Assimilation: Hypocrisy in Drug Use

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.

The hypocrisy in the position stated above, and believed by evangelicals, is obvious. When the definition of drug is properly understood it can immediately be seen that the condemnation of recreational drugs is applied haphazardly. There is no question that caffeine is a drug. It is a stimulant that has a profound effect upon the human body. It is a habit-forming drug that evidences real and serious withdrawal symptoms when a user (addict in the terms of the society) attempts to go “cold turkey”. Nevertheless, this drug is dispensed, free of charge, in probably every church in the country every Sunday morning. To make matters worse, this drug is consumed by most Christians every morning as a means to heighten their awareness prior to going to work. Many Christians laughingly comment as to how they need their “fix” every morning just to wake up. Everybody knows that a cup of coffee is little more than a “delivery system” for the drug called caffeine.

Now why is it that the use of caffeine is not immoral and the use of cocaine is? This question is especially poignant in light of the fact that the original Coca-Cola was a soft drink that contained cocaine for precisely the same reasons that caffeine is consumed in coffee. Yet, somehow, cocaine-containing Coca-Cola is immoral (because the state says cocaine is an illegal drug) but caffeine-containing coffee is a cherished church tradition.

Nicotine is a stimulant found in tobacco. It has very similar affect upon the human body as caffeine. Those who use nicotine find that it helps them to concentrate and perform at a higher level. Yet, the general consensus among Christians is that it is a sin to smoke, while it is saintly to drink coffee. Why are Christians blinded to the inconsistency of the application of rules of drug use? Why is it a sin to smoke and not a sin to drink coffee?

Most likely the answer that would be given to the last question would go something like this: drinking coffee, although admittedly a drug, does not harm the body in the way that smoking does. After all, is not the body the “Temple of the Holy Spirit”? I believe most Evangelicals would say that it is acceptable to drink coffee because it somehow does not “hurt” the body (ignoring the fact that it is a stimulant and that it is physically addictive!), whereas smoking has been clearly shown to have many negative physical affects upon the human body besides the ingestion of nicotine.

There is some truth to the argument that smoking can do harm to the human body in a way that drinking coffee cannot. But as is the case in all drug use, the poison is in the dosage. Massive ingestion of coffee does more damage to the body than light smoking. Heavy smoking does more damage to the body than light coffee drinking. Perhaps more importantly, overeating and not exercising can do more harm to the body than moderate smoking and coffee consumption combined! Numerous medical studies have shown that there are some positive benefits attributed to smoking. In some cases, especially those revolving around the smoking of pipes and cigars, it has been shown that light to moderate tobacco use actually reduces risk factors associated with damage to the body and poor health. On the other hand, I am aware of no study that has ever concluded that obesity is in any way good for the “Temple of God”.

It is possible that I have only visited churches in which the members have a problem with overeating. But I don’t think so. I believe it is fair to say that among evangelicals, as it is among the US population in general, obesity is a serious problem. Not only is it a problem; it is also a sin. Proverbs 23: 20 says, “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat”. Gluttony is easily defined. Gluttony is eating more than you need. Gluttony is easily detected. Are you fat? If you are, you have engaged in gluttony. Why is it that evangelicals rail against the use of tobacco and ignore the more obvious and common sin of gluttony? If we are serious about the argument of not doing harm to the “Temple of God”, then why are so many Christians fat and lazy? Even worse, why is nobody preaching about the dangers of obesity and the sin of gluttony?

The answer to that question is easy. Too many people would get mad and leave the church if the pastor preached that gluttony was a sin. My pastor did just that and several fat members left the church in a huff. These folks didn’t smoke or drink and believed that it was the duty of the pastor to “preach the whole counsel of God”. So much for logical consistency.

It is clear that there is a lot of confusion in the minds of Christians with respect to drugs and the abuse of the body. We have indeed been guilty of “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” on this issue. We do and say nothing about the significant minority of our church members who are public gluttons while at the same time condemning those who might smoke on the grounds that they are ingesting the drug of nicotine and harming their bodies. Meanwhile, we all reach for another cup of coffee!

The question of the use of the drug known as alcohol has divided the Church in the US since before Prohibition. Fundamentalists go to great lengths to “prove” that all references in the Bible to wine and strong drink that are positive are references to alcohol-free wine and strong drink. Conversely they say that all references to wine and strong drink that are negative are references to alcohol-containing wine and strong drink. Some denominations state flat out in their doctrinal statements that the “production and consumption of alcohol is a sin”. Others allow for limited uses of alcohol. To answer the alcohol question and to get an understanding on the biblical position on drug use we need to examine some passages.

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