In part 1 of this review I introduced and covered the first few chapters of T.C. Ryan’s excellent book Ashamed No More (2012, InterVarsity Press). I want to continue the review by picking up in chapter 5. If you have felt up to this point that you have not really understood the backdrop for Ryan’s story, here you will find it. In this chapter entitled “Excavating Origins”, Ryan talks about the initial experiences in his life which caused him to struggle with self-confidence, honesty, and intimacy. These, in turn, helped formulate an addictive personality which, ultimately, become the source of his sex addiction. Ryan is not one to make excuses, however. Earlier on in the book, for example, he insisted that there is still a responsibility for moral action on the part of the addict, especially a responsibility to recover. “Behavior does matter” he reaffirms later (100). But this should not demand that one be obligated and helpless in a search for “why?” It is only through confronting our past that we can deal with the consequences it has ensued upon the present. For addicts, an excavation of causes and influences is absolutely essential to proper recovery.
In Chapter 6, Ryan explores the question of genuine spiritual transformation and its relationship to recovery. The discussion on “shame” earlier comes to fruition here, as the addict is asked to have a true, authentic transformation, not a false one based on guilt. True transformation comes from the heart. Often enough, it’s the recovering addict that truly understands the distinction between the two. As Ryan notes,
“More than a few times I’ve actually heard churchgoers say that they ‘envied’ recovering alcoholics because they seemed like real people who were genuine and genuinely accepting of themselves and others” (107).
Ryan is not ignorant, though, that true transformation is rare and extremely difficult. His own struggle with a feeling of “shame and guilt” were enough to make his addiction worse. The mere desire to stop a behavior because of shame cannot dismiss it, for many of those neurological reasons we talked about earlier (i.e. annoyance, boredom, stress, feelings of worthlessness). Indeed, the only true motivator for transformation must be the anguish (not guilt) one has caused oneself (I imagine, here, that Ryan would also suggest the anguish we cause God can also be a legitimate motivator since God does not shame). This transformation “never happens in isolation” and deeply involves the need for community.
Here I think is one of the most significantly crucial observations of Ryan’s book: sex, pornography, and lust are so stigmatized in the Church that very few people feel safe reaching out with their own struggles. People are scared. Yet this is something which absolutely needs to change. How is it that we can focus so intently upon so many other problems and, yet, ignore the one which is possibly the most consequential for spiritual health? Community is crucial and the struggle with porn or an unhealthy sexual relationship cannot be won individually, in a private room with a computer (I can see Satan grinning with the advent of the laptop).
I wonder how different the Church would be perceived if it really was seen as welcoming and open, if the call to “come just as you are” was genuine, not a fad phrase for “come as we want you to come.” The Church should be the place where the foreigners, the stigmatized, and the outcast feel most welcome to struggle through their addictions.The Church, by and large, has not done well to foster the process of redemption. We celebrate the victory of those who come out of struggle, whether that’s alcoholism, sex addiction, abuse, gambling addiction, drugs, etc. But we’re terrible at celebrating redemption in process. We have this attitude that you can come back into the Church once you’ve fixed your crap–then we’ll celebrate, but not yet. We don’t really want the drunks or the drug addicts or the porn addicts in our Churches, at least not openly. We’ll take them afterwards. This absolutely needs to change. It’s a shame that the Church has become a place to hide yourself.
In Chapter 7, Ryan discusses how transformation can come through a variety of paths. He recommends that one uses certain tools, primarily therapy, education, community groups, sponsors, transparency, accountability, and service. These, together, are not the end all answer, but they contribute immensely to true transformation for addicts. Ultimately, the heart of true genuine spiritual transformation comes from something else entirely.
We will continue this review in Part 3