The Lesser of Two Evils Usually Isn’t
Vol: 107 Issue: 24 Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I anticipated that yesterday’s OL would generate a lot of controversy. I was surprised that the reaction was as subdued as it was.
At issue was the question of whether or not smoking pot is prohibited by Scripture or whether it is a cultural issue of relatively recent pedigree. There are those that argue that pot is less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco.
On the other side are those that argue that pot is a ‘gateway’ drug that leads to harder drugs, that the only reason for smoking pot is to get high, that pot separates a person from God, and (most convincingly to my way of thinking), that it may cause somebody else to stumble.
I was never particularly interested in this question — it is near impossible to find any unbiased information about it. What I found particularly interesting is that nobody is neutral on the subject.
If one researches sources that are either connected to the government or government funded, then one can learn that pot is dangerous and that it has absolutely no medical value.
On the other extreme, one finds that pot is harmless and that it is useful for a whole myriad of ailments ranging from chronic pain to cancer.
There are very few sources of information that are simply information sources rather than advocacy programs dedicated to advancing one perspective or the other.
That’s one of the things I noticed in the forums (and it was inevitable, I guess). Either pot is harmful, sinful and useless or it is harmless, neutral and sinless. From what I’ve been able to learn, the truth sits somewhere between these two extremes.
Another thing I found interesting is how pot just suddenly appeared in history. I have in my library collections of sermons by the great preachers of the past, primarily those of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Spurgeon, Moody, Criswell, Billy Sunday and others.
Spurgeon liked cigars – I didn’t find any sermons on the evils of tobacco. D.L. Moody liked to eat – he didn’t preach much against gluttony. Billy Sunday preached against Demon Rum around the time of Prohibition. To listen to Billy Sunday, alcohol was pure sin distilled in hell by the devil himself.
In the autumn of 1874 Dr. Charles Haddon Spurgeon invited an American guest preacher, a Dr. Pentecost, to preach at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Chapel.
Dr. Pentecost preached on his struggle with tobacco, particularly cigars.
The local newspaper (this was 1874, remember) published its critique of the meeting thusly:
“At the close of his useful sermon the minister introduced an American clergyman who, he said, was anxious to address a few words to the congregation. This reverend gentleman ‘improved the opportunity’ by inveighing fiercely against the sin of smoking tobacco, especially in the form of cigars, and told his hearers how he had struggled and fought against the pernicious habit, and how at last, by the blessing and with the assistance of Providence, he had conquered his addiction to the weed.
“Then uprose Mr. Spurgeon and, with quiet humour, remarked that he would not allow the congregation to separate without telling them that he did not consider smoking to be a sin, and that, by the grace of God, he hoped to enjoy a good cigar before going to bed that night.
“Hypercriticism should discern no irreverence in the conclusion of those remarks. We should be thankful for all things; and in observing that he hoped to enjoy a cigar through the Divine grace, he was but echoing the natural piety of Charles Lamb, who asked why we should not say grace before going out for a walk in the fields as well as before and after meat. Dr. Johnson said grace before he began the ‘Rambler’; and if Mr. Spurgeon be a smoker, he only adds another and most excellent name to the long catalogue of distinguished English divines of the Established and the Dissenting Churches who have solaced themselves with that Indian weed.”
The preachers of the 18th and 19th century did not preach against alcohol, although they preached against drunkenness. The Temperance Movement of the late 19th century was primarily driven by the Women’s Temperance Union. (Ironically, ‘temperance’ means ‘moderation’ or ‘self-restraint.’ )
The Temperance Movement strove to ban alcohol in all its forms and was the leading force behind the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). It preached that alcohol was itself a sin.
The Temperance Movement united theological liberals with theological conservatives in an unholy alliance. While the Church was consumed by its war against alcohol, the theological liberals walked in and took over the denominations.
The Temperance Movement failed to curb alcohol abuse. But it was one of the distractions that allowed for the introduction of the social gospel into the Church.
The church was right to preach against drunkenness, but it went beyond that to declare alcohol itself to be a sin. In other words, they considered alcohol to be a greater evil than false doctrine.
Marijuana doesn’t become an issue in the US, from what I can find, until an incident in El Paso in 1914. Some white men were allegedly attacked by a Mexican man who had gone crazy on ‘loco weed.’
Following the incident, the El Paso City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting possession of marijuana, but the law was more about controlling the local Mexican population than it was about controlling pot.
During Prohibition, the Treasury Department was responsible for both liquor and illegal drugs. When Prohibition was repealed, Treasury agents (“revenooers”) were essentially out of a job. Harry J Anslinger was named head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1937.
Anslinger simply transferred the war on alcohol over to the war on drugs, lobbying for marijuana’s inclusion in the Uniform State Narcotics Act. The liquor agents were out of work, but Anslinger’s ‘revenooers’ survived the repeal of Prohibition by reinventing themselves as narcotics agents.
Until the 1930’s, marijuana was considered less harmful than liquor. Anslinger campaigned for seven years against pot as a ‘Mexican drug’, finally getting marijuana included as an illegal drug in 1937.
Anslinger launched a nation-wide anti-pot campaign, financing such anti-drug movies as 1938’s hilarious “Reefer Madness.”
In 1961, Anslinger used America’s considerable influence at the United Nations to get 100 countries to consolidate their drug agreements into a single international convention that made marijuana illegal around the world.
And somewhere along the way between the end of Prohibition and Harry Anslinger’s retirement in 1962, marijuana was upgraded to join alcohol as sin forbidden by the Bible.
