Christians and Marijuana

marijuana 1I have never seen an entire episode of Star Trek. That fact hasn’t saved me from wasting over an hour of my life arguing about the hypocrisy of Captain Kirk having a larger stateroom than the rest of the crew aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. Sorry, Trekkies, but since the intricacies of the Star Trek argument have no bearing on this article, I’ll spare everyone the details; having never watched an episode, I didn’t actually know what I was arguing about anyway, and still don’t. The argument’s content aside, an hour and at least one bag of cheese puffs later, my roommate and I had forgotten why we were arguing in the first place and popped in a DVD of Fritz the Cat while we smoked another bowl. The blame for my lapse of judgment and poor use of time falls squarely on the dank, pungent leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. If you’re a parent and have been looking for a good anecdote to incorporate into the “don’t do drugs” talk that you’re planning on having with your kids, my Star Trek anecdote is probably not it. That being said, the only, and I do mean ONLY, reason I spent that amount of time[1] arguing with my roommate about a TV show I had never watched was because I was high.

At that point in my life, smoking weed was a nightly ritual and had started to become a daily ritual, too. Every night, I would roll three joints; smoking bowls in-between those joints, my roommate and I would spend three to four hours having non sequitur conversations. When we would go to the movies, my roommate and I would get high in the car, and then leave the roach under one of the tires[2] before entering the movie theatre. I hadn’t yet gone to a rehearsal high, much less performed high, but I had begun delivering pizzas while high. In other words, smoking marijuana was a frequent activity; and like many who smoke that much weed, I also sold marijuana.

Several years later, I worked as one of the lead facilitators in a drug and alcohol abuse course designed for eighth graders. Part of the ongoing training was keeping up with the new research and the new social trends in regards to substance abuse. That way, we wouldn’t be caught off guard by any questions tossed our way by a fourteen year old pothead[3].

I brought up my past for two reasons. One, this isn’t an abstract discussion for me. I loved getting high. The second reason I mention my past is that it’s relevant to the discussion. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had personal experience with marijuana; I’ve been an intimate part of the pot culture. I’ve also studied marijuana from the other side of the debate, and got a paycheck to explain to kids why smoking marijuana is not in their best interest. None of that means, of course, that my thesis should be accepted out of hand; there is reason that there is a minor fallacy called “Argumentum Ad Verecundiam,” after all.

Let me make clear what I’m not claiming in this article. I’m not claiming that I support the criminalization of marijuana. Marijuana should not be illegal, maybe (that requires more thought on my part). However, and for example, I adamantly believe that heroin and meth should be illegal, among other drugs. There is a world of difference between weed and most other illicit drugs. In fact, there is a world of difference between marijuana and most medicines that doctors prescribe. And that’s a conversation that should be had with children. Demonizing marijuana in the same breath and in the same way as demonizing heroin is harmful. My disclaimers out of the way, although I possibly believe that marijuana should be legal, I do not believe, outside of medicinal purposes (maybe) that Christians should smoke weed.

Unlike good preachers who have three points, I only have two points. However, like good preachers, my first point is the longest. With both of the points, I’m speaking to Christians – although, I hope that any non-Christian reading this will be prompted to learn more about who this God is that I reference.

My first point is directed specifically to those Christians who believe that the Bible’s strictures against drunkenness mean something. For the record, that should be all Christians. That doesn’t mean, however, that all Christians have taken the time or allowed themselves to be confronted with the validity and application of those passages.

Therefore, if you are a Christian and you believe that King Jesus does not frown on drunkenness, at the least, I’m curious what, if any, application you think the passages that I’ll reference and the passages that I don’t have for contemporary Christians. I mean, you would agree that those passages have  some relevance for us today, right? And with that, my first point should already be known. In case it’s not – I believe that smoking marijuana, under most circumstances, is out of bounds for Christians because of the Bible’s attitude, if not strictures, against drunkenness[4].

