25 October 2009

Why Christians should support drug legalization

A friend asked for suggestions on ways to discuss drug policy at his church. I said this:
Ask them if they would worship God if their church was banned. After they (presumably) say, "yes, we'd go underground, like the early Christians," you can tell them that some people feel the same about drugs. Prohibition is against human nature.
Bottom Line: Judge not (a man's private life), lest ye be judged.


Anonymous said...

The "argument" says that both phenomena (worshiping God, doing drugs) don't go to zero with prohibition. That doesn't imply the title of the post and the "bottom line" is completely unrelated to the argument.

Alex said...

That argument will make as much sense to Christians as the argument that blasphemy, adultery, and murder should be allowed because "prohibition is against human nature." In fact, that argument makes as much sense to Americans as the argument that theft, murder and hard drug use should be allowed because "prohibition is against human nature."

In an organized society, we have laws to prevent one person (or a group of people) from unfairly depriving others of rights. Clearly society has come to the conclusion that drug use decreases net social welfare. That point is very arguable, unlike the following:

It is ludicrous to suggest that Christians should support drug legalization, because drug use is an inherently violent activity. Christians believe that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, just as they believe that they should have the right to worship freely. So, if Christianity is banned, Christians will continue to worship "underground." Also, if drugs are legalized, true Christians will continue to abstain, because drug use is against the belief that the body is sacred.

Anonymous said...


Blasphemy and adultery are "allowed"...there are no laws against them. Murder is not an appropriate comparison to drug use by any stretch of the imagination.

Prohibiting people from smoking pot, for example, is not at all related to any of your examples. Who cares if I smoke pot? No one should, and no one does. Cigarettes and alcohol are way more potentially damaging to me and to society. No one ever died from smoking pot...millions have died from alcohol and cigarettes.

Your third paragraph makes no sense to me. "drug use is an inherintly violent activity"...huh? who is suggesting that? you? "Christians believe that the body is a temple of the holy spirit..." OK, wierd. My body is a temple and my temple appreciates illicit drugs...so what was your point, again? "...if drugs are legalized, true christians will continue to abstain..." who cares? abstain all you want from anything you want. No one cares what you don't do. the post is about limiting people's freedoms to do drugs...like pot...and the tie to christianity is that christians should be more sympathetic (or empathetic) with the plight of those who wish to legalize pot, for example, because they too have been victims of irrational, arbitrary prohibitions against an activity they choose to practice.

Alex said...

The argument is that Christian dogma should support drug legalization, which is the same as saying that Christian dogma should support murder legalization--it simply does not. This is not to say that any law should be based on Christian dogma, because we shouldn't have a nationally mandated religion of any kind. And I agree with you, pot has probably done far less damage than tobacco and alcohol. My only point was that it does respiratory harm to the body, and is thus inherently violent (albeit less so than pretty much every other controlled substance). If you make the choice to smoke weed, because the benefit of smoking (getting high) is greater than the cost (respiratory effects), then good for you. Except that you still have to deal with the legality issue, so have fun with that. From my perspective, such activity is disrespectful towards the body--I'm not saying we should apply my perspective or my faith to the law, I'm simply arguing that Christianity does not endorse a civil society without constraints.

David Zetland said...

@Anon1 -- yes, the bottom line DOES follow -- both drug use and religion are private affairs that should not be regulated by "the community"

Further, the title "follows" b/c Christians should be willing to support people seeking freedom of self-expression -- thru drugs or religion (and they are sometimes the same thing).

@Alex -- your "murder" equivalency is VERY hard to understand. Go look at the numbers on those dead from murder and those dead from drugs -- and then consider if there's a victim in both cases.

Tim in Albion said...

Perhaps it would also be useful to specify which "drugs" are being discussed here. From context I infer you mean "illegal" drugs - a subset defined only by arbitrary rules, subject to political whims. What is the moral distinction between, say, marijuana and alcohol?

