to escape it by our own means—whether through opioids or otherwise. It must be said that prescription opioids (along with other pain management tools) can be used properly (like for the alleviation of chronic severe pain) alongside going to God in our pain.

Near the end of the piece, Sullivan again observes:

To see this epidemic as simply a pharmaceutical or chemically addictive problem is to miss something: the despair that currently makes so many want to fly away. Opioids are just one of the ways Americans are trying to cope with an inhuman new world where everything is flat, where communication is virtual, and where those core elements of human happiness — faith, family, community — seem to elude so many. Until we resolve these deeper social, cultural, and psychological problems, until we discover a new meaning or reimagine our old religion or reinvent our way of life, the poppy will flourish.

Indeed, in searching for “new meaning,” I believe Sullivan is yearning for God here, and I would point him toward the Good News: Though we have all strayed from and are separated from God (and part of this separation is pain), Jesus has paid the price for us to be restored to God. We just must accept him, choose to follow him, and submit our lives to him. This restoration then becomes our new eternal reality, even if we don’t see all its benefits immediately.

Sullivan continues:

We have seen this story before — in America and elsewhere. The allure of opiates’ joys are filling a hole in the human heart and soul today as they have since the dawn of civilization.

I would agree with this diagnosis, but only add that the medicine involves a spiritual element, most specifically the Good News discussed above. This is something Billy Graham, who recently passed away, would want us to remember. While the issue in all its facets is undoubtedly complex, it is clear that we must not neglect the spiritual aspect of the cure.

We as a nation need God, and need him publicly. Graham’s recent passing also reminds us of that. Let us remind ourselves again, and let us not forget it.

First published at FRC Blog


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