Why the Hell Can’t I Drink In Church? Isn’t the Customer Always Right?

Posted: February 11, 2015 in Socio Defined
Tags: , , , , ,

Alcoholism is not a disease. Alcoholism, and alcohol use for that matter, are sins. As in moral transgressions. Someone tried to teach me this on the day after Christmas. I don’t think that, subconsciously, I was able to decide whether it was more appropriate to laugh or spit my coffee across the dashboard of the work truck, so, not being one to take chances (heh heh), I did both.

Despite my reaction, I found the speaker to be at least partly right. Alcoholism, as a matter of fact, is not a disease, at least not in a medical sense. The DSM classifies it as a disordered behavior resulting from a number of factors ranging from epigenetics to good old fashioned family Christmases. By its very definition, alcoholism (you might even generalize addiction into this equation) emerges in identity as a symptom of some greater problem. Research supports this idea.

In the decades following the Vietnam war, science has turned its attention towards those soldiers who chose to partake, often heavily, in the use of heroin. They discovered that approximately 95% of soldiers who reported regularly using heroin simply stopped using upon returning home. No rehab. No therapy. They just quit. I had a comparable experience with alcohol during my hitch. When I was discharged, my affinity for heavy drinking seemed to evaporate within the first couple of months of my transition back into civilian life. These days, I barely touch the stuff. And that’s good. Because sinning against God is bad.

Speaking of sinning against God, let me tell you what the lab rats have been up to… In related research, scientists provided caged rats with two water bottles. One was plain water and they dumped a pile of cocaine in the other one. The rats preferred the Columbian Go Go Juice, at least until it killed them. Well, like the good book says, the wage of sin is death. Bad rats.

So the scientists, as scientists do, made an experiment. They called it Rat Park. It was a good place for rats to be, sort of like rat heaven. The idea was not only the removal of stressors, but the introduction of positive elements as well. Ample food, space and water, mental and physical stimulation, social interaction and sex, everything was there…except for the free cocaine. So they sprinkled in some more, just for temptation’s sake.

Funny thing…the rats were too busy enjoying their rat lives to waste time on cocaine, even free cocaine, implying that most of the rats were not indulging simply for the sake of indulgence but that the addictive behaviors were in fact a result of environmental stressors. The data is eerily similar to that of the Vietnam heroin epidemic, as well as my own experiences of hell and Wild Turkey.

So given this data, how does the concept of morality apply to alcoholism or addiction in general?

Well, it depends upon who you ask. If it’s someone sensible, who is basically grounded in reality, reasonably educated and sans agenda, you’ll get something comparable to the “disordered behavior” explanation. But, we’re not talking sensibility or rationality here, we’re talking about Pastor James MacDonald. If you’re one of the people who is rational and reasonably educated, you probably don’t know who this is, so good for you.

MacDonald runs a megacurch conglomerate based in the Chicago area named Harvest Ministries and a nationally syndicated radio ministry called Walk in the Word which airs daily on the Billy Graham radio stations. The only way you know who this guy is, is if you are a card carrying Evangelical Christian. And if you’re one of those people, you can’t not know.

If you haven’t guessed yet, MacDonald was the crackpot who tried to convince me that alcohol consumption fits neatly with the spectrum of what he considers to be sin. The title of the sermon was “Wise Up About Alcohol.” I’d provide a link, but there isn’t one that you don’t have to “donate” at least six bucks to get. A few excerpts are available, as well as summaries, but what I came across moreso were reviews of the sermon, some being extremely critical. Several critics cited MacDonald for being very loose in his application of scripture, something I noticed myself as I’d listened.

The sermon, for me, set off alarm bells almost instantly. I simply couldn’t understand how, or why, someone could assign a moral value and subsequent moral judgement on the act of drinking alcohol. Granted, alcohol is a destructive drug, which I avoid due to that reason, but it’s something that a whole lot of people do in moderation with no ill effects either medically or spiritually. I must also point out that a guy named Jesus was noted for converting water into wine. I must have missed the part where he poured all of it down Mary Magdeline’s kitchen sink just to make the point that it’s bad.

The point is, MacDonald’s statements didn’t ring true scientifically or scripturally, and ultimately begged the question: why? So when I got home that day I asked my friend Google about MacDonald and Google told me an interesting story.

