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Is Sam Harris Right About Drugs?

Sam Harris

Sam Harris's anti-religious book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, begins with a premise that he admitted to be false in the endnotes: the idea that most suicide bombings occur because of religion generally, and Islam specifically. In fact, most suicide bombings occur at the hands of the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist ethno-political movement with no ties to any religion.

But later in the book, he makes an even more puzzling insinuation, that religion is responsible for drugs being illegal:

"The influence of faith on our criminal laws comes at a remarkable price. Consider the case of drugs. As it happens, there are many substances - many of them naturally occurring - the consumption of which leads to transient states of inordinate pleasure. Occasionally, it is true, they lead to transient states of misery as well, but there is no doubt that pleasure is the norm, otherwise human beings would not have felt the continual desire to take such substances for millennia. Of course, pleasure is precisely the problem with these substances, since pleasure and piety have always had an uneasy relationship." (Harris, End of Faith, p. 160)

Are we really to believe that the government bans crack cocaine because the Bible says to, or because they don’t want people to be too happy? Should we view the DEA (and perhaps even the FDA) as religious functionaries enforcing divinely-inspired precepts upon an unsuspecting populace? Let’s look at a few of the facts.

"As it happens, there are many substances - many of them naturally occurring..."

The "naturally occurring" clause is a bit misguided. Hemlock is naturally occurring. So is arsenic. Just because something exists in nature doesn't make it any safer than something made through human ingenuity. I'd rather drink a smoothie than hemlock any day, even though the latter is more "natural." Harris includes this "naturally occurring" detail as if to suggest, "Hey, these can't be that bad, right?" And on that note, he's just disregarding science.

But besides that, he's not just mad that naturally occurring drugs are illegal: we can tell because he says "many" of the substances in question are naturally occurring, not "all."

"...the consumption of which leads to transient states of inordinate pleasure. Occasionally, it is true, they lead to transient states of misery as well, but there is no doubt that pleasure is the norm, otherwise human beings would not have felt the continual desire to take such substances for millennia."

The truth is that even some real misery-producing drugs are popular, because of thrill seeking and/or addiction. Take, for example, this description of the effects of PCP published by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology:

"The mnemonic RED DANES was coined by Giannini and colleagues (48,49) to characterize eight acute symptoms of PCP intoxication that may be seen at any dose: rage, erythema, dilated pupils, delusions, amnesia, nystagmus in the horizontal plane, excitation, and skin dry. It is important to note that the toxic effects of PCP may persist for days because the half-life of PCP after overdose may be as long as 3 days (50)."

Nystagmus, if you’re wondering, is involuntary eye movement. The normal symptoms aren’t “pleasure.” They’re things like rage and crazy eyes, which can be seen "at any dose." The closest things to pleasure are delusions, excitation, and amnesia.

But let's assume that PCP does create "pleasure" for its users (assuming, of course, they're not also suffering from the violent emotional swings PCP brings on). They're still really not fun for people on the road or in the path of the hopped-up psycho. A mentally ill man was recently sentenced for his PCP-induced attack where he started beating a sleeping man with a hammer. Around the same time, a guy from my home town was given 18 years for what the Kansas City Star called an "unprovoked attack." They're not kidding. The man in question simply kicked in the front door of a woman's house and began "punching, choking, and attempting to sodomize [her]."

If that's what Harris means by "pleasure" being the problem, then I suppose we agree. But somehow, I suspect that a lot of non-religious people also have a problem with this kind of recreation, for reasons which have nothing to do with religion. Pleasure at any price is just a carte blanche justification for many deplorable acts like those above.

"Of course, pleasure is precisely the problem with these substances, since pleasure and piety have always had an uneasy relationship."

Here, I think he's partially right, in one very narrow sense. Religious people often place a high value on public order, and chaos-inducing drugs threaten public order. I'm completely comfortable with that rationale. In the case of some religious people, the high view of public order is taken from Biblical texts (Romans 13:1-8, for example). But the Biblical passages reflect what most people already believe: that order is superior to chaos.

As for the relationship between religion and pleasure, it's not so much "uneasy" as "balanced," just like the relationship between authority and order and between liberty and free will. The truth is that religiously-influenced societies have long attempted to balance the human right, given by God, for pleasure, with the human need for order. The New Testament reflects this. Take the world's most popular drug: alcohol. The Bible clearly permits its use in moderation: John 2:1-11, Gen. 14:18 (here, it's foreshadowing the Eucharist, but it's still actual wine being offered to God in a way considered praiseworthy), Gen. 27:25, Neh. 8:10, Psalm 104:15, Ecclesiastes 9:7, Wisdom 2:7, Sir. 31:25-28 , Amos 9:14, etc. In Luke 7:33-34, Jesus Himself is criticized by the scribes and Pharisees for His alleged drunkenness and gluttony, just because He ate and drank in moderation, while John the Baptist was criticized for "neither eating bread nor drinking wine."

So moderate drinking is actually commended and recommended throughout the Bible. But it does not endorse drinking to excess. Drunkenness is condemned throughout the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. For example, Ecc. 10:17, Rom. 13:13, Gal. 5:21, 1 Tim. 3:3, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 4:3, etc. In the words of Socrates, "everything in moderation, nothing in excess." A little wine makes you happy, too much wine can make you a depressed alcoholic. A little is good for your heart, a lot is bad for your liver. This is the position of Socrates and Aristotle, the position of modern science, and most important, the Christian stance, the position most relevant to a discussion on American drug laws. Since Harris says "our criminal laws," I assume he's trying to attack Christianity's alleged hatred of pleasure. But he's really only attacking a certain Puritanical excess which the vast majority of sane religious people have long fought against... using Biblical texts.

If he's arguing that some Christians advocate for total prohibition contrary to the pro-temperance Bible, he's not arguing against Christianity. If anything, he's giving another reason to hew closer to the teachings of the Catholic Church. His real problem is that some people in power enjoy controlling other people, and will attempt to do so, at times, with religious texts. But without religious texts, these same people have been just as successful—and more so, because their own behavior isn't kept in check by anything above themselves.

At the end of the day, Christianity doesn't demand the prohibition of a single drug: we're left to organize our society around prudential judgments. Should marijuana be a Schedule I drug? Schedule II? Decriminalized? Legalized? The Bible has no answer on this, Sacred Tradition has no answer on this, and the Church offers no answer on this. Certainly, they give us the tools to weigh the pros and cons (human liberty should be enjoyed, some things go to excess, the rights of third-parties should be protected, etc.), but to suggest that there's one, dogmatic, unflinching anti-pleasure position called Christian morality is patently false.
 
