Karl Marx dismissed religion as the “opium of the people.” The old Commie had a point. Many Catholic clergy have adopted a discreet form of Elmer Gantry’s vulgar Fundamentalist emotional hucksterism and have become sophisticated dopamine peddlers.
Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter and hormone. It plays a role in many essential body functions, including movement, memory, and pleasurable reward and motivation. High or low dopamine levels are associated with mental health and neurological diseases. Dopamine is also good for the soul. But an unreasonable demand for dopamine corrodes character. For the most part, we must allow healthy living to produce the necessary dopamine.
Various stimulants cause the release of dopamine. Some are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or pornography. However, they are in fact addicted to elevated levels of dopamine caused by these stimulants. Addiction to pornography-induced dopamine is rampant today, but hardly mentioned by our elites. (Who wants to be known as a prude?) Even compliments can be addictive. Neurologists suggest that social media stimulates dopamine with every “like” click received.
We often equate the spiritual life with the effects of dopamine. We “don’t feel close enough to God.” Neither did Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was dopamine-deprived. So was Jesus on the Cross. He refused the wine mixed with gall that would have released dopamine to sedate His suffering. God often withholds the dose of His dopamine to keep us faithful to our vocations. He grants us His spiritual dopamine according to our needs.
In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Jesus describes tenants who abuse their privileges, doing violence to the servants at harvest time (cf. Mt 21:33-43). The servants are God’s prophets, and we are the tenants. In the Old Testament, God sent many prophets to correct and direct. Most were ignored, insulted, or put to death. Court prophets who produced happy thoughts, and helped the powerful to continue living in comfort, kept the dopamine flowing. Faithful prophets caused dopamine deprivation. They were “bummers,” as the baby boomers would say. John the Baptist was a bummer. So was the Prophet Jeremiah.
If we have a well-formed conscience, we will more likely make progress in breaking our addiction to dopamine. King David, in his dopamine-induced state, surprised everyone by his conversion in his response to his angry court prophet, Nathan. But Nathan’s success is an exception to the Biblical rule. Alas, most of us will agree that the favorite moment in the homily is the conclusion. Like the prophets of old, faithful priests cannot overcome the dopamine of life patterns to change everyone’s core beliefs.
Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi (like Ted Kennedy in the past) cannot be unaware of the controversy they cause in the Catholic world by their faithless promotion of abortion. But they receive—or have received—many doses of dopamine, stimulated by the affirmation of friendly clergy. We would be hard-pressed to identify any prominent figure who identified himself as Catholic, supported legal abortion, but changed his stand because of a religious conversion.
Politicians are not unique in this respect. A prominent ecclesiastical official wrote a dirty book and—unrepentant—is a high-ranking Vatican official today. Others invoke highfalutin anthropological and sociological studies to support their departure from the Fifth and Sixth Commandments. Even the Pope echoes Cardinal Hollerich’s resolve to explore ways to bless sodomy and other forms of mutual masturbation.
It seems King David missed his chance to explain to Nathan (anticipating the wisdom of Cardinal Hollerich): “I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation the Church’s teaching [on homosexuality] is no longer correct.”
Must we remove Psalm 51—David’s poignant psalm of repentance—from the Divine Office? Perhaps the censorship is unnecessary. As memory serves, a survey of priests once revealed that nearly 95% of priests are happy, but only 45% of them pray the Divine Office in fulfillment of their ordination promises. Who needs prayer when dopamine suffices? Most of society and many high-ranking Church officials expect faithful Catholics to reject their life of faith and dull their conscience with dopamine. The promise of worldly success and acceptance is addictive.
For many, cultural acceptance, if it comes at the expense of the soul, is appalling. So some priests refuse to feed the allure of dopamine. Their fidelity is a curious phenomenon “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” (Phil. 2:15) As sinners, they cannot claim credit for their vocal fidelity. Trapped, they feel like Jeremiah the Prophet, who said, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped.” (1 Jer. 20:7) They can’t bring themselves to dull their conscience with dopamine.
Those ordained in Holy Orders are priests, prophets, and kings. Their costly seminary education and formation are irrevocable. They wince when they pray the Opening Prayer of the Mass (Week 27): “Pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads.” They can’t escape their understanding that the primary job of a priest as preacher is to proclaim the faith.
The more they look at Church teaching, the more God convinces them that His law and human nature are immutable and inseparable. Try as they might, they cannot ignore their conscience and blame the Holy Spirit for the cultural abominations seeping like raw sewage into the Church. Faithful priests have run out of choices. There is only one way to go: the way of the Cross. The alternative is eternal disgrace. They are bound in conscience to preach the Gospel, not peddle dopamine.
Conscience impels faithful priests to speak with conviction, honesty, and fidelity—unworthily and often clumsily. They know most members of their congregations will go home bored, uninspired, a bit edgy, and dopamine-deprived. Faithful priests accept that in the eyes of the world and many within the Church, they are failures. But for a faithful Catholic, there is no escape.
God dispenses dopamine as He wills. God’s law and human nature are inseparable. Faithful priests deliver dopamine-deprived remarks in conscience because they have a holy fear of God. Hell is a bummer. But their faith in the final victory of the Resurrection is unshakable.
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