From time to time I am approached by students who have sincere questions about why illegal drug use is wrong. They come to me, I suppose, because I sometimes mention in class that in my pre-Christian days (now over thirty years ago!) I used drugs myself. Here is a student’s email I recently received which is fairly representative:
I used to use drugs, mainly just marijuana, and sometimes I feel the urge to go back to that. When I became a Christian a couple of years ago, I didn’t have the urge to smoke anymore and just recently I’ve been trying to figure out where I stand on the matter…. I find that it’s not a black-and-white issue and even when I was smoking, I would think to myself “What’s the big deal?” or “How would this keep me from following Jesus?” I know the Bible has a lot to say about intoxication but that seems to be when other debauchery, sexual immorality, etc. are involved and how drunkenness/intoxication leads to those other things that separate us from God. I’m wondering if I’m missing the big picture when it comes to intoxication and following Jesus.
Indeed, what is the big deal? Well, the biggest part of the big deal is that “following Jesus” essentially means living according to Christian moral standards. As Jesus tells us, to love him is to obey him (John 14:15, 21). So to knowingly disobey God but to claim to “follow” Jesus is simply incoherent.
But perhaps this student is really wondering whether there is anything morally problematic with smoking pot or doing other illegal drugs. And this, I have discovered, is really the crux of the concern of most other students who ask me about the issue. Over the years I have developed a multi-pronged response, which I will now very briefly summarize:
- The biblical mandate to obey governing authorities – Scripture makes clear that we must obey the law (Rom. 13:1-2 and 1 Pet. 2:13-14), given that those laws do not compel us to sin. Smoking pot or using other illegal drugs is a clear violation of this biblical standard.
- The biblical mandate to care for one’s body – The apostle Paul tells us that the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). This, combined with the more basic fact that one’s body is a gift from God, implies that we have a responsibility to take care of our bodies and not cause them unnecessary harm, which, of course, is a common consequence of illegal drug use.
- The argument from lawlessness – Piggybacking on the first argument above, the point here is that habitual lawbreaking deadens moral conscience. Consistent flouting of civil laws, however “trivial” or “unfair” they might seem, nurtures a rebellious spirit and insensitivity to the demands of God-ordained authority generally.
- The argument from bad company – Since illegal drug use necessarily involves one in crime and, at least indirect, association with hard core criminals (those who deal the drugs), this risks inadvertent involvement with other illegal activities and character corruption.
- The argument from moral complicity– The drug trade is, of course, ultimately connected to the dark world of narco-terrorism, where theft, assault, sexual violence, murder, and all kinds of attacks on innocent human lives are commonplace. To financially support this underworld constitutes complicity with all of the evils it perpetrates. And, of course, to be complicit with evil is itself a form of evil.
These are my “top five” moral arguments against illegal drug use. To these I would add a couple of further observations, which may be used as supplemental arguments. One I call the “problem of sloth.” Illegal drug users tend to be slackers in their work and life commitments. I’ve never known a regular marijuana smoker who didn’t display irresponsibility of various kinds. Dope smoking diminishes industry and ambition, making one less productive than one could or should be. Finally, one could make an “argument from narcissism.” Drug use encourages self-absorption, and not just because it is all about giving oneself pleasure but also because it is necessarily secretive in nature. This encourages moral implosion and is yet another reason why illegal drug use is not the sort of activity in which a morally serious person will be involved.
Drug use also increases one’s ability to “flip the switch” on negative or painful emotions, without addressing the cause.
Over time this can diminish a person’s willingness to tolerate emotional distress or frustration. A person’s emotional maturity may be stunted as a result. I often see this as a counselor.
Point 1 falls down if you’re outside of US jurisdiction, in a country which doesn’t outlaw minor drugs like marijuana. You’re also avoiding the question here of the _morality_ of the law itself. When laws concerning the legalization of currently-illegal drugs are placed on our voting ballots, are we, as Christians, morally obligated to vote against them?
Point 2 is severely weakened for drugs (like marijuana) that are far far less physically harmful than legal recreational drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine.
Point 3, see Point 1
Point 4 rests on point 1 and 3
Point 5 falls down for the plethora of home-grown marijuana cultivated for personal use.
So it sounds like you’re saying that if you’re overseas, and the person you’re with offers you a joint from some pot that he grew in his back yard, that it’s not morally wrong to accept.
I grant that several of my arguments are premised on the illegality of drug use, but since my students live in this country and rarely, if ever, visit countries where marijuana is legal, your points are mostly moot.
Also, my second argument still applies, especially regarding harder drugs but also marijuana. While marijuana does not cause lung cancer, it often does lead to other respiratory problems because of the chemicals that are absorbed.
Finally, the arguments from sloth and narcissism are not contingent upon illegality.
I agree that the arguments from sloth and narcissism and the breeding of a rebellious spirit are the most powerful ones. I see examples of this every day. I think the big picture is that oftentimes the “Why can’t I use drugs?” (along with similar questions starting with “Why can’t I….”) come from the wrong starting point. As Christians, our starting point should be, “What pleases God?” We also begin with the facts that God wants and knows what is best for us, so it is in our best interest to do what pleases Him.
