Tag Archives: Philadelphia Magazine

What about drugs? Some background for doing theology.

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.

Monica and the New Marriage

The statistics are in a duel when it comes to whether living together before marriage results in a higher rate of divorce. Around here we tend to call cohabitation “faux marriage” and one does not have to be “living together” to be in one. But that is beside the point (already!). Some statistics keepers say 45% of cohabiters breakup before they get married.  “67 percent of cohabitating couples who marry eventually divorce, compared to 45 percent of all first marriages,” claims Michael Foust.  Others are very skeptical about how the numbers are crunched, like Catherine Harris, who says that her sense of the stats is that cohabitation isn’t that big of an indicator of marital success. So many PhDs! Such a big internet to argue on!

Moral choices about marriage

Marital “success” is nice. But people are not consulting the stats before they decide whether to cohabit or marry, are they? “Success” is not a very convincing moral argument for a moral decision. Success is not even moral – or is that all we’ve got, now? Moral is still a discussion of right conduct, right and wrong according to one’s principles, or, in my case, how I should live in response to the way of life revealed by God, primarily in Jesus, and persistently informed by the Holy Spirit. Getting married is a significant place where we get to decide, “What is best for me to do? What is best for the person I love?” and also, “What does my community think is the right way to go about this?”

An awful lot of us seem to be floating around in the rudderless ship of our personal decision on the ocean of our undefined thinking when it comes to moral choices about marriage. Many of us are not in a family system with any strength to guide us and most of
us are not part of a community we respect to inform us. The new marriage is a personal expression of “whatever.”

The new “marriage”

Monica Mandell appears to be an evangelist for the new marriage. I ran into her in the latest edition of Philadelphia Magazine. In the online version she gushes “Living together is a phenomenon previous generations did not experience. Although the divorce statistics show that it does not matter if you rush into marriage, marry your high school sweetheart or live with your future spouse, it must make things a lot easier to actually know the person you are marrying. Not only are women in the workplace today, but  they are also having premarital sex! Can you imagine being with your partner for the first time on your wedding night? It is a miracle that so many unions lasted from that generation!”

I took just a cursory look at the stats and there is no way one can say that it does not matter how you marry or whether you don’t marry. Of course it matters, unless nothing matters. One stat that I found most stat keepers agreeing on is that people who value marriage are more likely to stay married.

What’s more, let me be amazed at how Dr. Mandell breezily dismisses virginity with a “Can you imagine?!” I am surprised she did not include the implied “OMG!” Yes, Monica, I can imagine being with my partner for the first time on my wedding night. I don’t think marriages automatically die from lack of virginity. But I don’t think they are worse off with it, not by a long shot. The couples I counsel put a lot of stress on their love and they undermine the development of their commitment by never having any thresholds to cross — like a wedding and wedding night. Forming a healthy relationship that contributes to one’s spiritual health is not a light matter.

Monica’s shallow pool

She goes on, “Modern women should be seeking to balance good marriages with good jobs. Happy, productive parents breed happy, productive children. Having weekly mahjong sessions, lunches and shopping might have been considered fun as a standing operating procedure in the past, but the 1950s are over. Marriage is a partnership. Women who are not using their brains to full potential are selling themselves short.”

First of all, the 50’s were 60 years ago and the stereotype of the TV fifties never existed. That being said, I think Monica means that “postmodern” women “should” be doing the
balancing act she describes. They are more likely than modern women to see themselves as the defining factor in what should happen.

Secondly, families are built in a context and they are not just about happy productive parents (who apparently get their happiness from their marriages and jobs). Marriages happen in the world and “successful marriages” happen in community – hopefully in an extended family, ideally, in the church.

Thirdly, mahjong is not that easy. Using one’s brains as an economic tool is not always that satisfying, either.

I’ve got a feeling that Monica Mandell’s sense of what is good is mainly derived from economics. Looking for love aside, the lookers for love, these days, cohabit because they are shopping. “Getting what one wants” is the principle, shopping is the moral act. Monica’s byline names her: “Director of the Philadelphia office of Selective Search, the premiere (off-line) upscale matchmaking firm for the most eligible singles.”

From what I can tell from the website, Monica is a personal mate shopper. This is what her
website promises the men: “Selective Search Clients are single because they’re selective and don’t want to settle. We honor our Client’s preferences and don’t judge them, regardless of their criteria. In fact, we don’t consider having preferences like age, religion, and physical or personality type as being ‘picky’. We think it’s about knowing who and what you want and being selective….It’s our goal to introduce to you to that ‘needle in the haystack’ – a high caliber woman who will make you happy and fulfilled.” For a “premium fee” the website says, she will find you a premium selection.

Perhaps she “should” have added: Can you imagine the best possible, potential mate to try out in your very own bedroom? We deliver! Marriage as a commodity sounds like a perfect adaptation to a society that is all about economics, now that we have hollowed out its soul and forbidden God to influence it. I am not saying that everyone cohabiting is that shallow. But I am saying that they are wading in a shallow pool.