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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dogs, Pigs and Addictions

Like many, I am troubled by the many examples of stupidity and folly by public figures like politicians, clergy and entertainers. Why do they get caught up in sex scandals, drug and alcohol addictions? Why do they do things that destroy their careers, their lives and the lives of others? Recent examples include Anthony Weiner and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but  a long history predates these examples of sex scandals among political figures in the U.S. And I need only mention the many examples of clergy sex scandals and abuse.

The Bible speaks about such stupidity in this way:
"Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly," Pro 26:11- ESV
Animal behavior is fairly easy to understand. Pigs wallow in mud to help with their body temperature. Unlike cats and dogs, pigs cannot cool themselves by panting. Nor can they sweat enough to cool themselves off, as humans do. Moreover mud and wallow helps them to control parasites and protect them from sunburn.

Why do dogs eat vomit? This obnoxious behavior probably stems from the practice of regurgitating food. Dogs in the wild live in packs. They hunt together and assist in feeding and caring for the young. Dogs in the wild feed on the prey after the kill. When the dogs return to the den they regurgitate the partially digested food to feed the young. Additionally, eating vomit and feces has something to do with hiding the traces of a dog's presence from predators. After thousands of years of domestication, these habits still kick in. Domesticated dogs still regurgitate food to feed the puppies. 

Human behavior is another thing. Rudyard Kipling wrote about men's folly back in the 19th century in his poem  Gods of the Copybook Headings
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man—
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:—

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return! 
The copybook headings he refers to were proverbs or maxims printed at the top of 19th century British schoolboys' notebook pages. Teachers forced students to write them by hand repeatedly down the page. These teachers were the Gods of the Copybook Headings. 


Like these schoolboys, the men and women we read and hear about are controlled by their own "gods" they cannot escape. Their gods slaughter them. They are helpless to resist. This is how addictions work. Consider, for instance, the widely recognized risk factors for alcoholism and drug abuse :
  • Genes: Genetics play a significant role: having parents with alcoholism, for instance, makes you four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics. More than 60 percent of alcoholics have family histories of alcoholism. However, scientists are still uncertain which and how many genes are involved. 
  • Mental illness: Many addicted people also suffer from mental health disorders, especially anxiety, depression or mood illnesses.
  • Early use of drugs: The earlier a person begins to use drugs the more likely they are to progress to more serious abuse.
  • Social environment: People who live, work or go to school in an environment in which the use of alcohol and other drugs is common—such as a workplace in which people see heavy drinking as an important way to bond with coworkers—are more likely to abuse drugs.
  • Childhood trauma: Scientists know that abuse or neglect of children, persistent conflict in the family, sexual abuse and other traumatic childhood experiences causing stress and anxiety can shape a child's brain chemistry and subsequent vulnerability to addiction.
The public figures I refer to are people like us. Like us they are caught up in their genetics and their personal histories. We can try to understand why they do what they do, but like the rest of us they must be held accountable for their actions. But it cannot end there. Wherever we are, we who are led by the Spirit of Christ, also have the responsibility to reach out to those in bondage to their addictive gods to lead them to the forgiveness and freedom available in Christ. His reaching out to the unfortunate woman at the well of Samaria serves as a model for us all (John 4:3-42).