 
Originally posted at Shameless Popery.
(Imaged credit: London Bytes)

Joe Heschmeyer

Written by

Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • It is generally the case in present-day society that there are some illegal drugs which are not particularly harmful, and that religious people are more likely to endorse keeping such drugs illegal than are non-religious people. But theism in general doesn't imply any specific political program, and Christianity in particular has few and minimal political requirements. The same situation is true of atheism in general and secular humanism in particular. People's political beliefs are rarely if ever logically linked to their religion or lack of religion. There are, however, many clear cases of "tribal" behavior by theists and atheists, so that, e.g. early 20th century American Catholics were very likely to be Democrats and early 20th century American atheists were very likely to be sympathetic to communism.

    Early 21st century American atheists have done a mediocre-to-good job being supportive of diversity of political opinion among themselves. Early 21st century American Catholics have done a poor-to-mediocre job being supportive of diversity of political opinion among themselves. How about instead of baiting each other with false links between theism/atheism and politics, we each encourage our "tribe" members on toward greater tolerance for different political views about how best to achieve a more perfect union?

    • "It is generally the case in present-day society that there are some illegal drugs which are not particularly harmful"

      How do you gauge whether a particularly drug is harmful, either to individuals or society?

      Can you provide us some examples of illegal drugs that are "not particularly harmful"?

      "Early 21st century American Catholics have done a poor-to-mediocre job being supportive of diversity of political opinion among themselves."

      This is exactly the opposite of what the statistical evidence shows. Here are how American Catholics voted in each of the last four presidential elections:

      2000 - 50% Democrat, 47% Republican
      2004 - 47% Democrat, 52% Republican
      2008 - 54% Democrat, 45% Republican
      2012 - 50% Democrat, 48% Republican

      (Pew Forum, http://bvogt.us/1cP0tHT)

      The Catholic Church is intentionally non-partisan and undoubtedly embraces "tolerance for different political views about how best to achieve a more perfect union."

      • Andre Boillot

        "Can you provide us some examples of illegal drugs that are "not particularly harmful"?"

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybin

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysergic_acid_diethylamide

        • Andre,

          How would you define, "not particularly harmful?" There are some who would argue that cigarettes are more harmful than alcohol because more people die from cigarettes, but there are others who would argue that alcohol is more harmful than cigarettes because it causes more social unrest (e.g., When's the last time you heard of a family breaking up because dad couldn't stop smoking cigarettes?).

          http://www.debate.org/opinions/are-cigarettes-more-harmful-to-society-than-alcohol

          Both of these drugs you've listed affect an individual's behavior and from what I've gathered by looking at what you've posted, the affects of taking the drug are more instantaneous than that of alcohol. One needs to drink a large amount of alcohol before it starts to significantly affect behavior… This does not seem to be the case for these two drugs… Would you say the behavior that is seen from these drugs is not harmful and thus does not warrant being illegal?

          Thanks.

          • Andre Boillot

            Hi James,

            "How would you define, "not particularly harmful?""

            In the case of the psychedelics I listed, I would say they are relatively non-toxic (ie. less toxic than caffeine), non-habit forming, and when used responsibly do not harm the body or mind.

            "Would you say the behavior that is seen from these drugs is not harmful and thus does not warrant being illegal?"

            As with any mood-altering substance, the range of behaviors these drugs produce varies, and one needs to be responsible in terms of when/where/how much they take. Overall, I see no reason why these should not be legal and regulated.

          • Good answer. I don't know very much about these drugs, but you do present some very good points.

            Thanks

          • Renard Wolfe

            A safe drug: one less likely to kill someone than peanuts.

      • How do you gauge whether a particularly drug is harmful, either to individuals or society?

        I recommend the use of science. The DALY estimate for a drug is an excellent start.

        Can you provide us some examples of illegal drugs that are "not particularly harmful"?

        Yes. Andre pointed out two. And of course the lack of negative health consequences or societal consequences due to marijuana is well-established scientifically. (Er, unless you count curmudgeonly guys like me who are exasperated by stoners.) Salvia is illegal in some jurisdictions, and is probably less harmful than a donut. Heck, even a horrific drug like heroin is safe for public use at sufficiently low doses.

        Here are how American Catholics voted in each of the last four presidential elections

        The stats you provided are nice but not relevant. They address a claim that was not made. I didn't say that early 21st century American Catholics aren't politically diverse. I said that they have done a poor-to-mediocre job being supportive of diversity of political opinion among themselves. If that's too abstract, think of it broken down this way:

        poor job -> rancor, mistrust, and argument between factions
        mediocre job -> peaceful tolerance between factions
        good job -> dialogue, active listening, and valuing of each others' viewpoints between factions

      • Slocum Moe

        It's ironic that you make a case for a politically non partisan church. The traditionalist reactionary power structure, with whom you line up, currently in control of the Catholic church, calls for support of the Republican party. Progressive Catholics are frequently excoriated by this faction, called not really Catholic and urged to leave the church and become protestant if they cannot get onboard.

        • Geoffrey Miller

          The bishops are primarily Democrats in terms of outlook and were among the first to push for and support President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act. How is that Republican?

          In our Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right. Access to health care should not depend on where a person works, how much a family earns, or where a person lives. Instead, every person, created in the image and likeness of God, has a right to life and to those things necessary to sustain life, including affordable, quality health care. This teaching is rooted in the biblical call to heal the sick and to serve "the least of these," our concern for human life and dignity, and the principle of the common good. Unfortunately, tens of millions of Americans do not have health insurance. According to the Catholic bishops of the United States, the current health care system is in need of fundamental reform. To learn about Catholic teaching on health care in more detail, read the full statement by the United States Catholic Bishops, A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform, at usccb.org/sdwp/national/comphealth.shtml.

          Yes, they disagree with conscience violations in the bill and are working to get those changed, but what Catholics have in mind for universal healthcare makes the Democrats look like George W. Bush. We're the real radicals on this issue.

    • Danny Getchell

      Early 21st century American atheists have done a mediocre-to-good job being supportive of diversity of political opinion among themselves,

      Respectfully disagree, Noah - should likewise be "poor to mediocre". As a non-theist (deist in the Paine model) and a lifelong libertarian conservative, I know whereof I speak. I invite you to visit the Patheos atheism blogs as a good current example. There, the acceptable range of political opinions runs the full gamut from Daily Kos to MSNBC, with anything within being OK.....

