On weed and tobacco (and alcohol)

I'm just going to pen this down to organise my thoughts.

Biblically, there isn't anything that goes 'thou shall not do drugs', well for obvious reasons. Drugs wasn't exactly a thing. Yet it's kinda obvious why a Christian shouldn't do drugs.

That said, there are two particular drugs that don't quite fall neatly into what we understand by drug usage, and they are marijuana (weed) and nicotine (tobacco). For these drugs, it is less obvious why Christians should not be involved in them. Let me explain why.

Well let's start with tobacco.

First and foremost, it isn't illegal in most places in the world. So obedience to the law of the land is not an issue.

Secondly, I find the common argument that you shouldn't do it because it's unhealthy to be a rather weak case when you look into it deeper. Sure it's a valid reason with personal convictions, but as a sole standalone factor to convince someone to not pick it up is questionable. There are plenty of other things that are unhealthy but does not get the same treatment. Should we not be eating junk food then? How about caffine? Sure one might say that tobacco is alot more unhealthy than those things, which of course is true and thus it's clear that chain smoking is not good for anyone, but there are many people who are recreational smokers and this has significantly less damaging effects on their health. The health argument seems a little weak when you think of recreational smokers and the many other things we do.

Thirdly, the stigma towards tobacco usage seems to be something rooted in culture rather than a clear cut moral decision. Tobacco was publicly embraced by certain well known and God fearing Christians in the 20th century. C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien, Charles Spurgeon and Dietrich Bonhoeffer all not only smoked tobacco, they thank God for tobacco. Culture changes over time, and it seems to suggest that part of why tobacco is regarded as morally wrong among Christian circles today is due to modern cultural context rather than an absolute moral law.

Fourthly, if we look at a Biblical parallel to tobacco consumption, the closest we would find is alcohol consumption. Drunkenness is a sin in the Bible, but consumption of alcohol is not. It seems that the key is not avoidance of the substance in question all together, but whether we let the substance master us. This is further substantiated by Paul where he says in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that "Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything". In that sense, it seems to suggest that addiction and mastery over our bodies is the issue. This implies once againthat chain smoking may be a sin, but recreational smoking is not.

Now let's move on to marijuana. Marijuana is an interesting case for Singaporeans as many Singaporeans do not really know what it is, and lump it together with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. As such, people freak out a little when they hear that marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, and increasingly in many more countries around the world. They think that the Netherlands has become the land of sin.

Well the thing is marijuana isn't like those drugs. In fact, marijuana is proven to be significantly less harmful on almost all fronts compared to tobacco. In that sense, if you were concerned about health or addiction, you would rather someone consume marijuana than tobacco. If you're talking about culture, there's an increasing acceptance of marijuana as a stress reliever and even acknowledging it for its medical properties. As for obeying the law, well it is lawful here. So the point is, tobacco is the more serious substance actually.

As a side note, logically, if you reject marijuana, you ought to also automatically reject tobacco. If you think of marijuana consumption as a sin and treat it as it is, then you ought to do the same for tobacco consumption as well.

So with these four points made, why then should a Christian still not consume tobacco and marijuana? To do this, I'm going to look closer at the culture argument and the alcohol parallel argument.

For the culture argument, firstly, just because some notable figures have done something before doesn't make it right. Slavery used to be okay for many Christians too. Perhaps during the 20th century, because tobacco simply didn't have all the negative connotations attached to it, these figures simply did not think too much about it and accepted it as a part of life. Perhaps research on the risk to health was not so clear cut at that point in time. Basically, just because something used to be done a certain way doesn't automatically make it right.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, I think it is important as Christians to consider the cultural connotations of these substances today. Even if it is perfectly okay and lawful and all to consume these substances, how are we representing Christ in doing so? Does consumption of these substances help us to be better salt and light? Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial, can we say that these substances are beneficial in our testimony? Does consumption of these substances become a stumbling block to weaker Christians, similar to food offered to idols? We are called to be set apart from the world not to be like it, does consumption of these substances help me to be someone set apart for God?

Personally for me, the answer for these are all no. I can imagine how some Christians might argue otherwise, and if that's genuinely your convictions, I think that's actually fine. The only thing I request is that your convictions be not excuses or for the sake of your own personal comfort or gain, but because you truly believe that this is the freedom that God has given to you. A good measure for this is if you are able to stand before God and be perfectly at peace with it, or even be thankful to God for it.

