When God Becomes a Drug: Breaking the Chains of Religious Addiction and Abuse by Father Leo Booth, Jeremy P. Tarcher Publisher, Los Angeles, pps. 273, $18.95

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

Leo Booth, an Episcopal priest, has authored a well written and interesting book on the problem of religious addiction. If there is one criticism I can make of this book, it would be that the author, choosing to describe this one acting out defense against repressed trauma, has neglected to at least consider the possible origins of those painful feelings.

While Father Booth believes that neurosis starts early in life, his book concentrates on how a religious addict can damage both his and his family's happiness by the use of a rigid religious belief system which he says are used by some as a means of escaping or avoiding painful feelings. Like Karl Marx, Booth believes that religion can be an opiate of the people. He writes that religion can console us from deprivations of life, encourage us to accept our current status and relieve the guilt feelings of oppressors.

And yet he says that there is nothing in the nature of religion which makes it unhealthy in itself, and that it is possible for a neurotic to use a healthy belief system in an unhealthy way. Booth writes that it is not necessarily the contents of the belief that make a system addictive, but rather the personal rigidity of its purveyors who discourage any kind of questioning or disbelief.

The author believes that there is oftentimes a pairing of alcoholic addiction or food abuse with religious addiction. He claims that the development of religious addiction is similar to the development of alcohol addiction and makes his point with a number of case studies.

So, yes, psychoanalysis and even primal therapy can be addictive as any number of psychotherapy junkies can testify! I also wish the author had included more discussion of the psychological make-up of those who are susceptible to the allure of religion as a drug. The author includes a short autobiography in which he recounts his own religious and alcoholic addiction. An interesting short history of the development of religion as well as the rise and fall of TV evangelists are also presented.

Sometimes it seems as though the author is about to discuss, in greater detail, the origins of the pain which the religious addiction assuages. He writes that ". . . addictions are about escaping pain; therefore, recovery means facing and walking through pain." But that is the extent of his observations. The road to cure, as we know, is much more involved than merely walking through the pain. You've got to linger awhile and return frequently to it!

The author touts the 12-step program, made famous by alcoholics anonymous, as a way to recovery from religious addiction. In fact, he parallels the stages of alcoholism with similar stages of progression to chronic religious addiction.

A chapter entitled, "Healthy Spirituality" was meaningless to me, but perhaps that is my problem and not his. Suggestions on using intervention to help those addicted to recovery is included as an appendix to the book as well as guidelines for professional therapists in this new field.

Father Booth works with patients of various addictions at his "Say Yes to Life Center" in California.