Is this just a further sign of the “moral decay” of American society, or can we say the legalization of marijuana can have a place in a Christian theology that values, instead of denigrates, the body?
We might think primarily of the individual body and marijuana use, but first let us consider the social body and what will happen to our social body by legalizing marijuana.
Our social body is currently deformed, almost beyond recognition as a developed democracy, by the huge numbers of Americans in jail, many of them there for non-violent drug offenses.
The so-called “war on drugs” begun in the Nixon administration has been a Trillion Dollar Failure. All it has done is explode the prison population to the point where in the United States the number of Americans incarcerated dwarfs that of other nations. Our national failure on drug policy is also racist. “Black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails in 2010,” according to the Pew Research Center.
The effects of this on our social body of families separated, and non-violent individuals exposed to the horrific conditions of our overcrowded prisons, cannot be exaggerated.
From a body theology perspective, one thing we can say for certain is prison is very bad for your body. The American Journal of Public Health has published a study that shows a “two-year decline in life expectancy for every year served inside prison.”
In fact, we could say our marijuana public policy in almost all states and at the federal level is a public health menace, and that makes it a theological menace, if we value the social body.
But, let us not forget about the individual marijuana user. Is it good to smoke pot if it is legal? Is it moral?
There are biblical resources to which we can turn in thinking about these questions.
Biblically speaking, Jesus and his disciples clearly drank wine, and enjoyed it. In John 2:2ff, the Gospel records that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Matthew (11:19) and Luke (7:34) record Jesus noting that when it comes to drinking wine or eating good food, there is no pleasing “the people of this generation.” Jesus observes that people complained about John the Baptist fasting and “drinking no wine,” and then turned around and complained when Jesus drinks and eats with people, saying, “Look a glutton and a drunkard!”
When it comes to imbibing, in other words, there will clearly always be differences of opinions, even as in Jesus’ time. But Jesus showed his disciples that eating and drinking together was a way to celebrate community.
But, it is well to remember the instruction of Paul to the Corinthians, that their bodies are “a temple of the Holy Spirit” and thus we should “honor God with our bodies.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
In other words, don’t abuse your bodies. In terms of body theology, stimulants or depressants, when taken to excess, have very negative health effects, and they are not a way to honor God and your body.
Moderation, however, is a healthy approach to wine-drinking, and, we may come to think, to using “recreational marijuana.” A little can be a part of relaxing with friends.
In addition, a glass of wine a day is good for the heart, notes the Mayo Clinic, though doctors caution people not to run out and start drinking to excess.
Marijuana has medicinal use for cancer patients, as is well known.
Does recreational use have any health value? Probably not, especially given that it is often smoked, but marijuana seems not to be the feared gateway drug to becoming an addict either.
Beyond recreational use, both wine and marijuana have had religious uses for centuries. Jews, such as Jesus, drank wine in several religious rituals and continue to do so, as do many Christians at Communion. Marijuana use has been part of Hindu ritual in the worship of Shiva, and its religious use “is most widespread today by Rastafarians as a Bible study, and meditation aid.”
Thus, it can be concluded that the moral goods of using wine or marijuana will depend on the user and his or her individual religious and or ethical convictions. In all instances, however, moderation that respects the well-being of the body is advised.
Treating human bodies with decency and respect, however, transcends individual religions, and even opinions, and is a common good.
Our laws on marijuana need to reflect this common good. We should legalize recreational marijuana use at the federal level, keep it out of the hands of children and teenagers as we do with alcohol, and release those who have been incarcerated for using marijuana from all our overcrowded prisons.
That is only common sense, and common sense is one of the best guides to morality.
Follow Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sbthistle