Perhaps it would be good to mediate upon the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10 as he tackles the issue of food eaten by idols. In particular, Paul was never about exercising his freedoms and his rights. Instead he surrenders his rights and simply does what he believes is best for the Gospel. Specifically in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, he says this:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Thirdly, and this would just be a personal stand of mine, I believe that if something is so morally gray and yet at the same time ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things, why do we want to find where the line is and try to tiptoe on it's edge? I understand wanting to be wise and having a clearer discernment for big issues (like how we should make a stand on LGBT issues), but I highly doubt personal consumption of tobacco or marijuana is one such issue that requires significant debate. You don't really lose out from avoiding it, so why not just avoid it?

Now let's look at the alcohol parallel argument. To distill the argument, the key point is that it is at the end of the day about addiction and mastery over our own bodies. Basically, as long as it doesn't go there, it is okay. This is problematic on two fronts.

Firstly, putting yourself in a position to have the possibility of being caught in addiction is simply unwise. We know that marijuana is an addictive substance and tobacco even more so. Why would we want to set ourselves up for this?

Secondly, specifically for marijuana, it's main effect is to make one 'high' through the deadening of the mind. This clearly is allowing the substance to master us and has many strong parallels with drunkenness. The bible is very clear on drunkenness being a sin. I'm just going to quote a section on gotquestions.org here which I feel addresses this point very clearly:
Ephesians 5:18 holds the key: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Two elements are being compared: alcohol and the Holy Spirit. Each has the power to take control of a person’s mind and behavior—with vastly different results. Getting drunk leads to a loss of self-control; being filled with the Spirit leads to more self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). We cannot be controlled by both alcoholic spirits and the Holy Spirit at the same time. When we choose to ingest mind-altering substances, we are effectively choosing to give ourselves over to the control of something other than the Holy Spirit. Anything that takes control of our mind, will, and emotions is a false god. Any master we obey other than the Lord is an idol, and idolatry is sin (1 Corinthians 10:14). 
Getting drunk is a sin. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, or some other addictive behavior, Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). When we get drunk, or even slightly affected by alcohol or drugs, we are serving a master other than the Lord. Choosing to follow Jesus means choosing against our old sinful patterns and lifestyle. We cannot follow Jesus and also follow drunkenness, immorality, or worldly thinking (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:1–6). They are going in opposite directions. First Corinthians 6:10 lists drunkards among those who “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” When we choose to be defined by our sin, we cannot also be a Christ-follower (Galatians 5:19–21). When we choose drunkenness in spite of God’s command against it, we are choosing disobedience and cannot, in that state, be in fellowship with a holy God who condemns it (Luke 14:26–27; Matthew 10:37–38).
With the parallels between marijuana consumption and drunkenness, I do believe that the consumption of marijuana would be sinful.

With that, I come to the conclusion that as Christians, we should avoid consumption of tobacco and marijuana. It is however less clear cut than we would think of it sometimes, and certainly some might disagree with the points I have raised here. As such once again I would urge Bible believing Christians to pray about it and if they would choose to consume such substances, may they do so only if they have the conviction for it (though I personally have some difficulty seeing how) and not simply because they are following the ways of the world.

Before I end this, I just wanted to talk a little bit about alcohol. I mentioned in an earlier post in relation to Oktoberfest:
Someone also implied to me that drunkenness is not okay, presumably because that's what is clearly stated in the Bible, but being tipsy is not technically being drunk so it's totally fine. I'm pretty sure that the Bible isn't against drunkenness for the sake of it, but that the loss of self control and behaving in less than edifying ways is a large part of it.
To me, it feels once again like trying to find the line in the gray area and tiptoeing on its edge. What is being tipsy anyway? Where does it start and when does one stop being just tipsy and start being drunk? Looking back at the gotquestions.org segment above, I find it hard to argue that the person's definition of being tipsy is okay. Many things were done that day that demonstrated a lack of self control, not being filled by the Holy Spirit and lack of mastery over our own body. As for as I am concerned, that is drunkenness to me, not 'just tipsy'. There may be no vomiting. hangovers, alcohol poisoning etc, but how does it look like from God's eyes?

Alright and I'm done. I spent a good amount of time writing this instead of doing my work, but it's time well spent as I navigate the trickly landscape here in Maastricht. The next step then I suppose is the question of how do I love people whilst staying true to my convictions? Tricky sometimes when people think you are sitting on a moral high horse judging them for doing things.