I suppose this falls under the narcissism argument, but I would point out that our society tells the lie that there is such a thing as a behavior that “doesn’t hurt anyone else.” Others are always affected by our habits, whether those habits be related to drug use, sex, time, what-have-you. We want the stories of our lives to be stories that lead others to goodness, not open the door to improper permissiveness and license to do whatever one pleases. We also do not want our lives to be a burden (especially a moral burden or a burden of unnecessary concern) to others, which drug use of any kind causes for friends and family members.
The sloth argument hits close to home as a family with which I am involved is terribly impacted by the mother’s choice to smoke weed because “it doesn’t hurt anyone else and my kids aren’t around when I do it.” Those kids are no better off than the kids of a crack addict in many ways because they lack the support, discipline, and encouragement the mother would otherwise be able to give were she not high so often.
Last point (didn’t realize how much I cared about this….) is that I whole-heartedly agree with Heidi’s comment about drugs being used as a cover for other problems. God is to be our refuge in time of trouble, not a drug or a food or whatever. I realize this use may not be the case for all recreational pot smokers, but I am certain it is used for this reason more often than would be admitted.
Concerning point 2, it is important not to forget that there are legal ways to damage our body as well. Eating poorly, not exercising, and too much sleep can produce similar effects as well, eg. sloth and narcissism. Though I believe assigning moral properties to food is wrong, there are morals as to reasons why we eat or how much we can eat, and in result our bodies are damaged.
Concerning addictions in general, I look to 2 Peter 2:18-20, especially the phrase “people are enslaved to whatever defeats them”. Looking at the context of that passage concerning being defeated, having known Christians who have stumbled or fallen as a result of drugs, is a reason why I view drugs as harmful. I’ve never known a Christian who does drugs who became stronger in his/her faith while doing that. And quite honestly, I don’t think it is possible.
Just my thoughts…
points 4 and 5 is all anyone with a brain and some conscience should need to see how immoral this is and to stay away from drugs.
What would you say to your students(in addition to point 2) if the United States were to legalize narcotics?
Alone the same lines, wouldn’t you consider it better to have arguments that hold no matter the current opinion of the government?
I realize that many Christians mean well when they talk about illegal drugs and why they should be illegal, but it is actually quite hypocritical for Christians to support and condone what is done in the Drug War in the name of fighting drugs and addiction. “Christian” poltiicains and their bases have continually supported increasingly draconian punishment for those who refuse to comply with their ideology. The fact that people get so upset about a few thousand deaths a year from individual substances is astounding when one only looks at the hundreds of thousands of alcohol-related deaths, the tobacco-related deaths, and especially gun-related deaths. Close to a million people have died from gun violence since the 60’s, and yet those same Christians who condemn the immorality and the evil of drugs fiercely turn around and support guns. The only difference between guns and drugs are that one is predominantly externally-destructive (guns) and the other primarily internally-destructive. That’s not to say that nobody else but the drug user is affected, but rather it is nobody’s place to legislate that. You want to talk about how evil drugs are? Look at what’s been done to drug users by the very government that is supposed to protect them. They are thrown in jail for inhumanely long sentences for no reason, carry a criminal record no different from the David’s Star in Nazi Germany, taken away from their families, bankrupted, the list goes on. You tell me with a straight face that these drugs could do more damage than the puritanical culture that crucified anyone who dared to defy “moral society” and put whatever substance they wanted into their body. That is not your right to legislate. You don’t want to do drugs? Fine, but don’t expect for everyone to stick to the straight and narrow that you choose. Freedom of religion is no different from the freedom to use whatever drug you want. Religion is just as narcotizing as the most “dangerous” drugs, and it leads people to do much more harm than good, aka America, the home of the free (or the 2.5 million imprisoned). But yeah, drugs are baaad!
you havent proven drugs to be immoral in any way.
The biblical mandate to obey governing authorities – So once a drug is made legal then this is no issue? so weed in america now has no biblical mandate not to be taken and no immorality attached to it. Also, many ‘legal’ and or prescriction drugs are more or as dangeous as illigal drugs, its not the drug that is immoral or bad its the person taking it, their intent and their over use.
The biblical mandate to care for one’s body – Taking drugs does not interfere with this, people drink alcohol (a drug) and take medication (also drugs) and this is not seen as not caring for the body, as long as the drug use is in moderation and never to excess or aken for the wrong reasons, then you are still caring for your body.
Also many christians dont seem to care for this as there are countless morbidly obese christians who need medical treatment for their weight.
The argument from lawlessness – this is only applicable in countries that make those substances illegal. Once the drug is legal all your arguments for it being immoral fall apart.
The argument from bad company – this is only true because countries make drugs illegal, if they were legal, like weed in america today, then you can easily associate with proper people.
The argument from moral complicity– The drug trade is, of course, ultimately connected to the dark world of narco-terrorism – this is only due to countries making a drug illegal, for example, now that weed is legal in america its use is in no way connected to narco-terrorism
All the arguments you made fall apart when you make the drug legal.
Drugs themselves are not immoral. You just only see immoral drug takers becase drugs are illegal. So you only see immoral people taking them, make the drugs legal, like cannabis, and you soon see a whole plethora of legitimate, morally correct people who now take cannabis.