“I sometimes wonder if all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” – C. S. Lewis
I got a lot of email about yesterday’s OL in addition to the comments posted in our forums. Let me repeat one more time that it was not about pot; it was about Scripture vs. culture. There are so many good reasons for Christians to abstain from pot that listing them all is an exercise in redundancy.
So I won’t bother. You already know them. So what is the point, here? It isn’t that I am trying to make a case that it doesn’t matter if Christians smoke pot, although I suspect that is what many of you are taking away from this. Step back with me and try and see the bigger picture.
All the same reasons why a Christian should abstain from alcohol and tobacco apply in spades to pot. It was J. Harry Anslinger who pronounced pot ‘sin’. The Church was convinced that a thing was more evil than a false doctrine and embraced the theory that a thing can be a sin.
Once that slippery slope was breached, the slide began. If a thing can become a sin, then the sinner’s responsibility is diminished. The sin of drunkenness became the disease of alcoholism.
AA operates on the principle that habitual drunkenness is, at least in part, the result of an allergy to alcohol. Consequently, an alcoholic can never drink alcohol again, lest the allergy be rekindled. It is the alcohol that is the sin.
I don’t disagree with that, by the way. An alcoholic that never drinks again will not have to worry about getting drunk. But not all drunks are alcoholics with an allergy to alcohol that makes them drink uncontrollably.
Some drunks are just irresponsible louts who now have an excuse to remain irresponsible louts. “The bottle made me do it.”
Some, but not all. Don’t get mad at me for this, too. The point is that it isn’t alcohol that is sin. Alcohol is a thing. Used to disinfect wounds it is a good thing. Used to drink oneself to death, it is a bad thing.
Absent the interaction of a free-will human being, it is simply a thing. Calling it sin is deciding that false doctrine is less evil than alcohol. Now that it is evil, alcohol is capable of being blamed.
Think about how many times you’ve heard the phrase, “alcohol was to blame for the crash.” (Or fire, or suicide or divorce or pregnancy or bar fight or murder.)
Once the Church embraces the false doctrine that a thing can be responsible for evil, is it not incumbent upon good Christians to stamp out evil? Stamping out evil is certainly a good thing for Christians to do, even if they have to, er, bend the Scriptures to do it.
This is why the average Christian would agree that money is the root of all evil. If it is the root of all evil, then it isn’t too far a stretch to argue that Christians shouldn’t mind if the government takes some of it and distributes it to the poor.
It’s the social Gospel: “What would Jesus do?” Jesus certainly wouldn’t associate with evil. That’s why He turned over the money-changers tables in the Temple. Because money is the root of all evil.
The thing becomes the sin. Remove the thing, you are not only removing temptation, you’re doing the sinner a favor.
The Bible really says the love of money is the root of all evil but having once accepted as doctrine that a thing can be evil, there’s no backing away.
Now it becomes an issue of what society considers a social evil. Once society decides, the church will follow.
Smoking kills, so smoking is a sin. It wasn’t a sin 100 years ago, before the Surgeon General’s warnings. But it is now.
Drinking wasn’t a sin, drunkenness was. But the social gospel takes stock of the damage done by drunks, couples it with the intemperate “Temperance League” and outlaws alcohol.
Gun control operates on the principle that guns are capable of killing people, not on the obvious principle that people with guns kill people. The result is that only people that want to kill people have guns. Everybody else is defenseless.
Some people should never drink. Some people shouldn’t own guns. Some people shouldn’t smoke. (Heck, nobody should smoke.) But advancing a doctrine that isn’t there, no matter how noble the purpose, always turns out the way it did the first time.
God told Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree. Eve added a new doctrine extending the command to even touching it. Satan turned it around on Eve and next thing you know, Adam’s blaming God for putting Eve there to tempt him.
Prohibition was an effort to stamp out sin by banning alcohol. The result was the Roaring 20’s, flappers, bathtub gin, Treasury raids, bootleggers, Al Capone and the rackets.
The Marijuana Stamp Tax of 1937 was an effort to stamp out drug abuse by banning pot. The result was an immediate increase in marijuana use, the Sixties, hippies, Timothy Leary, pot farms, drug raids, the Mexican drug cartels, murder, mayhem and a multi-billion dollar international drug trade.
The Brady Bill was an effort to stamp out gun violence by banning private gun ownership. The result was an increase in violent crime against newly-disarmed citizens by criminals who logic says wouldn’t obey the gun laws anyway.
All with the blessing of the Church which decided sometime around the turn of the last century that false doctrine was a lesser evil than alcohol, then pot, then guns.
Now the last two evils that need stamping out are “the rich” and conservative Christians, closing the circle the church began drawing around itself a hundred years ago.
Was pot-smoking a sin for European Christians who lived 1,000 years ago? There is nothing in the Bible that would tell them that back then. How is it intrinsically sinful today?
The Book of Revelation uniquely translates the Greek word pharmakea — meaning “the use or administration of drugs” as ‘sorceries’ in explaining the reasons for Tribulation judgment in Revelation 9:21 and Revelation 18:23.
“Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
“And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.”
In the first instance, we have judgment upon the unrepentant for their crimes, murder, drug abuse, sexual immorality and theft.
In the second, we have the judgment against the merchants and the mighty men of the earth who through a number of agencies, including the use or administration of drugs, deceived the nations.
Deceived them how? Do you see it? The false doctrine of demons?
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things that are not convenient.” (Romans 1:28)
If things can be evil, then evil is something man can fix. Man can control things. So who needs God?