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In a fascinating piece in The New York Times, “The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts,” Dr. Carl Hart presents his research on how crack and meth addicts choose future monetary rewards instead another high. John Tierney writes:

Like other scientists, he hoped to find a neurological cure to addiction, some mechanism for blocking that dopamine activity in the brain so that people wouldn’t succumb to the otherwise irresistible craving for cocaine, heroin, and other powerfully addictive drugs.

But then, when he began studying addicts, he saw that drugs weren’t so irresistible after all.

“Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted,” said Dr. Hart, an associate professor of psychology. “And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.” . . .

When the dose of crack was fairly high, the subject would typically choose to keep smoking crack during the day. But when the dose was smaller, he was more likely to pass it up for the $5 in cash or voucher.

“They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste,” Dr. Hart said. “When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.” [emphasis mine]

When methamphetamine replaced crack as the great drug scourge in the United States, Dr. Hart brought meth addicts into his laboratory for similar experiments—and the results showed similarly rational decisions. He also found that when he raised the alternative reward to $20, every single addict, of meth and crack alike, chose the cash. They knew they wouldn’t receive it until the experiment ended weeks later, but they were still willing to pass up an immediate high. [emphasis mine]

This piece is really interesting on multiple planes. First, it challenges many of the sacred cows of neurological science and behavioral psychology. Second, it highlights some intriguing spiritual truths.

Rationality and Irrationality of Sin

Sin is simultaneously rational and irrational. Sin typically has a “payoff” associated with it—whether the release of neurochemicals to the brain for some illicit or risky behavior, or the temporary and fleeting gratification of revenge, greed, lust, or hatred. It makes sense, then, that if one’s joy in Christ is minimal, then the payoff of sin would seem more attractive.

But the payoff of sin over-promises and under-delivers. Sin is deceptive—it promises one thing and gives you something else. Sin is always irrational because the payoff is always a lie. Sin promises you the true/good/beautiful and gives you gravel in your mouth instead. Therefore, when our joy and pleasure in Christ is superior to the payoff of sin, we choose Christ over the sin and its payoff.

Puritans and Crack Addicts

So what do the Puritans and crack addicts have in common? In this instance, quite a lot. When a superior pleasure is presented, we choose the superior pleasure. In the case of Dr. Hart’s study, the addicted participants chose the promise of future money over an immediate high. This is like what the Puritan Thomas Chalmers meant when he spoke of the “expulsive power of a new affection.”

And this is what Jonathan Edwards meant when he spoke of the human pursuit of happiness:

It is not contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man’s love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. . . . That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being. The saints love their own happiness. Yea, those that are perfect in happiness, the saints and angels in heaven, love their own happiness; otherwise that happiness which God hath given them would be no happiness to them. (Charity and Its Fruits, p. 159.)

Though not a Puritan, Blaise Pascal argued similarly:

All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions. However different the means they may employ, they all strive towards this goal. . . . God alone is man’s true good, and since man abandoned him it is a strange fact that nothing in nature has been found to take his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, plague, war, famine, vice, adultery, incest. (Pensees, #148.)

Worship Rules All

Because all men seek happiness, all of life is worship.

What you want is what you worship.

What you worship controls you.

How is your worship of God today?