In Part 1, we talked about how our entire approach to church is about ourselves and our desires.
Today, we’re going to talk dopamine, but first a story.
In high school, I worked at a pizza place called “Cardo’s.” I was a delivery boy most of the time, including the night of the flood. There was a big creek (proper southeast Ohio pronunciation is crick) behind the store. All night long as I worked I saw the waters rapidly rising in this creek. Higher than any of us ever remembered.
By the end of the night, when we closed early, the waters were up to the level of the sidewalk in the back of the store. We normally parked the cars behind the store, close to the creek. This night, we parked in front of the store. But that wasn’t much better.
The next day, I drove as close as I could get to the store where I could see the cars pushed up against one another and the building by the current of the floodwaters.
Another driver and myself decided to go into the waters and push the cars out to the mechanic next door. It was all we knew to do to be able to help. The water was about knee level inside the store, a little higher in the parking lot.
We had no idea what was in that water. I must have touched my face while some of that water was on my hand. I ended up getting something the doctor diagnosed as Impetigo, a skin infection. Thankfully some antibiotics cleared it up.
The water was dirty, but we went in anyway, thinking we were doing the right thing.
Now, Let’s talk dope. Dopamine that is. Dopamine is the molecule of more. (Read “The Molecule of More” by Daniel Liberman, not a Christian book, FYI) Dopamine is never satisfied. It’s insecure. What you have is never enough, you need more, just in case.
Desire is the problem. God wants his people to want Him more than anything else. Unfortunately, we are so addicted to the instant gratification that comes with the fulfilment of our physical and tangible desires that we don’t understand how famished our souls are for God.
Dopamine drives us to want more. Dopamine is never satisfied. And nearly everything in our modern American life has been engineered to use dopamine to addict us. The News media uses dopamine to get us addicted to their fear-based narratives. Video game makers are masters of dopamine manipulation. And social media makers like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (and whatever other new fangled social media apps the kids are using these days), along with other major tech leaders like Amazon, Google, Samsung and others all employ “attention engineers”, who’s job is to get you to spend more and more time on their platforms and devices.
We are very unaware of the high level of manipulation that is taking place in our modern society. Even when we see the devastating effects of it, as we have seen throughout 2020, we continue to allow these platforms and attention engineering manipulators unrestricted access to our hearts, minds and lives.
Dopamine was designed by God to help us find the nourishment we need to thrive and fulfill his command to be fruitful and multiply. But, like everything else, it too has been compromised by the fall. It is something that can become a curse to us.
Think about life before any form of technology. Survival wasn’t a guarantee. Many people died before the age of 40 and families often had 4 or more kids, so that if one didn’t make it, you’d still have 3 left. It sounds morbid, but it was reality. Society wasn’t nearly as affluent either. So, people had to work hard to survive, to find food, fuel for warmth and building shelter. Dopamine was critical. Your literal survival was on the line.
Today it’s much different. Thanks to various advancements, most live into their 70’s. And being in the country that has developed the technology that drives the world, we have enjoyed affluence. Even the poorest among us have more at their disposal than much of the world. We have more than more than enough. But, still we’re never satisfied. That’s dopamine. Where dopamine used to be driving us to help us survive, now it’s driving us to fill our lives with more and more of the stuff we don’t need.
Desire is dopamine. Curiosity = dopamine. Anticipation = dopamine. New & shiny = dopamine. Secrets (aka gossip) = dopamine. Comparison = dopamine.
Our modern technological world is giving us hits of dopamine at every turn. Social media, video games, YouTube, major dopamine. TV shows, podcasts, commercials, news – nearly everything you do on a screen is using dopamine.
We are living in mirky flood waters of technological advancement. Technology that we also mindlessly adopt into most facets of our lives. The waters of technology have risen so rapidly and our dopamine driven desire led by curiosity and the desire for the new and shiny have led us into some very mirky, dirty and dangerous waters. There are unknowns lying in wait beneath the surface that we can’t detect. Unknowns that are devouring our souls without our knowledge. Infections that are eating away at the very foundation of humanity and civilization before our eyes.
And the same thing has happened to and in the church. Many of us as church leaders have mindlessly embraced this technology. Many of us have allowed the dopamine driven ways of our culture to infiltrate the way we run and build models of ministry in the digital era.
Like anything, I believe that technology can be used by God to spread the gospel and build the church. But, like anything, it can also be used for increasingly insidious purposes and we need to be more and more cautious with it.
What technology has done, however, has little to do with the devices themselves. They are merely mechanisms for the real problem. Dopamine driven desire.
Our devices are filling our minds with the lie that we can and should have everything in our lives the way we want it to be. Not only that, but that we deserve to have everything the way we want it. And that we are fools to settle for anything “less than the best”. After all we work hard.
The truth is, no matter how good we are at getting things in our lives the way we want them, that is a pursuit that will always end in disappointment. It will never satisfy us. We will always want more. Because that’s what dopamine does.
And the truth is, this same thinking has deeply infiltrated our approach to church. We want more.
Just like dopamine plays a huge role in “falling in love” and when that “feeling” wears off we feel like we are “falling out of love” (when what is really happening is less and less dopamine is being produced in our brains while the “here and now chemicals” of oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins are taking over) we do the same thing with choosing a church.
At first, everything is new and shiny and amazing. As the dopamine wears off and we start to notice more and more things that aren’t quite like we wish they were, we start to fall “out of love” with the church and find ourselves dreaming of finding the perfect church.
Not only is there no such thing as a perfect church, and not only would you ruin that church if you found it, we end up walking away from what may be the most perfect church for us because we think there is something better out there. The truth is, we don’t need to go to the church we want to go to. We need the church that needs us and that we need. And I’m old enough to know that what I want and what I need are rarely the same thing.
As we will see in the next posts, true satisfaction, joy and happiness only comes when we deny our desires and embrace the call of Christ to deny ourselves, take up the cross of loving one another sacrificially and follow Jesus instead of trying to get Jesus to follow us where we want to go.
Until then, maybe think twice before adopting that new piece of technology. You might end up with an infection that’s hard to cure.