Special Report: Is Unwise the Same as Sinful?
Vol: 107 Issue: 23 Monday, August 23, 2010
It didn’t take very long before somebody challenged me over the recent OL briefing The Doctor Will Kill You Now regarding euthanasia and drugs.
The challenge, however, was not what I was expecting.
“In your column, you point out that in Holland, and increasingly, in the United States, marijuana is either legal or has been decriminalized. Then you suggest that somehow the decriminalization of marijuana is evidence of social breakdown that leads addle-pated Dutchmen to voluntary euthanasia.
That leads me to ask two questions. The first one is, “what have you been smoking?” The second is for you to show me from the Bible how you arrived at your conclusion that using marijuana is a sin?”
At first glance, that seems a pretty simple challenge. Ordinarily, I’d crush such a challenge totally with Scriptures requiring Christians to obey the law – but that doesn’t work if there is no applicable law to break.
And even if it did, that argument is no more powerful against marijuana that it is against speeding. If breaking the law is what makes it sin, then how does one make the case that smoking pot is more sinful than speeding?
The sin here is lawbreaking, not speeding. Or smoking pot.
The fall-back position is that the body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit and that it is a sin to do anything to defile it with things that are bad for you.
The problem with the position it is bad for you is that it doesn’t address the challenge of how smoking pot itself is morally sinful.
Lots of things are bad for your body. Tylenol is as hard on your liver as alcohol. Aspirin can thin out your blood and cause internal bleeding.
Twinkies are chemical cesspools of deliciousness. There is zero nutrition in a can of Coca Cola. One might as well eat rat poison as eat a fast-food cheeseburger.
The film, “Super Size Me” chronicled Morgan Spurlock as he ate three meals a day from McDonald’s for thirty days.
Spurlock was interviewed by Newsweek about his experiment. He was asked what happened to his body over the course of his month-long binge at Mickey D’s.
My body just basically falls apart over the course of this diet. I start to get tired; I start to get headaches; my liver basically starts to fill up with fat because there’s so much fat and sugar in this food. My blood sugar skyrockets, my cholesterol goes up off the charts, my blood pressure becomes completely unmanageable. The doctors were like “You have to stop.”
The “Temple of the Holy Spirit” argument works for pot, but it works identically for chocolate, pasta, French fries, cheeseburgers and Twinkies. That doesn’t meet the challenge.
The next argument that comes to mind is that smoking pot affects a person’s mind and that is sinful because altering one’s mind affects one’s relationship with God.
But how does that argument work when applied to sleeping pills? Laughing gas? Pain killers? Ah, but they are prescribed by a doctor!
Ok. That makes them legal. But how does that make them moral?
I’m way outside my comfort zone here. I am NOT an advocate of legalizing marijuana. There are enough legal vices out there already.
But I have to admit that I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know before I started researching this column. The history part is intriguing, but PLEASE don’t think I’m advocating one way or the other.
I’m just callin’ it as I read it.
It wasn’t the hippies in the 1960’s that discovered pot. It’s a plant. It’s been around for millennia. Pot was smoked like tobacco until the 1930’s.
In 1937 the Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act that imposed a tax on anyone who dealt commercially with cannabis or hemp.
The bill was passed over the objections of the AMA. It found no evidence to support claims of addiction, violence or over-dosage, as was claimed by the Act’s supporters.
Under the terms of the Act, anybody who wanted to deal in hemp products had to apply for a tax stamp. So all the government had to do to criminalize it was refuse to issue the stamp.
It wasn’t until 1970 that marijuana was declared a controlled substance. I didn’t know that either. I thought marijuana had always been illegal.
But the first place to ban pot was, ironically, the state of California in 1913. The first country to ban pot was Great Britain in 1928.
Fiorello La Guardia, the legendary New York mayor, spoke out against the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act, going so far as to call for its abolishment.
La Guardia commissioned a study by a group of 31 impartial scientists that took six years to complete.
After the in-depth scientific analysis, researchers found that marijuana doesn’t cause violent, psychotic episodes. It doesn’t lead to anti-social behavior, the report found.
It doesn’t cause uncontrollable sexual urges. It doesn’t change a person’s personality. Nobody is known to ever have overdosed or otherwise died from overconsumption of it.
The thought struck me as I was researching this story that a person can die from drinking too much water — but nobody ever died from too much pot.
In 1944, La Guardia published a report of his group’s findings, scientifically disproving all the government’s claims about the effects of smoking pot. The report was immediately spiked.
