Are mega-churches the 'opiate of the masses'?

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on August 30, 2012 at 7:57 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 30 at 9:20 PM

“God is like a drug when I go into the church,” said University of Washington Professor Jim Wellman. “I can’t wait to get my next hit!” 

Wellman sounds like a manic street preacher, but he’s quoting members of “mega-churches” he has studied across the country.

“It isn’t about a belief in God, but an emotional feeling about these churches,” he said.

Defined as a church with 2,000 or more members, mega-churches are a fast growing enterprise across the country. Wellman wonders if attending one is the same as saying, “this is your brain on drugs.”

Wellman found the experiences of people enjoying the ecstasy of Christ striking similar to those experiencing ecstasy, the drug. He believes chemical reactions in the brains of people who use certain drugs, like opiates, trigger the same emotions as those praising Jesus at Sunday services.

“They both believe that everything is okay during these experiences. That they can handle life’s problems,” he said.

Close to 10,000 worshippers pack into Pastor Casey Treat’s “Christian Faith Centers” every Sunday, connecting with their “higher” consciousness.

Wellman said a concert with Pink Floyd isn’t all that different from church with Pastor Treat.  Both employ slick stage shows with lights, music and imagery. Huge crowds sing in unison and come together as one. Treat admitted it can be intoxicating, but not in the same way as a drug high.

And the pastor would know.  He’s a former drug abuser himself and said there is one major difference. Unlike drug users, who often turn inward, church users often turn outward and do good deeds in the community. They end up feeling better about themselves, with a sense of hope, as opposed to the inevitable hangover attached to drugs.

“That’s the God factor,” said Treat. “That’s the thing they can’t find under a microscope.”

Wellman said he has found the same altruistic side effect in his research. Pastor Treat said he’s been living it for more than 30 years.

“I don’t need a drink or a joint,” he said. “I’m still high!”
 

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