      And since the Catholic Church finds itself able to tolerate the likes of Pelosi and Biden without publicly spewing them out in disgust (as I would in their place) I think they may deserve more credit for diversity of opinion than you give them, although in fact it may be a result of cynical political maneuvering on their part.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Danny, I appreciate that your comment was, relatively speaking, complimentary of the Church, but let me ask you about this part:

        "...in fact it may be a result of cynical political maneuvering on their part"

        I realize you are just speculating here, but who do you imagine might be guilty of this cynical political maneuvering? Who would have the authority to sever another's relationship with the Church? I realize there is the possibility of excommunication, but I believe that is correctly understood as a withholding of privileges, not a revocation of membership. I believe I am correct in saying that no one one has the authority to "revoke the membership" of a person, other than the person himself.

        • Danny Getchell

          Looking at the current healthcare controversy as an example - it's clear that the Church's affiliated organizations receive billions each year in federal dollars.

          I would not be surprised to learn that this affects the Church's willingness to speak out about politicians who claim to be Catholic but who explicitly act to subvert the Church's moral teaching.

      • Andre Boillot

        "And since the Catholic Church finds itself able to tolerate the likes of Pelosi and Biden without publicly spewing them out in disgust."

        I'm not sure what you mean here. If you mean that they don't excommunicate the likes of these two, then yes. However, it does seems like every time election season comes around, we see a new round of bishops and cardinals threatening to deny politician X communion based on political stance Y.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_politicians,_abortion_and_communion_or_excommunication#Incidents

        • MichaelNewsham

          The times they are a-changin' ?

          Cardinal Burke, best known in America for announcing that John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi were bad Catholics “in manifest grave sin” who should avoid presenting themselves for Communion, is being replaced by Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl,a moderate thinker who doesn’t consider it good pastoral practice to deny communion to anybody, and who better reflects the new attitude Francis seems to be bringing to papal politics.

          Oooops, it's from Patheos.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/12/18/pope-francis-demotes-cardinal-who-denied-john-kerry-communion/

          Danny, there are some conservative/libertarian atheist blogs over at Skeptic Ink

  • David Nickol

    I am not sure Harris is wrong when he says

    Of course, pleasure is precisely the problem with these substances,
    since pleasure and piety have always had an uneasy relationship . . . .

    I don't think the OP really addresses this assertion. If there were an intoxicant or hallucinogen that was completely safe for the user and for those around him, I think Catholicism would still consider it immoral. From the Catechism:

    2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.

    2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

    Christianity was long ill at ease (and still is, I think) with sexual pleasure (even within marriage).

    • David, thanks for the comment. Though I think we're all tired of conversations *always* turning toward sexuality here (why the obsession?) I'd like to push back on your final sentence.

      Please provide evidence--preferably from the Church's own teachings, which you're clearly conversant with--that Christianity is "ill at ease" with sexual pleasure, even within marriage.

      • Guest

        "It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony."

        http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06590a.htm

      • Sections of interest gleaned from NewAdvent.org. You can follow the links for the full context. These are not dogmatic pronouncements, but still you can easily see how, reading texts like these, the distrust of even permitted sexual pleasure developed among Christians.

        Chastity http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03637d.htm

        Chastity is the virtue which excludes or moderates the indulgence of the sexual appetite ...
        [I]ts motives are discovered in the light of faith. ...
        According as chastity would exclude all voluntary Carnal pleasures, or allow this gratification only within prescribed limits, it is known as absolute or relative. The former is enjoined upon the unmarried, the latter is incumbent upon those within the marriage state. ...
        Because of these two elements — the high purpose and the absolute inexperience — just referred to, virginal chastity takes on the character of a special virtue distinct from that which connotes abstinence merely from illicit carnal pleasure. ...
        Under Christianity chastity has been practised in a manner unknown under any other influence. ...
        Between [soul and body] there is an ineradicable opposition, the flesh with its concupiscences contending unceasingly against the spirit, blinding the latter and weaning it away from the pursuit of its true life. Harmony and due order between these two must prevail. But this means the pre-eminence and mastery of the spirit, which in turn can only mean the castigation of the body. ...
        Necessarily, therefore, chastity is a thing stern and austere.

        Lust http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09438a.htm

        Lust is said to be a capital sin. The reason is obvious. The pleasure which this vice has as its object is at once so attractive and connatural to human nature as to whet keenly a man's desire, and so lead him into the commission of many other disorders in the pursuit of it.

        De Spectaculis (Tertullian) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0303.htm

        For what more delightful than to have God the Father and our Lord at peace with us, than revelation of the truth than confession of our errors, than pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life? What greater pleasure than distaste of pleasure itself, contempt of all that the world can give, true liberty, a pure conscience, a contented life, and freedom from all fear of death?

        Letter of St Jerome to Eustochium http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001022.htm

        When lust tickles the sense and the soft fire of sensual pleasure sheds over us its pleasing glow, let us immediately break forth and cry: "The Lord is on my side: I will not fear what the flesh can do unto me."

        Summa Theologica, 2, 2, Q154, Article 4 http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3154.htm

        Wherefore since fornication is a mortal sin, and much more so the other kinds of lust, it follows that in such like sins not only consent to the act but also consent to the pleasure is a mortal sin. Consequently, when these kisses and caresses are done for this delectation, it follows that they are mortal sins, and only in this way are they said to be lustful. Therefore in so far as they are lustful, they are mortal sins.

        The Paedagogus (Clement of Alexandria) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02092.htm

        [W]e must be on our guard against whatever pleasure titillates eye and ear ...
        But since we assign no place to pleasure which is linked to no use serviceable to life, come let us also distinguish here too, selecting what is useful. For there are sweet scents which neither make the head heavy nor provoke love, and are not redolent of embraces and licentious companionship, but, along with moderation, are salutary, nourishing the brain when labouring under indisposition, and strengthening the stomach. ...
        He who averts his eyes from pleasure crowns his life.

        Homily 13 on First Timothy (Chrysostom) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230613.htm

        Let us not live in pleasure here, that we may hereafter enjoy true pleasure, true delight, which brings no evil with it, but infinite good.

        On Marriage and Concupiscence (Augustine), Book I http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/15071.htm

        It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful: it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only, which involves venial sin. ...
        [Ardour] shows, moreover, that it must be excited, not by a free choice, but by a certain seductive stimulus, and that on this very account it produces shame. This is the carnal concupiscence, which, while it is no longer accounted sin in the regenerate, yet in no case happens to nature except from sin.

