Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Reefer madness

Joe Carter recently did a post on whether smoking pot is sinful:

He used an argument from analogy. I think his basic argument is sound. However, the ensuing comment thread is a swamp of moral confusion. In this post I'll attempt to draw some morally salient distinctions. I expect many parents or pastors would lose the argument against pot smoking because of facile counterexamples. So it's important to beef up the argument.

Of course, some people will resort to any excuse to smoke pot. 

1) Some antinomians bandy the charge of "legalism." But let's define legalism:

i) The notion that we can justify ourselves with God through virtuous activity

ii) Inventing duties or prohibitions that lack divine warrant

2) Some critics accuse Christians of hypocrisy for exempting their own lifestyle choices. But even if that's sometimes true, that doesn't validate your lifestyle choices. 

3) Some activities are sinful. Some activities are intrinsically evil. 

4 ) However, it isn't necessary to always frame the issue in terms of what's strictly moral or immoral. We can also frame some issues in terms of what's prudent or imprudent. What is the objective? What are the likely consequences? What are the risk factors? What's the potential benefit? Is there a greater risk for a lesser gain over against a greater gain for a lesser risk?  

5) Apropos (4), it's often a matter of degree. Something maybe harmless or beneficial in moderation, but harmful if carried to a greater extreme. 

6) As Christians, we have a general duty to be faithful stewards of our time, abilities, and opportunities. Our life is not our own. 

7) Conversely, since human mortality is unavoidable, many people make a calculated decision to potentially shave a few years off their lifespan in exchange for a more enjoyable life. That's a rational decision.

8) There's a difference between cultivating a healthy lifestyle and cultivating a hazardous lifestyle. For instance, there's a middle ground between being a health nut and being a drug addict. 

9) Someone with dependents has greater responsibilities than someone without dependents. 

10) We ought to distinguish between temporary impairment and permanent impairment. Does a particular recreational activity carry a significant risk of permanent impairment?

11) There are different kinds of damage we can do to our bodies. Some damage is worse than others. Damage to vital organs. Brain damage. Memory. Reflexes. 

12) Is a particular activity addictive? Do you control it, or does it control you?

13) There are tradeoffs. Prescription painkillers can be addictive. They can lead to deleterious side-effects. However, that has to be offset by considering the impact of chronic pain. Which is worse? Same thing with psychotropic drugs to treat mental illness. Or cancer therapy. Or medication for Parkinson's Disease. 

14) There's nothing inherently wrong with ingesting mood-altering substances (e.g. alcohol). Whether that's right or wrong, prudent or imprudent, depends on additional considerations.

15) Some mind- or mood-altering substances (e.g. coffee) can enhance rather than impair performance. On the other hand, some performance-enhancing substances (e.g. anabolic steroids) can do long-term damage. 

16) Whether impairment is prudent or imprudent also depends on the setting. Is it safe? Will that endanger you or others?   

Loss of self-control isn't inherent wrong. Take general anesthetic for surgery. But that's a special case. That's not undergoing sedation for its own sake, but as a means to an end. 

17) Contact sports like football aren't risk-free. On the other hand, many boys will indulge in high-risk behavior anyway, so it may be better to redirect their reckless behavior in a controlled setting where the risk is minimized. And team sports can also confer social benefits (e.g. camaraderie). So it's a risk/benefit calculus.

18) As a rule, tobacco products are harmful. To some extent that depends on the degree of intake (frequency, duration). Likewise, tobacco products are addictive.

On the other hand, some (many?) individuals are more productive due to artificial stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. 

19) Obesity can be  harmful. But that's a matter of degree. 

20) The fact that marijuana is "natural" or "organic" doesn't ipso facto make it morally permissible. What is edible for one species may be inedible or poisonous for another species. Mushrooms are natural, but some mushrooms (e.g. the Death Cap) are toxic to humans.

21) Is marijuana a gateway drug to even more harmful drugs? That's not just a slippery slope argument. Something can be harmful it its own right, yet foster an appetite for even more dangerous activities. 

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