MJ for example was criminalized in the 1930s, at least in part because it was mainly used by black people, so it provided another convenient rationale for arresting them. That seems immoral to me. Were there social or religious restrictions on its use (among Christians, for example) before then?

The distinction between legal and illegal drugs in America today seems to have little logical basis, so it's hard for me to understand how it can be framed as a moral issue. Help me out here! Do Christians (of the sub-type referenced by Alex) refuse to do violence to their bodies by using legal drugs, or do they mistakenly believe that illegal drugs are somehow more harmful?

Bottom line: Drug use and religious beliefs are individual choices, and individuals should have liberty to make those choices insofar as they do not impinge on others. Arbitrary governmental distinctions between "good" and "bad" drugs cause more societal harm than good.

Alex said...


My "murder" equivalency may be hard to understand because you're looking at the real effect on society, at data that shows that murder does more harm than drug use (I hope I'm not making a false assumption about your reasoning!). That seems obviously true to me. But Christians believe that a sin is a sin--some are worse than others, but because self-inflicted violence isn't "as bad" as killing another person is no reason to discount it as a sin. It should sound strange to non-Christians to hear this analogy--that's why we shouldn't base our laws on any religion.

As a (hopefully) rational member of society, of course I think murder should be punished more severely than drug use. And of course I agree, punishments for drug use/possession/delivery are often arbitrary and pointless.

Because Christians wish to worship freely does not mean that Christianity endorses limitless freedom of public or private expression. Christianity is not a collection of rights and privileges. It is a moral code and a religious faith that asserts, I believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humanity and that the moral obligations to my God include not stealing, raping, murdering or doing violence against myself (among others). This sounds bizarre and irrational to plenty of people, but if those people claim I can't believe in God because it's irrational, then they can't get mad at me for telling them that doing drugs is immoral. My straw-man friend and I have different understandings of morality and rationality, and as several commenters have said, we should BOTH be free to make our own decisions about our private lives.

The distinction is, Christianity is not against the law [in America], and drug use is. I'm not saying that's right or wrong from a legal perspective, but don't expect Christians to suddenly endorse drug legalization because it constitutes freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is not part of the equation.

MP said...

Eh, I don't think that would be very persuasive at many churches I know of. I think it would be more effective to frame it this way:

Most Christians reject legalization because the arguments seem too pragmatic. They're used to only hearing moral arguments in Christian Social Ethics, so pragmatic ones, like what you usually hear from pro-legalization types sound morally bankrupt to them. So first you have to break that link between the pragmatic argument and the knee-jerk reaction, then make the standard argument that fundamentally this is about what is most beneficial to society as a whole, not an issue of personal freedom. Christians like freedom, but they don't think you have the right to do wrong, and they won't support anti-social acts in the name of personal freedom. So while the individual liberty argument won't work, the societal benefit/pragmatic argument will, if you can get past their aversion to a position that seems to tacitly condone sinful behavior.

To get to that point, you should point out that most Christians recognize that not all sin should be considered a criminal act. So while Jesus made anger (lust) the *moral* equivalent to murder (adultery) in the Sermon on the Mount, virtually no one interpreted that as a command to incorporate those into the civil law. So where the moral law convicts one's own heart, the civil law protects society. ...

Now the issue becomes this: is the drug issue more like anger or murder? In other words, concede that all drug use is sin, but is it a crime? They will likely assume that it is the latter because of the drug war, which they are inclined to attribute to drugs themselves, not criminalization. So you'll then need to convince them of two things. First, even though drug abuse isn't truly "victimless," neither are the other private sins that can destroy relationships, families, and individuals, but we don't think that the legal system is the best way to deal with those sins. All but the most fundamentalist Christians would agree even on the alcohol issue--alcoholism can be extremely destructive, but no one wants to go back to alcohol prohibition. To say that we shouldn't use the legal system to deal with a societal problem does not diminish the seriousness of that problem.

Second, you'll have to convince them that the societal impact that they attribute to drugs would get better, not worse under legalization. But now you're back to the standard argument--if you get them this far, then they're evaluating this as a *prudential judgment* and not a moral precept, so you can use the same reasoning you would in a secular argument.