As I’ve already written, this first argument is predicated on the belief that the Bible, to some degree or other, has something negative to say about drunkenness. Surprising and dismaying some, I do not believe that it is necessarily a sin to get drunk [edit: two years later, and I regret that sentence. It’s unhelpful in that it could easily be a stumbling block and/or misunderstood. It also requires way more nuanced explication than I provide below. I was going to remove the sentence, but, alas,  doing so would’ve have required substantial rewriting]. There are contextual reasons why, in the Old Testament, Yahweh spoke so negatively to His covenant people about drunkenness. So negatively, in fact, that the rebellious young man who is to be stoned to death in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 has being “a drunkard” listed as one of his offenses. However, among the many warnings in the Old Testament about drunkenness (and I’ll get back to the young man of Deuteronomy 21), there is never a flat out command in the Old Testament for the covenant people to not get drunk. For all the passages in Proverbs that state things like “for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,”[5] there is not a clear “thou shall not get drunk” passage in the Old Testament. There are contextual reasons for that omission, I believe. To be clear, that is not to deny, at all, that drunkenness is almost always characterized negatively in the Old Testament.

Flying in the face of many if not all of the current teetotaler articles[6], it would have been incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for the average Israelite to avoid getting drunk at least occasionally – however “occasionally” is defined. The Greeks, no teetotalers themselves, were aghast upon entering Palestine and finding the people groups to be in an almost constant state of inebriation (it should be mentioned that much of the wine, beer, and strong drink back then included ingredients with hallucinogenic properties). God’s chosen people were living in a region and culture in which drunkenness was the norm – the constant and stupefying norm.

I don’t think that there are very many people, if any, that would disagree with the claim that habitual drunkenness is highly problematic – health wise and socially/culturally. The writers of the Old Testament, inspired by the Holy Spirit, beautifully walked the line between recognizing that the time and place of the original readers made flat out prohibiting getting drunk incredibly problematic while, at the same time, rhetorically fencing in the Israelites for their own health and well-being as well as continuing the motif that God’s chosen people were to be different (set apart) from the people groups around them. And speaking of that difference, the drunkenness of the young man from Deuteronomy 21 is not the equivalent of a twenty-first century seventeen year old having too much to drink at an illicit party. The drunkenness from Deuteronomy is connected to orgiastic idol worship – an activity approved and sanctioned by the people groups surrounding the Israelites, including the Egyptians. My hypothetical twenty-first century seventeen year old engaged in an activity that broader society condemns and recognizes as unhealthy.

However, in the New Testament there is a verse that prohibits getting drunk – only one verse. Now, I don’t believe that there is a magic number of times the Bible has to say something before it becomes authoritative, but it might mean something that out of the over thirty-one thousand verses in the Bible only one explicitly forbids getting drunk. I think that means that we, from our twenty-first century perch, need to be careful about drawing too hard and too fast of a line about getting drunk. For the record, I personally err on the side of caution. And I do not believe that the Bible condones getting drunk, at all. But, context needs to be taken into account for the New Testament, too. Ephesians 5:18 does state, “do not get drunk with wine,” but it continues with “for that is debauchery.”

The Greco/Roman culture may have been distinct from the people groups of the Palestinian region in that public drunkenness was stringently frowned upon, but that assumed cultural superiority had its wine-soaked feet firmly planted in hypocrisy. The Greeks and Romans may not have paraded their drunkenness in public nearly as much, but their private parties, their many “private” parties, put 1970s era key parties to shame. In the time and place of the writing of the New Testament, drunkenness was often synonymous with orgies. Ephesians 5:18 belongs in that context. But the context is also larger than that. When Paul writes to Timothy and tells him that Elders are not to be drunkards, he’s not saying that it’s ok for non-Elders to be engaged in orgies. Drunkenness, as both the writers of the Bible and most people living in the West today recognize, is not good for humans – neither physically nor socially.