        Summa Theologica, 2, 2, Q152, A1 http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3152.htm

        [J]ust as a thing is described as fresh and retaining its freshness, so long as it is not parched by excessive heat, so too, virginity denotes that the person possessed thereof is unseared by the heat of concupiscence which is experienced in achieving the greatest bodily pleasure which is that of sexual intercourse. Hence, Ambrose says (De Virgin. i, 5) that "virginal chastity is integrity free of pollution."

        • None of these quotes demonstrate a problem with pleasure, per se. They all regard either excessive or wrongly-ordered pleasures. Surely you would agree--with both Joe and Sam Harris--that some pleasures are morally deplorable?

          • Your interpretation appears to me to be in "explaining away" mode. The texts simply don't say the pleasure has to be excessive or wrongly-ordered, but that it's something we must be wary of just for it being what it is. Augustine, especially, and subsequently Aquinas based on Augustine, clearly state in the linked documents that sexual pleasure in marriage, whenever it is not explicitly directed toward reproduction (a more narrow condition than the NFP/contraception teachings and separate from it), is venial sin.

          • "Your interpretation appears to me to be in "explaining away" mode."

            I'm sorry you feel that way.

          • If you are sorry for giving such appearances, a good option would be to show an interpretation of the texts that is actually based on the words in the texts.

          • Colin Gormley

            Except your interpretation is not supported by the quotes either. The notion of sin being the "disordered desire for ordered goods" is a pretty basic notion in Catholic moral thought. Hence Mr. Vogt's assertion actually is supported by the text, since lust (not desire itself) is identified as the problem in question.

          • Can you show specifically where in one of those quotations you find support for Brandon's assertion?

            The interpretation I gave for the Augustine & Aquinas passages ("sexual pleasure in marriage, whenever it is not explicitly directed toward reproduction, is venial sin") is the standard intepretation, so much so that Catholic sources give headings for Augustine's chapters that say just that. Taking Aquinas' much shorter version as our example, how else do you propose to reinterpret http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5049.htm#article6 ?

          • Colin Gormley

            >The interpretation I gave for the Augustine & Aquinas passages ("sexual pleasure in marriage, whenever it is not explicitly directed toward reproduction, is venial sin") is the standard intepretation

            No it isn't. That's the point. The key word in the text is "lust". Lust be definition is the disordered desire of pleasure wrt sex.

            "Consequently the right answer to this question is that if pleasure be sought in such a way as to exclude the honesty of marriage, so that, to wit, it is not as a wife but as a woman that a man treats his wife, and that he is ready to use her in the same way if she were not his wife, it is a mortal sin; wherefore such a man is said to be too ardent a lover of his wife, because his ardor carries him away from the goods of marriage. If, however, he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage, so that it would not be sought in another than his wife, it is a venial sin."

            I.e. if a man seeks pleasure in and of itself he is dishonoring his wife. I don't see what is controversial about that. You seem to be reading things into the text without the appropriate background in Catholic moral thought.

          • The interpretation I gave ... is the standard intepretation, so much so that Catholic sources give headings for Augustine's chapters that say just that

            No it isn't.

            Explain this, then: NewAdvent's copy of Augustine's "On Marriage and Concupiscence", Book I, Chapter 16 is titled "A Certain Degree of Intemperance is to Be Tolerated in the Case of Married Persons; The Use of Matrimony for the Mere Pleasure of Lust is Not Without Sin, But Because of the Nuptial Relation the Sin is Venial."

            The key word in the text is "lust".

            The word "lust" isn't even in the text! Really. Read it and do a search: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5049.htm#article6

            Also, the section you quoted explicitly says what you deny, "If, however, he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage, so that it would not be sought in another than his wife, it is a venial sin."

            I have rather plentiful background in Catholic moral thought, thank you. Reading the words that are actually, literally in the text is not "reading things into the text".

          • Colin Gormley

            >The Use of Matrimony for the Mere Pleasure of Lust is Not Without Sin, But Because of the Nuptial Relation the Sin is Venial."

            "Lust" is right there in the title!

            "he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage"

            Meaning: If pleasure is the thing sought, and not love and service to the wife, then it is a sin, though a venial one. We are not allowed to use people as objects of pleasure, even our spouses. The notion that pleasure sought in and of itself is a disordered one. If pleasure is the end, and not the means, then that is the problem. One would think this to be a commendable attitude.

            You are searching for something that isn't there.

          • Are you just trolling me? Augustine and Aquinas are two different people. They lived almost a thousand years apart and on different continents. The title given in the 19th century by Philip Schaff to a chapter in a 5th century book by Augustine does not count as part of the text of an article in a 13th century book by Augustine. If you're not deliberately trolling, then you certainly didn't take adequate time to understand what you were reading. Our conversation can't go anywhere valuable if you don't put in that minimum level of effort.

          • Colin Gormley

            The point I'm making is that you are attempting to sever the relationship between the Catholic thinkers and the moral context of Catholic teaching. You are ignoring the important distinction that sin be definition is the disordered pursuit of ordered goods.

            As for your first quote:

            ""A Certain Degree of Intemperance is to Be Tolerated in the Case of Married Persons; The Use of Matrimony for the Mere Pleasure of Lust is Not Without Sin, But Because of the Nuptial Relation the Sin is Venial.""

            The title has lust in it, yes? Then it is about lust within marriage. Augustine's comments must be understood in this context.

            As far as Aquinas (from Article 5 in the same link):

            >I answer that, Just as the marriage goods, in so far as they consist in a habit, make a marriage honest and holy, so too, in so far as they are in the actual intention, they make the marriage act honest, as regards those two marriage goods which relate to the marriage act. Hence when married persons come together for the purpose of begetting children, or of paying the debt to one another (which pertains to "faith") they are wholly excused from sin. But the third good does not relate to the use of marriage, but to its excuse, as stated above (Article 3); wherefore it makes marriage itself honest, but not its act, as though its act were wholly excused from sin, through being done on account of some signification. Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt. otherwise it is always at least a venial sin.

            Aquinas states that the act must always be oriented toward the other. To exploit the other for one's own pleasure is a sin, though in the context of marriage it is a venial one.

            This is why it is always dangerous to rip Aquinas out of context.

          • Jack Tierney

            Noah, the word lust is used in Article 5. Objection 3. and reading Article 5 might help with a better understanding as to what Colin is referring to...

          • Either way, he'd still be failing at basic reading comprehension, since the topic at hand is Article 6.