David Zetland said...

@TiA -- agreed on the "what's a drug?" vagueness. Note that MJ was associated with "dirty mexicans," not "dirty blacks" -- still racist -- just another race :(

@Alex -- I agree with your denf of sin (I'm an ex fundie), BUT: (1) Few Christians agree with every sin listed in the bible (e.g., http://bible.cc/deuteronomy/22-21.htm read 13:20 to get the context) and (2) My point is not that christians should use drugs but that they should tolerate that use by others, perhaps by supporting a change in laws -- esp. since the drug laws are based on moral -- rather than factual -- arguments. (3) I have been told that most DEA staff are Mormons. That explains why that organization is so reactionary and ineffective.

@MP -- Awesome!

Josh said...

Mr. Zetland, you are asking Christians to instead take a libertarian ethic. Alex has it right. Also, much of the Christian ethos is to work against human nature, because much of human nature is bad.

In addition, I don't see drug use as always a strictly private matter, nor do I see religion as always a strictly private matter. We have laws against opting out of medical procedures for minors, for example, and compulsory education. We don't allow human sacrifice.

The impacts of drug use on poor communities (like mine) is horrible, regardless of its legality. What would bother me, as a parent, is losing the social stigma associated with drug use. My extended family has a hard time with drug use and abuse, and I don't want my daughter involved. Is that any more selfish than asking for purely informed, individual self interest when it comes to economic activities?

Josh said...

Also, this claim:

"Further, the title "follows" b/c Christians should be willing to support people seeking freedom of self-expression -- thru drugs or religion (and they are sometimes the same thing)."

makes no sense to me. You are assuming that ethics automatically means allowing others to seek freedom of self-expression, and this is not shared by many. In fact, at its extreme, it eats itself: My self-expression by murder or theft is not allowed. If you follow this, then you don't allow the thugee sect. Again, you are trying to force those who benefit from a libertarian social ethos into believing in that ethos.

Madeconomist said...

There are really two classes of effects of drug use. The first class is the effect drug use has on the individual user. The second class is the effect that the use has on other people.
When a person is at home by themselves getting high, they effect no one else. That class of effects is focused on by libertarians and not as important to prohibitionists.
However, a person driving a car while high, spanking their kid while high, or showing up to work high affects other people.
I am for allowing the first class and severely punishing the second.
For instance, DUI is dealt with fairly mildly in the court system. I think if you are caught under the influence of anything while driving, you are a potential murderer. If you don't hurt anyone, you should lose your license for the rest of your life and spend a year in jail. If you hurt someone, it should be treated like attempted homicide. If you kill someone, I favor the death penalty, but I'd settle for the same treatment as other murderers.
People who hurt their kids while high should spend a few years in jail. People who show up to work high would be subject to termination without recourse if their employer chooses.
Bottom line: allow people to screw up their own lives, but punish them if they hurt others.
Rich Mills

Anonymous said...

I am a believer in the Messiah Yeshua. I hesitate to call myself a Christian these days because all the baggage that comes with. MP is completely right about approaching the Christian community. Throw facts at them at your own peril. You will get nowhere. At this stage, the churches in the US at least are dogmatically committed to the fallacious ideas that A) cannabis is harmful B) If you do something simply for pleasure it is a sin (interestingly enough they watch TV and some drink beer for pleasure but somehow that's different) C) the word sober (which actually is the greek word for cloud "nephos", being twisted grotesquely to mean sober) means abstinence. Mostly, though they are addicted to certainty, even where the Bible doesn't offer certainty on many secondary issues. There are plenty of biblical arguments that are pro-use even for Christians, and at minimum teach to allow freedom for brothers and others, unfortunately truth won't interest most Christians. Just be encouraged that some of us are working on the Messianic community from the inside out...

Anonymous said...