As I write, I am acutely aware of the fact that it may appear that I’m undermining my own thesis about marijuana. Please bear with me, because I don’t believe that I am. Before I get to why I believe smoking marijuana is out of bounds for Christians in most circumstances, I wanted to be honest and up front about what I believe in regards to the Bible’s teachings on getting drunk. I do not believe that the Bible flat out condemns getting drunk. But, and this is a big BUT, it is obvious that the Bible does not look on being drunk in a favorable light, “strongly frowns on it” is an appropriate description, and that means something. In fact, our contemporary society does not look on being drunk in a favorable light. While I do not believe that the Bible out right condemns getting drunk, and, I don’t think that I’ve stated this yet, when I write “getting drunk,” I’m thinking of very occasionally and almost as a byproduct of not paying attention – which I’m not in favor of either (not in the least, in favor of). I’m not going to say that my Brother or Sister in Christ has sinned if I find out he or she got drunk that one time. I would, however, caution and encourage them to never let it happen again. If any fellow Believer were to announce to me, “I can’t wait to get drunk tonight,” I would sit them down and, at the least, ask them some questions. If one of my Elders says that, my family and I will begin the process of looking for a new church. Why? Because the Bible is very clear that being drunk is not a good thing. And the Bible is also very clear that drunkenness is a sin. Our society, for the most part, believes that being drunk is not a good thing. Getting drunk is not something that Christians should pursue[7]. Repeating myself, it’s not good for us, neither physically nor socially and I’d like to add, it’s also not good for us spiritually.

That raises the question, is getting drunk/high from marijuana equal to that of getting drunk/high from alcohol? Physically, not really. Being a pothead does not have the same physical price that comes with being a drunkard. Don’t misunderstand; there is a physical price to be paid for being a pothead. I just want to make clear that if you live in the Country of False Dichotomies, being a pothead is physically preferable to being an alcoholic. However, the Bible’s problems with drunkenness aren’t purely physical[8]. But more on that in my second point – which is coming soon, I promise.

If you believe, like I do, that the Bible, on some level, prohibits drunkenness, it’s going to be hard to get around the fact that there is precious little reason, if any, to smoke weed, outside of medicinal purposes, unless the objective is getting drunk/high. Unlike beer, wine, or even 18 year old Scotch, partaking in marijuana is going to get you drunk/high pretty much every time. The better the weed, the more dank and flavorful the marijuana, the less an individual needs to consume in order to get drunk/high. Having a couple of alcoholic drinks will not make most people with a normal physiology drunk. Inhaling just a few drags of a joint that contains good weed is enough to get most people with a normal physiology high[9]. Again, there is little reason, if any, outside of medicinal purposes, to smoke weed unless the objective is to get drunk/high. (See footnote #11 for even more clarification.)

To be honest, the fact that my first point escapes some Christians is confusing for me. I’ve actually had conversations with fellow Believers who agree with my position on drunkenness, and, in fact, some even taking a much harder line than I do, that argue that smoking marijuana is an issue of liberty. To sum up my first point, I want to ask two questions of those fellow Christians who believe that smoking weed is an issue of liberty. Do you think that drinking to get drunk on a regular or even semi-regular basis is an issue of liberty? What purpose, outside of medicinal, is there to smoke weed if not to get high/drunk?

The second reason that speaks to why I believe smoking weed shouldn’t be part of the Christian life is because marijuana strikes at community. And by “strikes at community,” I don’t mean that marijuana lowers property values, tears apart families, or causes unemployment. I mean that when marijuana is shared, the people sharing are going to retreat into themselves – even if they’re arguing about Star Trek.

Breaking bread and sharing drink is a communal activity. It not only encourages conversation, but it creates a shared aesthetic experience. When I share a beautiful bottle of wine with fellow Believers, that wine aids in communion because we’re sharing a common experience with our senses[10]. But, like many good things, engaging with other Image Bearers by sharing wine, and even food, can, if moderation is not properly guarded, eventually fall prey to the law of diminishing returns. If you’ve ever been around drunken people, you know what I mean. This is what I was referencing when I wrote that the Bible’s concern with drunkenness isn’t purely physical. Being drunk greatly lowers an individual’s ability to meaningfully commune with other Image Bearers. Things and activities that negate communion are an anti-reflection of the Trinity.

