Drugs, Spirituality, and Scoring in Church

How many of you God loving, or fearing, Christians get high before going to church? No, really, I'm asking. You don't have to answer me, but the folks at addictions.com did in fact inquire about Christians and their cannabis, and other drug, habits. The results were quite fascinating, at least for this non-Christian academic religion egghead.

In a survey of just over 1000 individuals who are regular drug users, the study presents a curious portrait of a segment of Christians in comparison with atheists and agnostics that rarely gets mentioned or covered in the media. It is far easier for the media representations to follow the well-trodden path of associating drug usage with certain races and ethnicities, or class standing, than to explore religious affiliation and drug proclivities. Addictions.com, a site that is committed to providing resources and guidance to addicts in need of help, commissioned the survey--and even has some fun with presenting the data (the title of their post is “Christian Chronic” for god’s sake). It strikes me as a worthy effort to bring religion into the conversation and acknowledge something we all suspected: a lot of religious people are on drugs.

So who is smoking the most grass in the group of 1012 users? The agnostics are the winner, but only by a slight margin. According to the results, 97.94 percent smoke dope, with Protestants and Catholics close behind in the 95 percent range, and then the more sober atheists, who are closer to 94 percent.

As far as other drugs, for both Catholics and Protestants, the second place drug of choice is cocaine (in the low 30 percent range), while agnostics and atheists prefer hallucinogens (closer to 50 percent) after their preference for cannabis. It might also surprise you that close to 30 percent of Protestants in this group use: Adderall, Benzos, Ecstacy, and hallucinogens. For Catholics, on the other hand, only a slightly lower percentage uses these drugs.

Even more intriguing is that among these Americans, pretty substantial majorities think that drug-induced spiritual experiences can be positive for individuals. For atheists and agnostics, closer to 95 percent see getting high as having spiritual value (obviously worthy of follow up interviews for the atheists--can atheists be spiritual?). Closer to 75 percent of Catholics and Protestants in this group agree with the proposition. The post reads, "For religious and nonreligious alike, having a spiritual experience under the influence of an illicit substance was generally considered a good thing."

Along with other eye-opening tidbits, like asking how drug use leads individuals in these groups to question their own views on religion, and how historical references shape the respondents negative views on drugs, were some hard-hitting questions about stoners in church. Over 8 percent of Catholic users claimed they bought drugs at church, a good bit more than the drug-using Protestants, who were closer to 3 percent. And then, the final survey data point: "Percent Of Respondents Who Have Been In Church High." Yes, the survey actually goes there, and reveals that just under 20 percent of Catholics, and slightly more than 15 percent of Protestants have gone to their place of worship under the influence of cannabis.

What does all this mean? As the brief article at the site concludes: “The grip of addiction does not discriminate based on religion,” which is likely true—the survey itself only included a small number of adherents to other religions beyond Christianity so were left out of the findings. Addictions.com takes something of a light-hearted approach to this survey, and indeed they have a wide variety of revealing pop culture and everyday portraits of the American druggie landscape: I love the Drugs in Music analysis; also, if you’re more curious about American drinking habits, like how many times drinkers wind up in jail, or naked, check out their survey of 2000 folks, Bad and Boozy. But make no mistake, they are ultimately deadly serious at the site about getting drug addicts of all stripes—from those addicted to prescription medication to alcohol to heroin, and so on—in rehab and on the road to recovery.

For me, on the other hand, this material will be useful in my upcoming Sacred Drugs course as data for us to study. The survey write up reminds readers that traditional religious affiliations are being eroded by increasing numbers of people who prefer to not affiliate with any one particular religion, or who prefer the label “spiritual but not religious.” And as many scholars, journalists, and personal testimonials affirm, sacred experiences are as likely to be found in surfing, or football, or music, or drugs, as they are to be found in a house of worship, or reading scriptures. Drug use, and abuse, is rampant for sure, but it is certainly clear, from this survey as well as other evidence, in some cases, for some people, in certain settings, drug use can have spiritual value for the user, regardless of their identity as a Catholic, a Protestant, or as non-affiliated. This does not square up with common assumptions about “religion” or “drugs,” but thanks to folks at addictions.com, readers are given a glimpse at a more complex portrait of both.

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