First of all, Harvest Bible Chapel is a massive operation, comprised of seven separate facilities which reach thousands of people each week. The services, if you watch one, are packed with people, all the way up into the nosebleed sections. Yep, sections, plural.

That many people, all packed into the same church on Sunday morning, can only mean one thing: somebody is getting seriously PAID…as in, that’s a whole lot of dough getting dumped into the collection plate and ushered down front. I would not be surprised, actually, to discover debit card swiping devices by each seat, not unlike the voting pads on American Idol. It sounds humorous, but the fact is Harvest actually really needs the cash.

Fifty million and change, after all, is not a number to sneeze at, especially if is a number you owe. I recently discovered a blog, right here on WordPress, called The Elephant’s Debt. The blog claims to be written by former members of the MacDonald church who observed patterns of behavior which many might consider…unbecoming. What they have to say is interesting, to say the least.

The fifty million dollar note, they say, is the cost of Harvest’s massive expansion, which began back in 2004 with the acquisition of the first additional “campus.” That’s approximately one new facility every 20 months. These are not small community based churches. These are the ones in converted warehouses and the ones that strangely resemble the corporate headquarters of a forklift manufacturer. You can rack up a good bit of debt when you grow that fast, it seems.

According to the blog, Harvest’s high speed expansion took on characteristics similar to that of a teenage boy hitting puberty. While they made no mention of pimple popping or serious accidents occurring during masturbation, there was a particularly humorous claim that on one project, MacDonald himself assumed the role of general building contractor. This resulted in a number of catastrophes, including the walls being painted and the flooring being installed, mid winter, before any of the windows or doors had even been ordered, much less delivered.

This sort of behavior seems to be a frequent complaint of his detractors. He was additionally cited for being greedy, controlling and even confrontational. Several years ago, three senior elders (like deacons, I think) came out publicly against MacDonald, ultimately describing his leadership as both oppressive and secretive. They quoted him directly, reporting that he’d rather “lose 1000 members than disclose his salary.” Apparently, only a couple of inside people are privy to that information. The church and its members, as a whole, do not actually know how much they pay their pastor.

In 2009, it was ascertained that MacDonald earned in excess of $500,000, between his Harvest salary and his Walk in the Word radio ministry business. As a top 5 corporate earner, he was legally required to publicly disclose the $100k plus income from the Walk in the Word, and it was subsequently absorbed into Harvest, a non corporate entity, therefore rendering it secret. In addition, MacDonald receives royalties from numerous books, speaking fees and reportedly has access to a “staggering” expense account through Harvest. And this is all donated money. Donated.

Me, I don’t need that much money, but then again, I also don’t feel I have a need for a two million dollar home in a posh neighborhood in Elgin. Or a vacation cabin up by the lake. Nor have I, ever in my life, publicly confessed to having a gambling problem. I’ve never made atonement for my gambling because I’ve never been caught. I’ve never been caught, primarily, because I don’t do it. But MacDonald did confess to having a gambling problem, at least to the compulsion. He left out the additional element of having done it with money that was donated to his church, off whose members’ backs he lives quite well.

Next came a very telling revelation, that of a proclivity to attack viciously when cornered, something with which I am very familiar. When the three elders came out and spoke against MacDonald by allowing their stories to be published in The Elephant’s Debt, he and his inside cadre of henchmen released a video which publicly announced the excommunication of the men, encouraged other members to avoid them and labeled their accusations as being “satanic to the core.”

After the shitstorm of criticism which undoubtedly followed such a brash and polarized presentation of the issue at hand, MacDonald and his cronies made a half apology to the shunned elders and yanked the video from the website. When copies of it surfaced on YouTube, legal action was threatened and these videos were yanked as well. That seemed strangely similar to the scrubbing away of anti Mormon propaganda from the Billy Graham website when Franklin chose to endorse Mitt Romney…but that’s another story altogether.

So after all this reading, all these sad and stupid revelations, I still found myself asking the same question: why teach people that the use of alcohol, in any context other than that of a widow or a sickly person dulling their pain (he literally made this distinction and pointed out that man was biblically encouraged to hand over his alcohol to such people) is a sin against the Creator?

Forget benevolence. MacDonald’s actions and comments do not reflect a heart which is truly concerned for the welfare of those he claims to guide spiritually. Why should he care if twelve or fourteen families leave the church, he allegedly said, when he didn’t even know those people. Stop worrying about the sheep for a moment, he went on, because I’m worried about the shepherd. If this was an honestly reported statement, then it helps to form a more accurate picture of his character and personality. A previously cited quote had MacDonald giving up the same families rather than disclose his salary. Were the 1000 hypothetical people he referred to being recognized as human beings who trusted him to guide the faith or as tick marks in his Quickbooks?

