Friday, December 7, 2012

Christians, Cannabis, and Alcohol

In the wake of the elections here in the United States, Christians here have had plenty to discuss, especially those of us who would broadly call ourselves "conservative" Christians. The citizenry of the U.S. re-elected a President who will continue to enact the broad will of said citizenry. This will of course being that we permit, encourage, and force objectors to subsidize the killing of unborn children; and that we steal (not calling it that of course) to fund the great State-idol which offers the promise of eternal mediocre comfort. This much is plain, and is not so much a debate as a prophetic duty of proclamation, though one which I generally undertake through more individual channels.

But of course, that wasn't the only thing that happened. And one interesting thing that did happen was that Colorado and Washington legalized, at least in some sense, the recreational use of cannabis. Christians who don't take the stance that any consumption of alcohol for recreational purposes is sinful have long been able to deflect arguments by analogy that pot ought also to be OK by pointing to a Christian's duty to obey the government. This is, apparently at least, no longer an option in these two states.

Pastor Mark Driscoll has taken up the issue and published a free e-book entitled “Puff or Pass?”. (Heh.) In forming his response, he quotes Pastor Douglas Wilson's book “Future Men” at length. The entire discussion is helpful, and of course Pastors Driscoll and Wilson are far wiser and more mature men than I am. Further, they both have years of effective pastoral ministry under their belts, while I have zero time in pastoral ministry, effective or otherwise. That said, I will take the line of C. S. Lewis and be as a sheep, bleating to the shepherds and the rest of the flock as an indication that I've noticed an item of concern.

The concern stems from Pastor Wilson's argument, which Pastor Driscoll paraphrases and aligns with:

“ As Wilson sees it, because people use marijuana for the effect, it is a sin to seek such an effect. ‘It is a sin to seek the strong forms of it–getting loaded–and it is a sin to seek the mild forms of it–getting a pleasant, euphoric buzz. If it has done its work as a drug, then that work has been a sinful one.’

“Some may wonder whether a position like Wilson’s means the rejection of caffeine, cigarette, and alcohol use. He is clear that he does not intend to go this far. ‘Unlike wine, for example,” he explains, “marijuana has an immediate effect, within minutes. Two sips of wine tastes good. Two hits from a joint, and the process of intoxication has begun.’”

(Quoting from p. 24—25 of Driscoll, who in turn quotes from p. 173—176 of Wilson.)

The problem here is the counter, which has been too lightly passed over. Is obtaining any kind of pleasurable psychological/nervous reaction to a consumed substance sinful? Well then we would have to condemn eating, which gives pleasure through the nervous and endocrine reactions to digestion, and alcohol consumption of any sort. Two sips of wine tastes good, but that's about as far as one can go without getting a pleasurable reaction besides taste. Given Wilson's writing on, and stated enjoyment of, beer and wine, it is hard to think that he limits himself to two sips of wine at a meal. I do not mean to imply that he goes overboard, but simply that “two sips” is rather generous to his argument. Generalizing a bit: is getting a hug sinful? physical exercise? sexual intercourse within a monogamous and matrimonial relationship? All of these are clearly things are clearly both lawful and good (within their respective limits of course) and yet a great deal of their pleasurable nature consists of endocrine and nervous reactions of the same variety which cause the relaxing effects of alcohol and the “buzz” of cannabis.

Wilson's insistence that the “buzz” from cannabis or alcohol is sinful comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, where Paul insists that Christians ought not to be drunk. But let us contrast this with John 2:1-11 where Jesus miraculously creates wine towards the end of a wedding celebration. The master of the feast tells the bridegroom that generally the cheap wine is saved until the guests “have drunk freely,” with the obvious implication that the guests have indeed drunk freely and are enjoying themselves. Jesus was encouraging merry celebration which does not seem to have included careful thought towards not getting any effects other than taste from the wine, but rather just the opposite. (Wilson himself has argued similarly: see “Rampaging Christian Wowserism”, particularly the part where Wilson says that prohibition “would have made the Lord Jesus at Cana into a felon.”)

In light of this, it seems to me implausible that the passage from 1 Thessalonians proscribes any form of “buzz” from consumption of a substance. Rather, it insists that Christians not be enslaved to such a thing. The distinction ought to be obvious in our own lives. There is a vast difference between people, like many in my family, who employ alcoholic beverages in celebration and in gratefulness for all of the blessings God imbues them with, and those who employ them to shirk their responsibilities or who are driven by their uncontrolled passions to negligence, abuse, and homicide. But the difference is not between those who experience chemical pleasure from these substances and those who do not.

I am not advocating the unrestrained and irresponsible use of alcohol. I'm not even advocating that Christians consider intoxication (intentional loss or impairment of cognitive faculty by consumption of a substance) to be lawful. My concern is that in arguing against the recreational use of cannabis (the consumption of which seems rather plainly unwise, at least) we also employ responsibility in our arguments, such that they do not leave an unnecessary door open for the “rampant Christian wowserism” to deprive us of God's many blessings.