      • David Nickol

        Please provide evidence--preferably from the Church's own teachings, which you're clearly conversant with--that Christianity is "ill at ease" with sexual pleasure, even within marriage.

        I think the fact that celibacy is is considered a "higher state" than marriage is very telling. I think an analysis of how this idea crept into Christianity when it has no Jewish roots would be very interesting. The various doctrines and dogmas about the Virgin Mary say a lot about the Catholic attitude toward sexuality. Mary not only conceived virginally, but remained a virgin her entire life (according to Catholic Tradition, if not scripture), and most curiously, remained an intact virgin during the birth of Jesus (and afterward). Mary must be perfect in every way, including bodily, and therefore she must not merely be a virgin, but a woman whose physical intactness must not even be affected by childbirth.

        Here's a paragraph I came across in a book called The Philosoph of Sex while googling:

        The first views sex as intrinsically inferior, sinful, and
        shameful, and accepts it only when, and in so far as, it serves an important extrinsic purpose which cannot be attained by any other means: procreation. Moreover, the only proper framework for bringing up children is marriage; therefore, sex is permissible only within marriage. These two statements make up the core of the traditional Christian understanding of sex, elaborated in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, which has been by far the most important source of Western sexual ethics. To be sure, modern Christian thought and practice have broadened this view in various ways, in order to allow for the role of sex in expressing and enhancing conjugal love and care. Within the Catholic tradition this has been recognized as the "unitive" function of sex in marriage; but that is a rather limited development, for it is still maintained that the two functions of sex, the unitive and procreative, are inseparable.

        As some of us never tire or pointing out, the procreative purpose of sex is deemed so important, that sterile individuals must have sex as if they were fertile. In an example I have pointed out a number of times, if a married couple (say an elderly couple) can still derive pleasure from intimate physical contact but the husband is impotent, they must be careful not to risk the wife having an orgasm. (Why the Almighty would be upset about such a thing I can't imagine.)

        As I understood it, Augustine considered sex in marriage for pleasure rather than procreation (even if nothing was done to prevent conception) to a be a sin (although a venial one). Even though the Church no longer teaches that, it has been very slow in accepting the "unitive" nature of sex. For example, Pius XII said the following in Casti Connubii (1930)

        For in matrimony as well as in the use of the
        matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved. [Boldface added]

        For Augustine, sex for any reason other than procreation was sinful. For Pius XII in 1930, sex for any reason other than procreation was something married couples were "not forbidden to consider" but the unitive nature of sex was subordinate and secondary. And for Pope Paul VI, the procreative and unitive purpose of sex may have been equal, but separating them even if procreation was impossible was forbidden, and sex was permitted only if done to precise specifications, no matter how pointless those specifications were for the couple having sex.

        • "I think the fact that celibacy is is considered a "higher state" than marriage is very telling."

          This has nothing to do with pleasure, though. It's higher because it evokes the direct communion with God to which marriage only points.

        • Also, I'll be exercising my Editor's Hat and and steering future conversations away from sex and procreation (which, somehow, every thread seems veered toward.)

          Let's try to stay on topic, using other, non-sex examples if possible. Thanks!

          • David Nickol

            Let's try to stay on topic, using other, non-sex examples if possible. Thanks!

            No problem! I did not intend to hijack the thread. My point was that there is an "anti-pleasure" strain in Catholic thought that I don't think came from Jewish thought. I am reminded of an experience my father had when he was dragged (he was not a Catholic) to a retreat at a Trappist monastery. His stories about how the Trappists lived, and a booklet he brought home about the hours they kept, the food they ate, and so on, showed a dedication far beyond that of avoiding gluttony. I am no expert here, but I believe, in general, Christian asceticism came not from Judaism but from the Greek philosophy of Stoicism.

          • Danny Getchell

            stay on topic, using other, non-sex examples

            OK Brandon, you got it.

            "2290....Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road..."

            So I guess that using my frequent use of my radar detector would properly earn me a session in the confessional (or worse)??, notwithstanding the fact that most speed limits are set so as to generate revenue to their jurisdictions, and bear only a tangential relationship to "safety on the road".

          • Danny, I'm not sure I follow. How does your use of a radar detector violate CCC #2290?

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon, to your mind, what is the purpose of owning a radar detector?

          • MichaelNewsham

            To enable the owner to break the law, endangering others for the sake of their own convenience/pleasure.

            Was not aware of the existence of 2290, but kudos to the Catholic Church for it.

        • David said-

          [---
          I think the fact that celibacy is is considered a "higher state" than marriage is very telling. I think an analysis of how this idea crept into Christianity when it has no Jewish roots would be very interesting.
          ---]

          It does have Jewish roots. Remember that God told Jeremiah to be celibate. It should also be noted that in the Jewish Dispensation, married high priests were continent(abstained from the marital act of sex) while serving in the Temple. Both of these instances were pointing to an ideal in serving God after the temple curtain was torn in two. The ideal is the heavenly state of perfect communion where Jesus says there is no marriage. Among the Jews of the OT, the priesthood was hereditary and accomplished through generation (it needed marriage/procreation to carry on). But in the Church, as an antithesis to this, the priestly character was transmitted by the Holy Spirit through sacrament. Virginity and celibacy are therefore special prerogatives of the NT priesthood. It is giving up one good(marriage) for a greater good(a more perfect communion with God).

          • David Nickol

            Both of these instances were pointing to an ideal in serving God after the temple curtain was torn in two.

            With all due respect, it seems to me that if you are willing to use scripture in this way, you can make a case for virtually anything you set out to. There is no discernible connection between the continence required of temple priests and God forbidding Jeremiah to marry. The restriction on temple priests was a matter of the cleanliness (purity code), since a husband who engaged in intercourse with his wife was ritually unclean until sundown.

            As for Jeremiah, yes, God tells him not to marry and have children.

            1 This word came to me from the LORD:
            2 Do not take a wife and do not have sons and daughters in this place,
            3 for thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters born in this place, the mothers who give them birth, the fathers who beget them in this land:
            4 Of deadly disease they shall die. Unlamented and unburied they will lie like dung on the ground. Sword and famine will make an end of them, and their corpses will become food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.
            5 Thus says the LORD: Do not go into a house of mourning; do not go there to lament or grieve
            for them.
            For I have withdrawn my peace from this people—oracle of the LORD—my love and my compassion.
            6 They shall die, the great and the lowly, in this land, unburied and unlamented.* No one will gash themselves or shave their heads for them.
            7 They will not break bread with the bereaved to offer consolation for the dead; they will not give them the cup of consolation to drink over the death of father or mother.
            8 Do not enter a house of feasting to sit eating and drinking with them.
            9 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Before your eyes and in your lifetime, I will silence in this place the song of joy and the song of gladness, the
            song of the bridegroom and the song of the bride.