It would seem that the reason that there is no historical problem of marijuana abuse prior to the 1930’s was that it didn’t become a problem until it was declared illegal.
George Washington grew hemp as his primary crop in 1797. Hemp was Thomas Jefferson’s secondary crop at Monticello. Farmers in Jamestown Virginia were required under a law passed in 1619 to grow hemp for use in trade.
So now we come back to the Scripture support for the argument that smoking marijuana is a moral sin. Scripturally, it ranks right up there with cigarettes, but not as highly as booze.
It is a sin to smoke cigarettes? Culturally, yes. But if you forced me to prove it from Scripture, the best I could do is the Temple of the Holy Spirit argument – it’s bad for you. So is eating cheeseburgers.
If there is a clear violation of God’s law in lighting up a cigarette, I cannot find it in Scripture.
Is it a sin to drink alcohol? Some say yes. But the Bible only prohibits drunkenness, it does not forbid drinking.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)
“Deceived”, and thereby, “not wise”. But that is not the same as ‘sin’.
Deuteronomy 14:26 commands the Israelites, as part of the celebration of their first fruits:
“And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household.”
It would seem that there are times, therefore, in which God evidently approves of wine or strong drink, under certain circumstances. So it isn’t the drink that is sin. Or even the consumption of strong drink that is sin.
That only leaves time and circumstance. Clearly, it is better not to drink, and one can extrapolate from that obvious fact until it becomes sin.
“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:” (Proverbs 31:4)
Are we not, as Christians, princes, priests or kings before the Lord? But then in the very next verse, we read:
“Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.” (Proverbs 31:5)
“Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (1st Timothy 5:23)
Clearly, there are times when strong drink and wine are appropriate, according to the Scriptures. And just as clearly, there are times when it is not.
And for some people, there is never a time when it is appropriate.
But is impropriety the same thing as sin? I can make that case by interpreting the Bible from my own personal perspective, but I cannot make that case by using Scripture alone.
A lot of what Christians see as sin against God is in reality a sin against their culture. A Middle Eastern Christian in 2010 would not necessarily view smoking tobacco as sin.
An American Christian in 1910 wouldn’t either. The great 19th century evangelist Dr H. A. Ironside’s fondness for cigars was no barrier to his ministry.
Somebody is gonna hammer me for justifying sin or preaching situation ethics or accuse me of trying to justify smoking or drinking or pate-addling. I am not.
If you want to hammer me, do it with Scripture. I’ve never looked into this from exactly this perspective. Maybe I missed something. I don’t want to teach error.
In the main, is the Bible makes the case that drinking alcohol is stupid, er, unwise. But there are times and places, evidently, when stupid isn’t the same as ‘sinful’.
I was challenged to make my best case from Scripture against marijuana as sin and the Bible says what it says. It doesn’t say anything about smoking – either tobacco or pot.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a theologian, to see that smoking anything is stupid, er, unwise. But is stupid the same thing as sin?
Smoking could lead to death and that is stupid. But so could skydiving, a perfectly respectable sport that I think, personally, is the Grand Poohbah of Stupid.
But that doesn’t make skydiving a sin. Does it? Again, we find the elements of time and circumstances.
It’s no big deal unless or until his chute fails and he leaves behind a widow and a bunch of fatherless kids just so he could indulge himself with his own stupid hobby.
Viewed through the prism of time and circumstance, he morphed from stupid to sinfully stupid and from harmless to sinfully hurtful.
The point is that the sin is in the eye of the beholder. So in the end, what is the most powerful case I can make against pot, solely from Scripture?
To my surprise, my best case is really not very powerful.
“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”
Genesis 1:29 says that all seed-bearing herbs are lawful and given to us as meat. Hemp is a seed-bearing herb. It was lawful in every country on earth until the early 20th century.
But not everything that is lawful is necessarily good.
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1st Corinthians 6:12)
It isn’t an issue of sin or not sin insofar as I can find in Scripture. It is an issue of wisdom and foolishness, time and circumstance.
At some point, one has to grow up and stop doing foolish or childish things. The sooner one gets there, the sooner one can respond to the will of God.
The challenge was to make a case from Scripture for the moral sinfulness of smoking pot — absent laws against it.
What I found surprising was how hard it was to do so.
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (1st Corinthians 10:23)
Time and circumstance. All things are lawful to me, but there are times when they work against the will of God that we exhort and edify others weaker in the faith than we.
If somebody believes something to be sin, well, to him, it is sin. And that is how God will judge it – “You thought it was sin and you did it anyway.”
Not very defensible.