In my experience, the high from marijuana amplifies the problem. There is a reason most people don’t read books while they’re high; they can’t remember what they previously read. Narrative structure is undermined. Likewise, conversations with other people are essentially conversations with yourself. While high, listening to another person becomes exponentially more difficult. If you don’t believe me, watch the Cartoon Network or Comedy Central at two in the morning. Much of the programming, especially Adult Swim, is designed to appeal to the attention span and comprehension level of people who are stoned. Non sequiturs are the conversational playground of the individual who is high.

This article is now twice as long as I had originally intended, and the conversation deserves even more words. For the record, and my three thousand plus words about it aside, Christians smoking or ingesting marijuana is not an issue that I get too worked up over. Obviously I have opinions about it, and I think that this is an area that churches are going to have to work through in order to articulate positions as laws prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana continue to tumble down. I’m frequently asked by friends who know my past about this very position, and hopefully my experience and thoughts can provide a little clarity for some. If you disagree, please invite me over. I’ll drink a beer; you’ll smoke some weed; and we’ll debate postlapsarianism and prelapsarianism. Any guesses about which one of us will actually have anything useful to say during that conversation?

One last anecdote before I go – once while I was high, I came to the conclusion that the Bible proves Adam and Eve got high. My reason – how else could Adam have named all the animals? I was dead serious. My roommate and I debated that, too. After he went to sleep, I continued the debate with him. For over an hour.


[1] Or any amount of time, for that matter.

[2] That way, if for some reason, a cop, after smelling us, asked to look inside our car, no incriminating evidence would be in our possession. Leaving the roach under the tire allowed us to retrieve it after the movie because there is such a thing as second generation joints. FYI – a roach is what remains of a joint after it’s been smoked down to the point where fingers get burned. That should also help explain the term “roach-clip.”

[3] In some schools, it was obvious that many of the kids were well-versed in the drug culture. In other schools, we left with the impression that the poor kids had zero reference for our talking points.

[4] I’ve gone back and forth about explaining this. On one hand, I don’t think that explanation should be necessary. On the other hand, past experience tells me that it is (edit – not to mention a comment left below). So, Drunk = High. And, yes, … sigh …. There are differences between being drunk/high off of alcohol and drunk/high off of marijuana. But, there are also differences between being drunk/high off of marijuana and drunk/high off of cocaine. I could keep going with the contrasts.

[5] Proverbs 23:21, ESV.

[6] I’m working on an article about alcohol and the Bible. If you believe that the Israelites had easy access to non-alcoholic grape juice or even that the alcohol content in wine was lower two thousand years ago than it is today, please save your comments and questions until the “alcohol” article.

[7] How “drunk” is defined is a variable that needs fleshing out before I start throwing condemnations around. The Bible also speaks to wine gladdening the heart. That means something, too.

[8] I guess an argument can be made that on the surface, the Bible’s problems with drunkenness aren’t physical at all in regards to medical reasons. I believe, however, that God in His loving kindness keeps watch over His children even if they don’t have the necessary transcendent medical/science knowledge to do so for themselves. If the Holy Spirit had directed the writers of the Bible to include 21st century level medical understanding in their writings, the original readers, and most of the readers throughout history, would’ve been confused. In fact, we would be confused because our scientific/medical knowledge isn’t close to being complete. There would be passages that would make no sense to those of us alive today.

[9] Yes, if an individual who smokes regularly is given dried up weed filled with stems, it’s going to take a lot more than a few drags to get high. For example, when I smoked, it was incredibly frustrating to be offered bad swag. But, in those instances, I just hoped that the bad swag wouldn’t run out before I got high. And, the taste of bad swag isn’t nearly as appetizing as the taste of dank nugs. People who claim to smoke weed for the flavor are getting high. They’re lying if they say otherwise. I’ll bet you lots of money on that, if I believed that gambling was appropriate for Christians, that is.