          • Hi David, you said-
            [---
            There is no discernible connection between the continence required of temple priests and God forbidding Jeremiah to marry.
            ---]
            The connection is that God told Jeremias to remain a celibate. And High Priests were required to act like celibates when serving in the Temple. I say act like celibates because sex is only licit within the confines of marriage, and they had to remain continent. The Holy of Holies where the priestly duties where carried out required purity and abstaining from the marital act as you rightly say made them impure. 1 Sam. 21:3-6:

            David said-
            [---
            Jews consider the Torah to have 613 commandments, and the first is to "be fruitful and multiply."
            ---]
            Right, and Catholic priests obey that Divine mandate by acting as the ordinary ministers of baptism. They beget spiritual children in Christ. This increase can be satisfied both according to the spiritual dimension which Catholics consider to be a true reality, as well as the physical dimension.

            David said-
            [---
            Exactly how celibacy (and not just a celibate priesthood, but simply men and women not marrying) came to be "better and more blessed" than marriage came out of an offshoot of Judaism is a puzzle to me.
            ---]
            Its only a greater good if it is done for the Kingdom of God. Jesus clearly says that there is no marriage in heaven. (i.e till death do us part) Jesus also recommends celibacy, and so does St. Paul as a better way. In any case, It was not just the major prophet Jeremias who was celibate, it was also one of the greatest prophets in the OT....Elias/Elijah. The prophet Elisha was celibate too.

    • The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia says:

      "It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony."

      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06590a.htm

      • First, as has been noted ad nauseum on this site, the Catholic Encyclopedia is not a compendium of Church teaching and should not be referenced as such. The official teachings of the Church are most clearly contained in her Catechism and in the teachings of popes and councils throughout her history.

        Second, you didn't quote the full passage in context, which contains an important caveat:

        "Such a temper of soul is equivalently the direct and positive shutting out of that reference to our last end which must be found, at least implicitly, in all our actions. At the same time it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one's mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God."

        Third, this isn't example of the Church having an uneasy relationship with pleasure. It considers pleasure morally neutral even while condemning *excessive* pleasure, such as the gluttonous kind.

        • The Catholic Encyclopedia is not a compendium of official Church teaching, but to deny that it expressed the prevailing Catholic viewpoint of its time would be absurd. Note that you also cited further text from the same article as evidence of Church teaching, and you didn't quote your choice of passage in full context, either, so a double pot kettle upon ye ;) .

          The "caveat" is about motive: that a person doesn't have to know how their motive isn't just about pleasure in order to avoid sin. The article's factual claim that eating and drinking exclusively for the pleasure is sin remains in its full force.

          It's not an uneasy relationship with pleasure, nor is there anything in it about excessiveness; it's an outright condemnation of pleasure pursued for pleasure's sake.

          • "Note that you also cited further text from the same article as evidence of Church teaching"

            I did not. By adding the subsequent text, I wasn't agreeing with it. My aim was to show that even if the CE *did* represent official Church teaching, by quoting it out of context and neglecting an important caveat, you misrepresented its meaning in a substantial way. In no way did I suggest the CE represents the Church's official teaching.

            As I've repeatedly noted in the comment boxes, this is not an example of the Church condemning pleasure in itself--as Sam Harris seems to insinuate--but in condemning wrongly-ordered or harmful pleasures. Gluttony is a harmful pleasure that damages bodies, souls, and societies.

            Wouldn't you agree? Or do you think we should *encourage* gluttony? How would you react to a dad who encouraged his daughter to eat only for pleasure. Would you say either

            - "Well done!" (morally praiseworthy)
            - "It doesn't matter" (morally neutral)
            - "He shouldn't do that." (morally blameworthy)

          • Well, you're simply wrong that I misrepresented the meaning of that sentence that flatly declares its straightforward meaning to be "incontrovertible". But moving on...

            No, I don't agree. The Church seems to me to be incorrect about gluttony always being bad. I can give many examples where eating purely for pleasure seems to me just fine.
            1.) Diet soda
            2.) Post-meal dessert
            3.) Alcohol or pot brownies in the safety of the user's own home
            4.) An inordinately large last meal for a prisoner, or habitual gluttony for a hospice patient
            5.) A sad (not chronically depressed) person seeking a moment of consolation
            6.) A celebratory social meal.

    • Mike

      I'd like to disagree with the last comment. As far as I'm aware there is an entire sacrament in which sex in an integral component. The Church is quite open to sexual pleasure within a marriage, as long as the act is open to conception. Lots of otherwise risque things are fair game.

      The Church isn't puritanical, but just because it doesn't permit everything one would like doesn't mean its opposed to pleasure.

      • josh

        Procreation is the point of sex in that 'sacrament', not pleasure. Sex done only for pleasure, without the procreation bit, is sinful in Catholic teaching. (Allowing for some waffling about being 'aimed at' or 'open to' makin' babies.)

      • David Nickol

        As far as I'm aware there is an entire sacrament in which sex in an integral component.

        Remember St. Paul saying it was better not to marry, although it was better to marry than to "burn." Also remember that in Catholicism, the celibate life is a "higher calling" than marriage. Remember that the model family in Christianity is the Holy Family, inn which the mother remained a virgin. But let's heed Brandon's call to discuss drugs and other forbidden pleasures rather than sex.

        • Mike

          Hi David,

          You're right. I'm relatively new here, so I didn't see Brandon's comment until after I posted mine.

          If you don't mind the inquiry, can I ask for your opinion on what society should think about the topic? Should the Church think differently from society in that circumstance?

          • David Nickol

            If you don't mind the inquiry, can I ask for your opinion on what
            society should think about the topic? Should the Church think
            differently from society in that circumstance?

            It seems to me that it makes good practical sense to seriously consider legalizing drugs like marijuana and maybe even some "hard drugs." I certainly thing some drugs do harm to those who use them (or at least use them unwisely), but I think a good case can be made that criminalizing drugs drives up the price and creates a market for an illegal drug trade that can be quite devastating to society. I doubt that there is anyone who thinks Prohibition (1920-1933) did more good than harm.

