Stinking Thinking


If you are a regular reader of our blogs, you’ll begin to notice that we are a bit stuck lately on the beautiful writings of the Franciscan priest, Father Richard Rohr.   

He wrote the book, ‘Breathing Under Water:  Spirituality and the Twelve Steps,’ where he took us through the AA’s 12-step program and reminds us that it has solid roots in the Christian faith.   Richard Rohr writes that AA is a truly practical program that really works.

We wanted to delve a bit deeper, and today we look at the assumptions he highlighted about addiction and the concept of ‘Stinking Thinking’ in the book.   

Addiction equals sin

Father Rohr makes four assumptions about addiction. He says:

  • We all are addicts.The question is not whether you are addicted, but instead to what and    

If you are unwilling to face this, you are 'blind.'  Richard Rohr writes that addiction is only a 'modern' name for sin.   The medieval Christians called it 'attachments' or 'passions.'   

We all have practices that we need to break out of. It might be as innocent as sitting in front of the television every night. There is nothing wrong with it per se, but if you know there is someone yearning for your presence in another room of the house, and you are ignoring it, it might be that you are ‘addicted.’

Are you too attached to your phone?  It might be an addiction. Are you always working?  That too.

  • ‘Stinking Thinking.’  Substance abuse, such as alcohol- and drug addiction, is visible.  But there are many more types of addictive behavior that can’t be seen.

Father Rohr says we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing and thinking.  You might not even be able to see it!  Sometimes you need someone else to point it out to you.

  • Societies are addicted.Cultures and institutions share addictions.  For example, in the US, people are 'addicted' to oil, war, and empire.   A wealthy person can be addicted to power and a white person to superiority. These addictions are shared and often 'agreed-upon.'


  • An ‘alternative consciousness’is the only way to break free from this.  Richard says that prayer, as a contemplative practice, is the only way to change how we think.  We need God.


More on ‘Stinking Thinking.’


Negative thinking

Try to see this picture in your mind: every time you think about something, your brain transmits chemical messages that 'speak' to your nervous system and body.  Always trying to become more efficient, your brain will strengthen the connection between neurons so that their 'communication' will be more natural next time.

Now, what if those thoughts, those 'chemical messages,' are always negative?   

We start to suffer from repetitive, uncomfortable thoughts – over and over again.  This is called ‘stinking thinking.’ You get caught up in the cycle of negative thinking.   



Because you don’t take the time to ‘think about’ what you are thinking about!   You are not tapped into that ‘alternative consciousness.’

In fact, your thoughts are actually just ‘opinions.’  If you allow them to dictate what you are doing and then wonder why you keep having the same problems, it might be because you don’t take the time to actively ‘engage’ with them.


‘What can I do to change?’

If you start to ask yourself the questions:

‘Are these thoughts helpful to me?   Will it change my situation?’ and the answers are ‘no,’ you will know that you were engaging in stinking thinking. You are doing things just by habit.

 Change your thinking to helpful thoughts.  Ask yourself: ‘How can I resolve what I am facing?’

Now you are actively choosing what to think and find solutions to your problems.   

Focused thinking is hard work!  But it can become easier over time.



Richard Rohr wrote:

‘Transformation has little to do with intelligence, willpower, or perfection. It has everything to do with honest humility, willingness, and surrender.’

In our next blog, we look a bit more at how Richard Rohr thinks we can resolve this process of 'stinking thinking.'



‘Breathing Under Water:  Spirituality and the Twelve Steps’ – by Richard Rohr.  Find the book here: Twelve/dp/1616361573