I never meant to start an argument about addiction. I had carried my private doubts on the subject around in my head for years, in the “heresy” section where I keep my really risky thoughts. And I don’t recommend disagreeing in public with Hollywood royalty, either, which is how it happened. In such a clash, most people will think you are wrong and Hollywood is right, especially if your opponent is Chandler Bing, the beloved character from Friends. Of course, he wasn’t really Chandler Bing, just an actor called Matthew Perry—but an actor with an entourage so big it filled an entire elevator at the BBC’s new studios in central London where we quarreled.
Our debate wasn’t even supposed to be about addiction. I’d been asked onto the corporation’s grand but faded late-night current affairs show Newsnight to talk about drug courts, one of many stupid ideas suggested by the idea of addiction. I reckoned my main opponent would be the other guest, Baroness (Molly) Meacher, whose name sounds like something out of The Beggar’s Opera. While she looks like the sort of harmless, kindly housewife who knits next to you on the bus, she is in fact a campaigner for the wilder sorts of drug liberalization. If this Chandler Perry wanted to horn in, well and good. Who cared? Yet when I began to sense sarcasm mingled with unearned superiority oozing from the character from Friends, I decided to let my impatience show.
Hence my rash, irreversible plunge into an argument which has been going on ever since, consuming billions of electrons on social media, and which will probably still be going on when I die. I heard myself using the words “the fantasy of addiction.” There. I’d done it. Let the heavens fall.
Chandler Bing called me various names and was even more sarcastic than before ...
Hitchens goes on in his essay to lay out a powerful argument that addiction is a concocted fantasy that fatally removes responsibility from the individual. He points out there is a difference between struggling with a compulsion and "addiction" that removes all responsibility from the individual ("it's not my fault; I have an addiction".) He correctly points out that people successfully conquer "addictions" all the time, something that is not possible if the science of addiction was true.
The false "science" of addiction conveniently relegates the true concept of sin into irrelevance.
I have a friend with a PhD who specializes in "addiction". Intelligent and articulate, he is well-known and respected in the field. He authored a book on addiction (mostly 5 star reviews on Amazon) and is a highly-respected consultant in the field both nationally and internationally. While he is a Christian, he is firmly ensconced in the secular wordview articulated by the "science" of addiction. [Yes, the brain may undergo physical changes - but (as Hitchens points out) so does the brain of a London taxi driver after memorizing all the London streets prior to getting his taxi license. It's an organ adapting to change.] What's interesting is that by his own admission, people that he seeks to help with food addictions experience high failure rates (80% and higher.) As I've often heard him say, "They can't help it."
The high failure rate is attributable to the treatment itself which sources the problem to a physical addiction and fails to recognize the true spiritual source of the compulsion. A classic case is the dangerously obese person who refuses to deal with the root of their problem and undergoes stomach bypass surgery in a futile attempt to short-circuit their "addiction". Alcoholics Anonymous articulates a false worldview that "once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." But this flatly contradicts the truth that the Christian is a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) and will experience a decreasing influence of sin as he/she matures in Christ.
Sanctification is the life-long process whereby the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, imparted at the moment of justification, increasingly conforms us to the character and image of Christ. We become more and more Christ-like (Phil 2:13-14). It is a lifelong process in which believers become conformed to the image of Christ, relying on the power of God to mortify sin in their lives. As Christians, we were saved from the penalty of sin when God brought us to repentant faith in Christ; we are presently being saved from the power of sin as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, and we will someday be saved from the presence of sin when we meet Christ face to face in glory.
In contrast to our justification which is solely the work of God, sanctification is a synergistic process in which we are to cooperate with God (Phil 2:12-13). This is why sanctification is different from everyone and why we all battle sin until we die (Rom 6:12; 13:13). However, sin is not a necessity for the Christian, since believers are no longer slaves of sin, but have been set free through redemption (Gal 5:24; John 8:31-36). Our motivation for sanctification is not law, but love (1 John 4:19). Becoming Christ-like is not an obligation that we have been given, but a privilege that we have. God wants our motivation to righteousness to be because we love Him. Our power for sanctification is nothing external and not even the Law, but the indwelling Holy Spirit of God (Gal 5:18, 22-25).
The "science" of addiction cannot be reconciled with the truth of sanctification.