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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

IT'S a miracle. Becoming religious has just been proven to help people who need to stop drinking.

This is the sort of news that reluctant drunks the world over have been praying for.

Of course, it's not a new phenomenon. It's what adherents of Alcoholics Anonymous have always practised, though they merely talk about "a higher power."

Here's the idea: you accept that strong drink has got the better of you and hand over the problem to your creator. You reason that it's his fault, making you as vulnerable as a pigeon confronting Sidney, the Cat. I'll write and tell you all about him, the crazed killer of Meadow Lane, some other time.

But meanwhile I suppose there is a practical value to all this when it comes to Communion (assuming these are Christian drunks, of course). Have you ever tried delicately taking a chalice full of wine from someone in a frock while you are kneeling down and feeling like being sick? Perspiration beads out like a weeping Madonna as you try to keep your hands steady. You can feel it trickling down your back. Praying "Please God, don't let me drop the silver jug of Holy wine" is a Hell of a way to start a Sunday.

Anyway there was some good stuff in the Bishop of Wakefield's penetrating column in the Times and I thought it was a good idea to give it a much wider airing by reproducing what he said then here now.

So here goes: "The link between drugs and religion has long been ambiguous.

Karl Marx's sardonic dictum about religion remains often quoted: 'It is the opium of the people.'

"Any genuine effort to draw people away from drugs and alcohol abuse invariably gains strong Christian support."

In Wakefield, West Yorkshire, which is several thousand miles from Ibiza, specially trained magistrates have been given powers to place people convicted of drug-related crimes on a rehab course.

The Bishop said: "Not only does this save people from going to prison, where they could be led by other inmates to take harder drugs, but also, and more significantly, it helps them to come to terms with where they are in life.

"It gives them a chance to change, or - to put it in spiritual terms - to repent.

"Few could deny the significance of spirituality in, for example, the recovery programme of Alcoholics Anonymous.

"Here, in dealing with what is still the most widespread form of drug misuse, the famous Twelve Steps draw on insights that are basic to the Christian tradition.

"The steps are a programme for living. Indeed, many alcoholics have said that a meaning spiritual life has become a prerequisite for staying sober and that finding and accepting God is the most certain assurance against relapse.

"Probably that is because addiction is a form of idolatry. It takes over a person's life. The addict's energies come to be wholly focused on acquiring, using and recovering from alcohol's all-embracing power."

The Bishop says more research needs to be done - but not only on how religious or spiritual involvement may protect people from drug misuse: the converse side also merits examination.

"The question is to what extent a lack of such involvement may make people prone to misusing drugs.

"Careful research is required into the anecdotal experiences of those for whom spiritually focused programmes seem to have promoted recovery."

By the way, I also like the other idea about our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit. If it's that special, you wouldn't want to pull it down for the sake of a few large ones, now would you?

Sinclair Newton