            I certainly agree that drunk driving is evil. (People used to brag about how drunk they were when the drove home from a party, but I think that kind of asininity has gone out of fashion.) So I believe strongly in protecting society from people who get intoxicated and become dangerous to others. I am in general a bleeding heart liberal and a believer that government is there to help us all, but I have a libertarian streak and think that government can go too far in trying to protect me from myself. And to the extent that drug laws are protecting me from myself rather than protecting me from others, I am suspicious of their value.

  • David Nickol

    I am not sure what the point or relevance is of Mr. Heschmeyer's first paragraph.

  • Andre Boillot

    Sam Harris's anti-religious book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, begins with a premise that he admitted to be false in the endnotes: the idea that most suicide bombings occur because of religion generally, and Islam specifically. In fact, most suicide bombings occur at the hands of the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist ethno-political movement with no ties to any religion.

    I'm not sure what you mean by this, considering what Harris says about the Tamil Tigers (while the quote is not from the endnotes of EoF, it's almost identical, and allows for easier citation):

    "While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death. The cult of martyr-worship that they have nurtured for decades has many of the features of religiosity that one would expect in people who give their lives so easily for a cause."

    • Andre, thanks for the comment. Let's agree to turn the discussion back to the post's main topic instead of this secondary issue.

      Yet that quote seems to agree with Joe's point. Harris admits that "the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious." Therefore it's wrong to insinuate that suicide bombings are mostly triggered by religion. The fact that their movement shares *some* characteristics with religion does nothing to change the most basic fact that they are *not* a religion.

      • Andre Boillot

        Brandon,

        Seriously, if you're going to post articles which lead with a topic that's completely unrelated to the main topic...how is it not fair game? Why was it included in the first place? It seems to be there only to discredit Harris, and I think it's inaccurate based on what follows the sentence fragment which you take to be agreeing with Joe's claim.

        "Therefore it's wrong to insinuate that suicide bombings are mostly triggered by religion."

        Really? How many other Marxist groups routinely practice suicide bombings?

        "The fact that their movement shares *some* characteristics with religion does nothing to change the most basic fact that they are *not* a religion."

        I'm not sure about your phrasing here. Al-Qaeda is also *not* a religion.

        EDIT: Perhaps for future articles, you could be explicit about which sections of articles are or are not suitable for discussion.

        • Renard Wolfe

          Poisoning the well, poisoning the well, hi ho the merry oh we're poisoning the well...

        • "Really? How many other Marxist groups routinely practice suicide bombings?"

          This is irrelevant to the question of whether religion, in general, encourages suicide bombers. The only example Harris offered to support this insinuation is the Tigers, and that's been shown to be a faulty example.

          Your question may lead to realizing that *Marxism* itself does not lead to suicide bombing, but from there it does not follow that religion does.

          "Perhaps for future articles, you could be explicit about which sections of articles are or are not suitable for discussion."

          Any part of any article is open for discussion. But as moderator, it's my job to funnel the discussion to the main arguments at hand. I just think it's a waste of time--mine, yours, and others'--to spend 90% of our space discussing a paragraph that is ancillary to the main content.

          I'm much more interested in the bigger questions at hand like whether religion is anti-pleasure or whether Christianity, in particular, is to blame for the illegality of drugs.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            I was happy to let this dog lie...but there's a few corrections that I think need be made.

            "This is irrelevant to the question of whether religion, in general, encourages suicide bombers."

            I don't see it that way. Joe, in an effort to refute the claim that religion is a driving factor in suicide bombing, characterized the Tigers as 1) a Marxists group, and 2) having no ties to any religion. Therefore it's worth asking the question if Marxists separatist groups practice this method in general. Additionally, as Harris notes - in what Joe for some reason thinks is an admission that his overall premise is wrong - while the Tigers have no explicit religious motivations (they are a separatist group seeking political independence), that their members are primarily Hindu might have some bearing on their chosen method of asymmetric warfare.

            "The only example Harris offered to support this insinuation is the Tigers, and that's been shown to be a faulty example."

            You mean to tell me that Harris, on the topic of suicide bombing and religion, offered only the Tamil Tigers as an example? Surely this claim gets amended.

          • "You mean to tell me that Harris, on the topic of suicide bombing and religion, offered only the Tamil Tigers as an example?"

            Yes. See Paul's comment below for the relevant excerpt from "End of Faith":

            https://strangenotions.com/is-sam-harris-right-about-drugs/#comment-1192397153

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            I don't know what to say. Just from using the search function on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature for EoF, the book is littered with references to various suicide bombing campaigns by groups other than the Tigers, with the implication being that religion was a driving factor.

            Your claim:

            "The only example Harris offered to support this insinuation [whether religion, in general, encourages suicide bombers] is the Tigers, and that's been shown to be a faulty example."

            Is certainly false with regards to the number of examples Harris gives in EoF, and quite debatable in terms of how faulty it was.

          • Paul Boillot

            "the question of whether religion, in general, encourages suicide bombers"

            I am afraid to say (both figuratively as a matter of politeness and literally as too much disagreement seems to get people deleted and banned here) that you are fundamentally, factually, and, dare I say, obviously wrong in your paraphrasing of Harris.

            Harris' point is not that "religion, in general" encourages suicide bombing.

            It is that, given the particular details about one bombing incident, most people will be able to accurately guess the bomber's religion. This is true.

            But not only is it true; it is specifically *not* indicting all religions as inciters of suicide bombing.

            This concept is analogous to the statement "all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares." -- not all religious people are suicide bombers who believe in heaven for themselves and hell for their victims, but of the suicide bombers who *do* believe that, nearly 100% are Muslim.

            You (and Joe) have failed to acknowledge and understand this distinction, and because you have, your characterization of Harris' argument is wrong; you are arguing straw men.

            It is unfortunate that that is the case, as he goes on (I assume, having not finished the book) to show similar patterns with other phenomena:

      • Danny Getchell

        Are you aware of any significant number of suicide bombings that have been carried out by atheists, or by non-theists in general??

        • Danny, you're asking the wrong question. The question is not whether suicide bombers believe in God or not. That's a question regarding correlation. A murder may be a theist, or he may be an atheist--but that only shows a connection, which may be meaningful or arbitrary.

          The right question to ask--and the one Joe engages--is whether religion *causes* suicide bombers to kill people (and themselves.) Harris' book seems to suggest this precise causation and then references the Tigers as proof. But since the Tigers are not a religious group, as he admits, the causation is untenable.

          This seems to refute Harris' insinuation since the most active group of suicide bombers are not driven by religious beliefs.