Sadly in violation of 1 Corinthians 5:12 instructing Christians NOT to judge those outsidge the church, christians persist in allowing politicians to oppress those outside the church with Judeo-Christian ethics....bad teaching these days but these things were foretold...I told a Christian doctor buddy of mine about the possible therapeutic uses of cannabis...he couldn't wrap the science (AMA granted tho) part of his mind around it. "He's like ya ya". Even people whose family members have cancer won't entertain the possibility that the "devil weed" may help. Sad but they bear the fruits of their own ignorance as do we...They are so dismissive that even the possibility that this stuff could cure some of the serious ailments we face today (based on sound scientific research) does not matter. They are simply not interested in curing diseases without the approved drugs...wonder what messiah will say about that? Comes down to conditioning...church feeds em bad doctrine and the science community feeds em propaganda...I just pray for em...don't worry one day they will answer for it as I believe we all will have our post-game review with the Master...

Anonymous said...

To be more constructive, considering the facts on the ground.... the best approach to change the mindset of the conditioned person, Christian or not, is to repeat the desired "attitude or information" to them over and over as loud as possible. Essentially reconditioning is the best you can hope for. Removing reliance on conditioning, imho, is the Master's work and is far too steep a cliff to productively climb. Repeat what Pat Robertson (who is a hero to many Christians) said to them over and over and over and over...until that slips into their conditioning, once that gets into their conditioning by repetition you're good as far as removing resistance...thinking and making judgements based on truth and fact (logos) vs. hero worship (ethos) or strong emotion (pathos) is a tall order for any man. imho, that is the Master's work. Even some of those who are pro- cannabis, while they may have the truth (logos) on their side, base their beliefs about cannabis on ethos and pathos. Effectively they have been conditioned to be for cannabis. They just happen to have, again in my opinion, the truth on their side. Alright yall, much love in Messiah to you guys from here. Peace...

Anonymous said...

Another libertarian concept that has really helped me in conversation with Christians is that, speaking in Christian terminology: God with ALL his power and ability to overide free will respects men's free will to choose sin, then he allows them to bear the consequences of the sin. He is simply up front with people about the consequence. How can any man require more than God requires of other men aka we will use force and conditioning to keep you from making mistakes "for your own good". It is obsession with control. No two men are the same. Use for one man may indeed be sin while for another it may not be (this is taught in the Bible by the way, but hardly mentioned at today's churches). For the man that God does not want to use something or whose conscience does not approve of his own use, use is sin to him. IT does not matter what that something is - food, crack, TV, whatever (the latter is called weak faith by Paul in his letters) but Paul is clear that Christians should not therefore go around, because they feel they shouldn't use something, prohibiting others from using something (let no man judge another man's servant - Paul)...When a person shoots heroin into their vain, if you believe that is a sin (I would agree if it is "ab" use vs. use), God often allows it to occur. Granted one could argue that cops kicking in your door while you abuse heroin is from God, I might agree. the Master can use a donkey to speak. But, point of fact is that there are better ways to deal with "ab"use from a policy standpoint. The person may be an idolator but the question is should they be classified as a criminal and be made subject to STIFF penalties of being arrested and subjected to force. Imo we shouldn't be arresting idolators for behaviors that do not impact anyone elses life liberty or property, because idolators need God and not a replacement idol (healthy idols like sexual immorality and TV :-P). This is a health issue not a criminal issue. Again I apologize for the Christianese but trying to get you guys inside our heads a bit, and share with the brothers who are commenting here. Anyhow we are stuck with people, Christians and Non, conditioned to believe that any use is "ab" use, so there are only a few roads to reason with such falseness. Anyway if your buddy still want ideas on how to bring the libertarian issues to the church, Master willing, I'll be starting a blog shortly on that and other doctrinal issues for believers pertaining to liberty. I don't want to plug it without permission so if the moderator is okay with me plugging please message me that it is okay. Otherwise just tell him to keep an eye out in the future for such a blog.

David Zetland said...

Go ahead and plug your blog. I can't msg you, since you're anonymous (and I'm not omniscient :)