English comedian, actor, TV host, writer and radio DJ Russell Brand was, until very recently, infamous for his bad behaviour and disrespectful attitudes, especially to all things religious. But after decades of addiction took their toll, Russell was brought to an all-time low. Following years of recovery, he says that he is now ’embracing’ Jesus Christ and his message of love, peace and joy.
Russell started his public career as a stand-up comedian, but he first came to the public eye in 2004 as the host of TV show Big Brother’s Big Mouth. From there he had prominent roles in a number of movies including St Trinians (2007), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), and Arthur (2013). He also provided the voice of Doctor Nefario in the animated Despicable Me movies.
Russell is no stranger to controversy. In 2010, as the husband of pop singer Katy Perry, he was arrested for hitting a paparazzi who was blocking them from catching their flight. In 2012 he was in trouble for breaking a paparazzi’s iPhone, and in 2013 Brand was ejected from the GQ awards after joking about Hugo Boss and their alleged historic links with the Nazis. Following a string of other controversial episodes he became known as very much a ‘bad boy’ to be avoided. But it looks as though this kind of controversy is more behind him now.
A very public figure in his struggles, Brand battled with addiction problems for many years. And it was not just one addiction. Alcohol, drugs, pornography and sex were all controlling influences on Russell’s personality and behaviour. But while the world often derided the outspoken, foul-mouthed promiscuous comedian, this was only one side of Russell Brand. Inside, he was a man searching for meaning, for reality, for truth, for purpose, for acceptance! In his own words,
“There’s a famous quote: ‘Every man who knocks on a brothel door, he’s looking for God!’ Crack houses and these dens of suffering and illicit activity, they’re all people trying to feel good, trying to feel connected. People are trying to escape. People are trying to get out of their own heads. To me, this is a spiritual impetus.”
For many years Brand was popular for his raunchy, often quite shocking comedy routines. But a thoughtful and caring side was always ready to rear its head and Russell became increasingly vocal about social justice issues. His thinking was changing as he went through years of withdrawal from addiction.
The Road to Recovery
Recovery started 15 years ago when he realised that something in his life needed to change. Russell had already been arrested on numerous occasions for drug-related incidents when his agent caught him shooting up heroin in the bathroom during an office Christmas party. It was the beginning of a very necessary change of direction. Brand agreed to go on what is known as ‘the 12-step program’. Pioneered by the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group, the program is an addiction recovery method based largely on Christian principles. It is centred on a reliance upon ‘a higher power’ (God), self-reflection, and forgiveness. The program transformed his life. In the years since he entered the program, Russell Brand has come to see the importance of God and spiritual things in a world that constantly promotes the material and physical above the spiritual. Russell began to see the world through the eye of the 12 step lens. He explained,
“I’ve been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for 14 and a half years… The longer I’ve been clean from drugs and alcohol, the more I’ve noticed that [our] own addiction, and perhaps addiction in general, is affecting our behaviour in ways that we wouldn’t previously have assumed.”
The 12-step program takes time to work because it isn’t about changing behaviour, which is exterior, it’s about changing the inner person. The first three steps are concerned with recognising the depths of our own circumstances and beginning to understand how we can free ourselves from them.
“We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable,” as he paraphrases the 12-steps in the book. “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
Relevance of Christ and His Teaching
The program led Brand to look more closely at the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“My personal feeling is [that] the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.”
Speaking of the writings of the New Testament, he says,
“When stripped of the cultural inflection of the time when it was first written and is variously being translated, there is an undeniable truth.”
Russell believes that the world is desperately lost and needs the teaching of Jesus Christ more now than ever before. He believes that the world is addicted to instant gratification currently found in the likes of pornography, the brothel, Twitter and Instagram. Humanity has become addicted, and he is well versed in addictive behaviour. His book Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, reveals firstly his own struggles with addiction and secondly that the answer is a spiritual one. It’s one he believes can be found in Jesus, and others. Although he is not at this stage a fully fledged ‘orthodox’ Christian, it certainly looks as if he could be well on the way to becoming one.
The 12 Steps
Brand explains that the principles of the 12 step program involve a number of spiritual decisions,
“…humbly [asking] God to remove our shortcomings, making a list of all persons we had harmed and [being] willing to make amends to them all, and … [seeking] to improve our conscious contact with God as we [have] understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.“
When he was first introduced to the program, ironically by an atheist, Russell had a real problem with all of the ‘religious talk’. But he persevered and adapted the way he thought about religion.
