Assimilation: Smoking and Drinking

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

Smoking and drinking are deemed to be worldly behaviors primarily because they involve the consumption of a drug. It is accepted as a basic presupposition that Christians should never, ever, have anything to do with any type of drug! Despite the fact that Christians are divided into hundreds of denominations based upon different biblical interpretations, I believe it is fair to assert that all Christians would agree that personal, recreational drug use is a sin. The question that needs to be asked is, what does the Bible say?

It will come as a shock to most believers, but the Bible just says, “Yes” to drugs. In order to prove this point it is necessary to do several things. First, I need to define precisely what a “drug” is. Second, a brief history of the social perception of drug use in this country would be helpful. Lastly, a quick summary of numerous relevant passages from the Bible will be examined.

In very broad categories, drugs can be divided into four general classes. Stimulants are drugs that have the effect of stimulating the human physiology. This stimulation results in a feeling of alertness, attention, heightened awareness, and euphoria. Some commonly used stimulants are caffeine, nicotine, and cocaine. Depressants are drugs that have the effect of depressing the human physiology. This depression results in a feeling of tranquility, calmness, and, again, a sense of euphoria. Common depressants include amphetamines and alcohol. Hallucinogens are drugs that affect the chemistry of the brain. Hallucinogenic drugs cause the user to have an altered sense of reality that is generally euphoric in character. Common hallucinogens include marijuana and LSD. Lastly, opiates are powerful drugs that have an effect upon both the brain and the body by blocking neural pathways. The use of opiates can have a strong tranquilizing effect. They also can be used to create an altered sense of reality. Opiates are also sometimes referred to as narcotics. Common opiates are morphine and heroin.

The four classes of drugs described all have a common effect upon the user in that they bring about a change in the physiology of the body that is desirable for the user. They also have the common affect of rendering a change to the cognitive perceptions of reality on the part of the user. Although each of the different classes acts upon the body in different fashions, they all have the same perceived impact of creating a sense of euphoria in the user. For my purposes I will define a drug as any substance that alters the cognitive perceptions of the user, generally interpreted in a euphoric fashion.

Prior to 1906 in the United States, all of the drugs mentioned above (including marijuana, cocaine and heroin) were readily available for purchase on the free market. However, in 1906 Congress created the Food and Drug Act. This act was a response of Congress to the traveling medicine shows that were sweeping the country. Because there were many different types of drugs being sold at these shows and because many of the products that were being purchased contained ingredients that the purchasers were unaware of, Congress deemed it necessary to require a label that would detail all the contents of a medicine. There were some examples of people becoming ill or even dying from the use of some of these tonics and Congress felt the need to “do something”. The Food and Drug Act simply required that all bottles of medicine clearly spell out what they contained. There was no attempt to stop or regulate the production of these medicines. It was believed by Congress that consumers just needed to be aware of what they were purchasing, not that they needed to be protected from their own purchasing decisions.

Largely due to the influence of the Christian Temperance Union (which was successful in getting the highly unsuccessful Prohibition Act passed in 1920) and the growing desire of a minority of American citizens to have government control over drugs, the Harrison Narcotic Act was passed in 1914. This act proscribed that from that point forward all “habit forming” drugs would be regulated by the US government and would be available for “medical” use exclusively. The Harrison Narcotic Act was followed up by a more specific act of Congress in 1924 which made it illegal for anyone to manufacture, possess or distribute heroin. It is worth noting that in that year the Bayer company had produced and sold about 1.6 tons of heroin for popular consumption on the free market.

Finally, in 1938, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created by an act of Congress. Prior to the establishment of the FDA, any person was free to purchase any non-narcotic without a prescription. The FDA laid down two primary principles. First, all “dangerous” drugs would be subject to prescription laws. Second, all government authorized agents (doctors and pharmacists) must comply with government rules relating to the dispensing of narcotics.

Prior to 1906, the production, purchase and consumption of all drugs were deemed to be a personal decision. By 1938 and the creation of the FDA all of that personal responsibility had been dismissed. The social perceptions about drugs and drug use changed dramatically. Prior to the government claiming monopoly control over the dispensing and use of drugs it was not considered to be a social stigma for an individual to use drugs, either for medical or recreational purposes. After the establishment of the FDA the use of drugs was either good or bad depending upon from whom they were purchased. As Thomas Szasz points out (in his book entitled “Pharmaucracy”), if you use drugs under the authority of the state, you are a patient. If you use drugs under your own authority you are an addict. In the same way, if you sell drugs under the authority of the state, you are a pharmacist. If you sell drugs under your own authority you are a pusher.

This change in societal perceptions has a tremendous benefit for the State. By completely controlling a part of the economy that used to be in the free market, the State is able to dole out political favors and receive graft in return. Decisions about which drug comes to market and how much it will cost can now be made by politicians rather than the free market. A tremendous amount of soft political money is shifted into politician’s pockets by drug companies who expect favorable legislation in return.

No better modern example of the increased power and hypocrisy of the State can be seen than in the “tobacco settlement”. Using the coercive power of government, many individual states forced private tobacco companies to pay them funds for the privilege of continuing to do business. Ostensibly the government extorted these funds from tobacco companies because of the damage they had done to the “public health”. However, not a penny of the extorted funds is being used to pay for anyone who has allegedly been harmed by tobacco (that money is being spent to shore up state budgets that are ridiculously in the red). Rather, the government has a vested interest in seeing that the tobacco companies continue to be profitable so as not to see their own income stream from legal extortion decrease. The net effect of the “tobacco settlement” is little more than the virtual reality that the state governments are now the primary “shareholders” of tobacco stocks in that they receive the preferred dividends from the profits of the companies as they continue to sell the harmful drug that brought about the suit in the first place!

This change in public perception about the production and use of drugs raises a vital question. How can the exact same act (using drugs) be criminal (sinful) at one time (when done under personal responsibility), and be moral and proper at another time (when the state dispenses the drugs and collects the profits)? The utilization of drugs is today deemed to be immoral in all cases except when done under the auspices of the State and for medical purposes. The use of drugs on one’s own personal recognizance and for recreational purposes is always considered to be immoral. I believe that is a fair summary of the current position of both Christians and non-Christians on the topic of drug use. However, as I will show, it is woefully hypocritical.

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