[10] Not to mention that like all good things, good wine reminds us of who God is by reflecting His beauty and goodness.

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8 thoughts on “Christians and Marijuana

  1. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t even finish reading the article. You began with all that talk about alcohol in an article that was supposed to be about weed. And your false equivalent “drunk/high” fallacy was foundational for your argument. Once I realized that there was no point in continuing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe he is claiming to only have enjoyed it in moderation and with no loss of soberness of mind, which is in fact fully possible and quite easy to do nowadays. Wine is praised for it’s “gladden ing of the heart” while the caution to avoid drunkenness remains. Legal Marijuana, recreational or medicinal, does not have to be abused to provide a sober-minded state of more gladdening than you’d be experiencing without it. Also, just as people acquire the taste for stinky beers like Heineken, there is an acquired taste for “dank nugs” (I couldn’t even type that slang with a straight face!)
    Weed can be both delicious and enjoyed well within the bounds of moderation.
    Thank you for sharing your perspective so respectfully though! God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Camille, I appreciate your comment. You do mention what I believe is where the disagreement actually is between me and Mark. I agree that wine gladdens the heart; I referenced that in footnote #12. But, and maybe to provide some clarity about my position, I don’t believe that marijuana and alcohol provide the same levels of graduation in regards to “gladdening the heart.” If you’ve perused the site, you know how much I love beer. Beer can gladden my heart before I become “drunk” as “drunk” is generally defined within our culture’s construct. When I smoke weed or eat edibles, I either get high or I don’t. I understand, too well probably, that there are different levels of high, so to speak. But, I don’t believe that weed “gladdens the heart” outside of being high. I’m sure that Mark, and others, disagree with that, and I’m more than willing to give them space to make their own choices in full faith before the Father (not that they need my permission or approval). I’m not sure how “moderation” is defined in regards to marijuana. Based on my personal experience combined with what I’ve learned about the physical process of how marijuana interacts with the brain, it’s going to take more than competing experiences to change my mind. And, I don’t expect Mark, or anyone else to change their minds based on this article. Next time I’m in Denver, I’ll gladly sit down with Mark. He can smoke weed; I’ll drink his Scotch; and we’ll argue about it while we keep one eye on a Family Guy episode.

    Boring stuff – THC interacts incredibly quickly with the brain. And, it’s potency far exceeds most other psychopharmaceuticals – of which alcohol is not classified. The THC (and other psychopharmaceuticals) alters consciousness in a way that alcohol doesn’t, changing levels of consciousness within seconds of the THC entering the bloodstream. This is why I state you either get high or you don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When Jesus was on the cross, He refused the “gall”, which many scholars believe was designed to numb the pain of crucifixion. Later, Jesus accepted the vinegar, which was designed to keep one conscious for as long as possible.
    One blogger wrote: “condemned criminals would have taken the first (to ease their torment) and passed on the second (so as not to prolong their horrific pain). But Jesus would take no shortcuts on the way to our redemption.”
    When I came to understand that Jesus did not blunt His pain, nor did He shorten it, I felt compelled to follow His example.
    Whether drunken or high, perhaps our Lord would have chosen neither.
    Out of my love for Him, I choose to view the marijuana debate thusly. I want to be fully conscious of life in Him, even when it is uncomfortable.
    It seems a small sacrifice to make in light of His own.

    Like

  5. a pretty good commentary, IMO. I’ve noticed that I’ve taken a slight difference of opinion on drunkenness. I say that drunkenness is explicitly sinful and unpleasing to God. But I also say that our culture today doesn’t really grasp what drunkenness is. We view it in the context of food and drink, and never really bring it to the conditions of our hearts. In essence, the world says the drunkard is one who drinks too much wine, whereas the biblical authors spoke against the profligate nature that compels a person to drink too much wine. A “glutton”, if you will. Let me argue my point here:

    https://christiancfellowship.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/drunkenness/

    Like

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