“I believe that the purpose of religion is love and connection, to feel connected to one another and to feel at ease with who we are … a kind of oneness, a kind of wholeness. So, as I began to understand that, this sort of superficial language of religion seemed less relevant.”
He said that after he had stripped away the “superficial language of religion,” he made the decision to connect with the ‘higher power’ of the 12 steps. Brand became fascinated with spirituality as a way of escaping addiction.
“My route to spirituality comes through addiction, so it comes from desperation and fear and this sort of defeat, destruction, annihilation of self in a very humiliating way… I had no choice but to embrace spiritual life, but now I am grateful for this. It makes sense of my life.”
“Because I come from a Christian culture, a lot of the language of prayer that I use is Christian. I say the Lord’s Prayer every day. I try to connect to what those words mean. I connect to what the Father means. I connect to what wholeness means to me. I think about the relationship between forgiveness and being forgiven and the impossibility of redemption until you are willing to forgive and let go.”
Embracing Prayer and Elements of Christianity
Embracing many elements of Christianity, including prayer and the teachings of Jesus Christ, have helped keep him on the path to recovery, but in discovering his own spiritual pathway, Russell believes he has found a message that could transform our dying world.
He has clearly moved from atheist to ‘believer in God’, but is not yet in a place where he fully accepts the teaching of the New Testament where Jesus Christ stated quite categorically,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Brand is more of a spiritual seeker. He clearly admires the life and teaching of Jesus and is attempting to live by much of that moral code, but he also admires the teachings of other historical religious leaders such as Buddha and Mohammad. He is not yet in a place where he is able to say that he is a Christian, and to be fair, he has not claimed to be ‘a Christian’. Christ stated clearly in this passage that there are certainly not ‘a number of ways’ to God, there is just one way, and that he himself is that one way.
Although still a little confused about what he believes, the shift from atheist to believer in God is a huge step for someone like Russel Brand. He says that he has been “...shaken by the power of the words of Christ.” Talking of Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 who asks, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Christ’s response is, “Give away all your possessions and follow me”, Russell says the reason why this idea is so radical is because it strikes at the core of the values so many people hold dear – that money and materialism can cure our unhappiness.
“I think the reason that the economic arguments Christ offered are not promoted is because they are deeply at odds with the way we live,” he says.
Instead of focusing on self-fulfilment, Brand says the message of the Gospel offers an alternative; caring for others and helping those in need.
“I’ve seen in many formats now because I’ve played out the same pattern many times – the attachment to physical things, physical behaviours or people, will never make me happy, but service of others and values that are certainly found in Christianity will make me feel peace or make me feel happy. It’s a lesson that’s very hard to learn.”
Russell Brand may not speak in classic Christian language, and he still has trouble with profanity, but he says that he has nevertheless chosen to following Christ’s teachings “on a daily basis.” To be honest, many evangelical Christians spend less time seeking Christ in prayer than this man does. He speaks of seeking ‘Christ consciousness’ and he asks,
“If Christ consciousness is not accessible to us, then what is the point of the story of Jesus, you know? He’s just a sort of a scriptural rock star, just an icon. Unless Christ is right here, right now, in your heart, in your consciousness, then what is Christ?”
He sees this as the key both to changing a person struggling with addictions, and also to recovering a culture. It must be a spiritual change; a change of values.
“I do think a spiritual and transcendent change is required for people to be free from addiction, and by spiritual change, I mean the transition from one’s life being predicated on self-fulfilment to a life predicated on service, which for me is a moment-to-moment struggle.”
For those who are battling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, technology or anything else, Russell Brand encourages people to,
“…admit you have a problem; believe it’s possible to change; and, ask Him for help. Invite Him in … Capital H, of course.”
Every day, as he prays the words of the Lord’s Prayer and reads the words of Jesus, Russell Brand is discovering more and more about the real Jesus Christ and His message of love, forgiveness, and salvation. He is on a journey of discovery. The God of the Bible said that those who truly seek him will find him. Russel Brand may not be quite there yet, but anyone who has been “...shaken by the power of the words of Christ.” and who prays the Lord’s Prayer daily is on the way there and we should pray that he reaches his destination safely without being distracted. In the words of the Bible;
“…if you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29)
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)
Story by Ralph Burden