An opioid crisis is devastating America. Every day, more than ninety Americans die by overdosing on these new killers. The crisis involves the misuse of and addiction to opioids such as prescription pain relievers, fentanyl and heroin. New powerful synthetic opioids have become especially deadly.
Too many people mistakenly reduce the problem to materialistic causes. They think that people abuse opioids because they are only looking for ways to manage pain. Others tie the abuse to being depressed by the sad state of their finances. Still others blame the big pharmaceutical companies for making prescription drugs that can be abused. Above all, they insist government must get involved with money and massive programs.
Such a perspective may address symptoms of the crisis but not the causes. The abuse of opioids, like other addictions, stems from a profound spiritual problem deep inside the souls of countless Americans. Opioids are only different by their frenetic nature, which makes them extremely self-destructive.
Opioid use can quickly degenerate into substance abuse that comes from a spiritual void inside the soul. A spiritual solution is then needed.
Understanding Spiritual Problems
Finding such solutions is very difficult because it goes against the conventional wisdom of the times. Most people work from a mindset that holds that people only have material needs. They do not recognize the fact that everyone has another side that is spiritual and superior.
This side has strong needs that must be satisfied as part of the experience of being human. This spiritual side is what makes every individual unique. It is the basis for human dignity. The interplay of this spiritual side in society is the foundation of political, culture, and religious activities that satisfy these spiritual needs.
Spiritual needs include the need for beauty, transcendence, and meaning, often addressed by the culture and faith. They can also be found in the human need to live in society as expressed in social order, contingency, and profound relationships like those of the family. Above all, spiritual needs are satisfied by the practice of religion by which people know, love, and serve God, Who is their final end.
Modern society does much to frustrate these spiritual needs. Individualism, for example, tends to isolate and turn people inward toward self. Materialism denies the spiritual and only concentrates on material comforts that can never satisfy. Secularism diminishes the spiritual appetites for God by dethroning Him from His central place in creation and society. When people cannot find spiritual fulfillment in modern society, they will often look for chemical substitutes or other ways to escape.
Processes of Decay
There are natural social mechanisms that help a person satisfy spiritual needs and face misfortune. The institutions of family, community, and faith, for example, help address these needs in the face of modern evils.
However, when these institutions break down, as they are now, people can suffer processes of decay that lead to self-destructive behaviors, which eventually result in the deaths of the tens of thousands who abuse opioids. When people’s lives fall apart, they can easily become self-absorbed and depressed. They lose the spiritual support of those who might help them.
When a man, for example, loses touch with his spiritual needs, he projects his spiritual desires upon material things. He becomes intensely attached to all things turned inward, to himself. He may still respect parts of the general order, but he gradually becomes incapable of admiring a higher order of things outside of self, especially those related to the good, true, and beautiful.
When this happens, the vice of intemperance takes hold in him because he only wants what feeds his ever-growing desires. Temperance is the virtue whereby man governs and moderates his natural appetites and passions in accordance with the norms prescribed by reason. In the case of this particular man, he gradually becomes incapable of loving the greater picture of all that is ordered by the norms of reason.
The Self-Destructive Appetites Against Order
This process creates a great imbalance in the soul. The intemperate man will thirst for risks, excitement, and adventures in an attempt to satisfy voracious appetites. However, he will find no tranquility since he seeks things outside what is reasonable. He alternates between exhilaration and breakdown in his futile quest for fulfillment. From a distaste for some aspects of order, he soon he develops a dislike for all order since it restrains him, and even a dislike for the idea of being since it defines him.
From desiring everything intensely, he comes to desire the destruction of the very habits and things that both stimulate and enslave him. From this, he plunges into chaos, sensuality, pride, despair, and addictions. It is not hard to see how the opioid crisis feeds into this self-destructive process since it often manifests itself in the breakdown of order around the person.
Why a Return to Order Is Needed
That is why order is so necessary to society. The preservation of a social order based on natural law is the only real solution that addresses the causes, and not the symptoms, of the opioid crisis.
Christian order gives rise to the temperate man that is so completely contrary to the dysfunctional one just described. A temperate man, for example, has a love for order and the institutions that maintain it. Inside the broad framework of family, community, and faith, he sees these social institutions as benevolent handrails to, not odious fetters depriving him of, his future. They facilitate freedom and enable people to unite together for the common good.
Thus the temperate man does not despise life’s regular daily routine that the other finds monotonous. He loves this serene order as a means for providing stability and control of the passions according to the norms prescribed by reason. The Christian family is a marvelous manifestation of this calm and stable order.
A temperate order is not limited to the love of routine and ordinary tasks. Rather, it uses the platform of a stable order as a runway for higher things. The temperate man also has appetites for extraordinary and adventurous endeavors. However, his extraordinary desires are proportional and reasonable. They are continuations of the normal desires and do not cause an abrupt rupture from order. Based on reality, not fantasy, they give origins to heroism and admirable deeds.
A Positive Action to Regenerate Order
That is why winning the Culture War is so important. It preserves the remnants of order that keep society from degenerating into frenetic intemperance. To the degree that order’s institutions are destroyed, society will lose its coherence and plunge into chaos.
While fighting to preserve the institutions of order is essential, it is not enough. A positive action to regenerate order is needed.
Spiritual needs must be directly addressed. Contrary to the present materialistic culture that dominates society, there is a need to return to a transcendental vision of reality that draws one to the good, true and beautiful, as ordered by the norms of reason.
Turning toward Heavenly Things
Of course, this has always been the role of the Church: to exhort the faithful to develop their tastes for heavenly things. She teaches them to pursue excellence, perfection, and sanctification in this life, as preparation for the joys of Heaven in the next. By imagining celestial splendors, it became possible to imitate them here on earth, giving rise to a rich culture full of marvelous things, ceremony, and liturgy.
When such a perspective prevails and is helped by grace, it creates the conditions for that Christian civilization that overcame the unbridled passions and turned whole peoples to the love of God and neighbor.
There is no one way to solve the opioid crisis. However, when people turn to the sublimity of heavenly things, they acquire the ability to overcome their frenetic appetites and look for spiritual solutions. One way to start solving the opioid crisis might be by reading a saint’s sermon on Heaven or by raising a truly Christian family.
As seen on The Imaginative Conservative.