When we are doing theology we are mentalizing with God and his people. We are not working on the social construction of reality; we are listening for the reality behind what we think we know — the voice of God. In that process we honor the Bible as the trusted basis for hearing from God and we respect people who have done the work to understand the Bible. But we are not just parsing words, making laws, or arguing over theories. We are trying to figure out who to be and what to do. Doing theology is thinking and feeling along with God and conforming one’s thinking and feeling to his or her truest self.
About a month ago we decided to do some theology about drugs. The situation in the United States is so drug-induced that it caused a government report: Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse. The solutions in the report did not do theology, of course, and they came up with the typical solutions of the the day: education, tracking and monitoring, proper medical disposal, and enforcement. All these solutions will be hard to implement, since drugs, legal and illegal, are a huge business in the United States.
Philadelphia is deeply connected to the drug industry, even historically. When George Washington lived at 5th and Market he wrote to his gardener at Mt. Vernon, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere.” He and Thomas Jefferson traded herbal blends for their pipes. A recent Philadelphia Magazine highlighted how pot is coming. Recently the city recently decriminalized pot. There is now a $25 fine for possession of under an ounce and a $100 fine for smoking in public. And police are instructed not to arrest anyone with under an ounce. People are lined up to help us become Colorado — let marijuana be legal and cash in.
There is a theological framework for why this subject is important.
What are drugs?
Drugs are not a malevolent force against which we should war. They are not the disease of the users who should be scapegoated. They are chemical substances that, when taken into the human body through ingestion, injection or some other means, modify one or more of the capacities of the body for either ampliative or therapeutic purposes and not for feeding or nourishing the body.
The history of drug use in the modern western world tracks the development that has ended up in our consumer economies. Just before the twentieth century, regulation of drugs by taxation changed to prohibition and criminalization of their use and distribution. Some of the factors leading to this were 1) industrial workers needed more presence of mind than agricultural, 2) governments thought drugs would sap the country’s fitness for war, 3) most drugs came from the southern hemisphere so there were racists fears about foreigners corrupting the young, 4) science discovered more about how bad various drugs could be, 5) Christians and socialist thought they were morally corrosive and made people poor. People are still having these debates.
What is thinking about drugs that might be contrary to revelation?
- Drugs are a form of technology
They can make body an object of manipulation. The body can be seen as separate from a whole person, just a machine to manipulate.
- Drugs are used to “progress” out of what is viewed as the tyrannous imposition of creation.
These days people tend to think technology will make everything better. We don’t like physical or psychological pain, so we employ new drug technology to get rid of it. The drugs circumvent what is built into our bodies to order our lives in relation to the world around us and to time. For instance, if I am tired and have a headache I probably need rest, not coffee or an aspirin. Rather than smoking weed to go to sleep, I might need to start exercising and stop watching the blue screen late at night.
- Power: Drugs are a means by which one manipulates the body according to their will.
As a result of the philosophy of power, there is a big concern over the addict who is out of control and dependent. If one does not have power over oneself it undermines the whole philosophy on which western society is running. Marx highlighted this call for power when he called religion the opiate of the people. It is ironic, of course, that society as a whole is increasingly dependent on drugs.
- Freedom: Drugs are a consumable that satisfies one’s needs and desires and frees one from suffering.
Ampliative drugs, in particular, are seen as freedom, even rebellion. It is ironic that they are in total conformity to the heart of present western culture. People have become engineers of experiences (maybe with their own meth lab). They don’t waste time waiting to bump into something good in creation, they make it at home. One author calls weekend party animals “bureaucrats of fun,“ administering their enjoyment like a nurse setting a med schedule. The society thinks taking drugs is a moral imperative: they are a valuable technology through which we can manage and manufacture a better, more fulfilling life. It must be added that they are also the ultimate consumer product: geared for maximum impact and instantly obsolete, used up – and they are easy: no need for training, travel or time. A good rebellion against “the man” would more likely be never using ampliative drugs, in particular.
I will follow this up soon with some practical advice for thinking about how to use drugs along with some of the thinking of the group we gathered for doing theology.