Addiction As A Spiritual Disease?

Recently, we came across a rather interesting newspaper article published by The New York Times, written by Samuel Freedman, about a rabbi, a priest, and a place called Boys Town.

Rabbi Shais Taub, left, and Rev. Steven E. Boes, Boys Town’s president, spoke with each other after a meeting (photo courtesy of New York Times)

Rabbi Shais Taub, a Hasidic rabbi, age 37, has been teaching and writing for over six years about the spiritual component of recovery from addiction. Initially, he began within the Jewish community (especially the Chabad movement) and has gained prominence beyond it. Father Boes, the current executive director of Boys Town, asked him to address staff members at Boys Town, most of whom are either clergy or therapists. Tying together the whole discusssion wtih Rabbi Taub’s central insight of his teaching and writing – the idea that “addiction is less a chemical dependency or a mental illness than the consequence of an individual’s absence from God and of the psychic pain that absence inflicts. The substance isn’t the addict’s problem. The substance is the addict’s best attempt at a solution”. He continues to say that the only “true solution is a personal God experience, a spiritual breakthrough that supplies the deep-seated need for union with God”.

Boys Town, once a historical refuge for children either neglected or abandoned due primarily to poverty, in Omaha, Nebraska, is now a program that deals extensively with boys and girls who have abused alcohol and drugs. And, which Bosy Town from it’s origina had bene priarmily nondenominational

Freedman says that Taub is a “phenomenon” in “saying overtly what the recovery movement often leaves deliberately ambiguous – the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Annonymous refer to a ‘Higher Power’ without defining it”. Taub researched addiction treatment , from which he made a “surprising and affirming discovery” – a 1961 letter from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Annonymous. In this letter, Carl Jung, a reknowned psychiatrist, directly recommended “union with God” as essential to recovery from addiction.  Jung goes on to say that “Alcohol in Latin is ‘spiritus’, and you use the same word the higest religious expeirnece as well as for the most depraving posion. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spirium (approximately translated as spiritualtiy against spirits of the alcoholic sort).”

If you’re interested in learning more about Rabbi Shais Taub’s thoughts,  check out his book, “God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction”, which was published in 2011 and is in it’s 10th printing,

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