Human beings indeed.

MacDonald’s game is control and he’s working from an old playbook, one known well to the sociopaths and psychopaths of the world. The way I, and I suspect Mr. MacDonald, view the morality paradigm is based upon concrete benefits and consequences associated with things considered right and wrong, respectively. Morality is engaged only within a utilitarian context. While normal people have a processing system which produces negative emotional consequences when they are naughty (you know this as a guilty conscience), we don’t. But, we get it. My oh my, do we get it.

Being fundamentally remorseless, in a lot of ways, can be like having thumbs when others don’t. It opens doors to additional possibilities in the decision making process and can often make otherwise hard decisions very easy. The fact is, thumbs and remorselessness make it possible to use things like…guns…to their full potential. The thing about thumbs, is that if you’ve never had them, then you don’t miss them and you don’t necessarily recognize their absence as a fundamental weakness. Once you’ve had thumbs, and you’ve used them, their presence can be only accessed as a strength and anyone without thumbs is, by comparison, a weaker representation of the species.

Being able to experience feelings of guilt or remorse and actually internalize moral concepts are the staples that keep society from splitting wide open and, quite literally, spraying blood in every direction. These functions exist as behavioral antilock braking systems. They keep people from using their thumbs to kill each other to get ahead. If these systems malfunction or forget to develop in the womb, the personality emerges as…unconstrained. Simply put, when you don’t have a conscience, it just makes it easier to use the fact that other people do have consciences against them.

So when the conscience-constrained majority is taught and conditioned that certain common behaviors like drinking are morally corrupt, their guilt response kicks in and they feel some sort of tangible emotional distress. You know the feeling I’m talking about, it’s the one that fucks with your sleep. Rectification of this emotion requires engaging the original source of the guilt. So when you heard MacDonald’s little talk about drinking and the Holy Spirit laid the burden of conviction upon your heart about the mason jar of goodness in your freezer, where are you going to go to make that right?

You’re going to take your sorry butt to church and ask the preacher to ask Jesus to ask God to forgive you. That’s what you’re going to do. And it’s going to work. You’re going to feel better. Not just about the fact that you were simultaneously sexting your neighbors wife and masturbating while driving home drunk from a double feature cock fight/transsexual creamed corn wrestling match, but also about life in general. And there’s good reason for this.

Recent studies regarding oxytocin have shown its effects to be present during many of the common activities participated in during church, including hand shaking and hugging, group singing and praying. People come to church feeling guilty for their “sins” during the week and leave, feeling good. Feeling like they’ve bonded with the Creator. Feeling forgiven. Feeling reminded that their drinking and pud whacking is really going to piss God off. And feeling a few bucks poorer to boot.

Another notable effect of oxytocin just happens to be generosity. It affects when and how much people give when they trust the person they are giving it to. James MacDonald is earning in excess of half a million dollars per year in this manner. He benefits substantially from people feeling guilty. The New Testament has a name for people like this…it calls them false teachers. According to Billy Graham, this behavior is in fact not only sinful, but actually sinful to a much higher degree than lesser sins, like drinking and gambling. My guess is that he had Muslims and Mormons in mind when he wrote that, not people like MacDonald, but what fits the goose usually fits the gander too.

I’ll just sum up by putting it really plain: I think James MacDonald is a total asshole and he has no business in the business he’s in regardless of how good he seems to be at it. Anyone can pick up a microphone and tell a story about how alcohol destroyed someone they once knew. We all know someone, or are someone, who experienced the devastation that alcohol can catalyze in a person’s life. It’s no mystery. But to get up in front of thousands of people and manipulate their consciences simply for financial gain? That’s low. And that’s all.

  1. jbslade says:

    Interesting post. It’s ironic that so many people excuse religious exploitation because people really believe it is right, but they never excuse the psychopathic/sociopathic con-artist who believes he/she has the right to manipulate someone. I mean convincing people that an invisible man demands at least 10% of their income and they can’t see him or be rewarded until they die… greatest con ever. I’m a psychopath and I couldn’t be a preacher simply because it would be insulting to even pretend that I truly believed in an anthropomorphic god.


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