          • josh

            That religious belief can encourage or play a causal role in suicide attacks (among other atrocities) wouldn't be refuted by examples of non-religious suicide attacks. Note, however, that the Black Tigers carried out attacks on Buddhist shrines and against Muslims among other more secular targets, although it is true that the leader of the movement was pretty secular.

            I also wonder about the claim that they are 'the most active group' since they are now defunct. Historically, they have a little less than 400 suicide attacks attributed to them. The kamikazes had ~4000.

            The overarching point though, is that atheists oppose religion because it is irrational and because we think those irrational beliefs are inherently dangerous. Most of us oppose other things we find similarly irrational, even if by convention we don't call them religions. That includes extreme nationalism, ethnocentrism and rioting over sports teams. :)

          • Andre Boillot

            "I also wonder about the claim that they are 'the most active group' since they are now defunct. Historically, they have a little less than 400 suicide attacks attributed to them. The kamikazes had ~4000."

            Josh,

            The Tigers were the most active group of the time frame Pape's study looked at, which spans only 1980 - 2001.

            http://www.apsanet.org/imgtest/apsraug03pape.pdf

          • josh

            Thanks Andre, I figured it was something like that. That's part of the problem with trying to single out one group in a long historical spectrum and deciding a complex question stands or falls on a one line analysis of that group. The Tamils pioneered explosive vests, but not suicide attacks, which themselves range from blowing yourself up to making a desperate charge. But the latter end of that spectrum takes us into so much history (along with plenty of secular examples) that I don't think the issue is well-framed.

  • I think Harris is expressing the opinion that Christianity has typically argued against what are considered vices, drugs and alcohol and sex. Harris is not just addressing Christianity. Islam of course has strict bans on booze and drugs.

    If it is Christ's view that pleasures of the flesh, (sex, drugs and alcohol) should not at all be prohibited and their recreational use is not to be discouraged as immoral or sinful, rather we should only try to help addicts and prevent abuse, great! But is that really the perspective?

  • Andre Boillot

    Joe,

    I haven't read EoF, so I can't speak to the types of drug use Harris would like to see legalized, or how he would advocate they be regulated. What I do know from reading his articles is that he's generally speaking about psychedelics:

    There are drugs of extraordinary power and utility, like psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), which pose no apparent risk of addiction and are physically well-tolerated, and yet one can still be sent to prison for their use—while drugs like tobacco and alcohol, which have ruined countless lives, are enjoyed ad libitum in almost every society on earth.

    - See more at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/drugs-and-the-meaning-of-life#sthash.wWAw7yl3.dpuf

    It seems disingenuous therefore to bring up the negative effects of substances like crack cocaine and PCP, the use of which I doubt you'd find Harris condoning.

    Now, as to his claim about the religious influence of banning these drugs...that's probably a stretch. I think there's at least as good an argument to be made that (in the US) we tend to ban drugs for far less noble reasons - that we have a history of criminalizing what was previously legal when it can be used to target undesirable minorities (see: Opium/Chinese, Hemp/Mexican, etc.)

  • It is pretty clear that a prohibition on alcohol was extremely bad for public order and crime. It would seem that the prohibition on drugs is causing the same. In Canada, though selling sex was legal, laws regulating the trade were causing much more harm than was proportional to the purposes of the law, and the Supreme Court struck down theses laws.

    Would Catholics support decriminalization of recreational drugs if it were shown that it was causing more violent crime and not reducing usage?

    • Brian, that's an interesting question and I think any honest Catholic would have to respond: "I don't know."

      For my part, I think I'd question the insinuation that the Church only rejects the decriminalization of drugs because they cause violent crime. Violent crime is not the only way that drugs harm societies. In fact, I'd say it's not even the most significant. The effects that drugs have on the breakdown of families--and thus all associated problems--are far more substantial.

      PS. You might be interested in this Catholic theologian's take on whether Thomas Aquinas would approve the legalization of marijuana:

      http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/marijuana-legalization-what-would-aquinas-say

      • I think Harris' point was that the prohibition on drugs is causing more harm than good. That this prohibition exists and is strengthened by religious positions that see drugs as always evil, to be prohibited regardless of issues of harm, because many religions see pleasure for pleasure's sake. If this is not the case and the only issues religions have with drugs is the harm, then we are on the same page and Harris is wrong, at least as far as Christianity goes.

  • Joe Heschmeyer is setting up a huge straw man here, unless Harris actually wants to see PCP legalized. I wish Heschmeyer had focused on a drug like marijuana, because that would have forced him to genuinely engage Harris' arguments.

    • "Joe Heschmeyer is setting up a huge straw man here, unless Harris actually wants to see PCP legalized. I wish Heschmeyer had focused on a drug like marijuana, because that would have forced him to genuinely engage Harris' arguments."

      Rob, thanks for the comment. Two things in reply:

      First, The PCP section comprised less than a quarter of Joe's article. I'd encourage you to read, reflect, and engage the rest of the article, otherwise your comment remains an example of the pot calling the kettle black: accusing someone of not engaging arguments while not engaging their arguments. For example, you didn't say anything about Joe's contention that Christianity doesn't prohibit any drugs, nor does it have a problem with pleasure.

      Second, using PCP as a counter-example to Harris' claim is not to make "a huge straw man." Harris insinuated that drugs are outlawed because they are pleasurable, and religious groups take issue with pleasure. Joe countered but showing how at least one drug is outlawed not because its pleasurable, but because it dramatically harms society. I don't see how this argument caricatures Harris' contention.

      • otherwise your comment remains an example of the pot calling the kettle black: accusing someone of not engaging arguments while not engaging their arguments.

        Given that I am engaging with a big chunk of the piece, I can hardly see how you make the claim that I am not engaging with his argument.

        Second, of course it's a straw man. If Joe points out that one drug is outlawed for reasons other than it is pleasurable, that still leaves open the possibility that other drugs are outlawed for their pleasurability. And of course marijuana is a classic example, while PCP is not, so addressing PCP is a straw man.

        UPDATE: It is true that I did not address the entirety of Joe's piece, but surely that's not a combox requirement; at least, I don't see any such requirement in the commenting guidelines.

        • We're getting into the weeds here (no pun intended), but creating a "straw-man" involves misrepresenting someone's argument. But Joe didn't *misrepresent* Harris' argument, he simply provided at least one case where the association doesn't hold, thereby showing that drugs aren't outlawed because religious leaders dislike pleasure.

          Regarding your first paragraph, you did not "[engage] with a big chunk of the piece." You made a short comment criticizing one example that comprises less than a quarter of the article.

          Joe's main argument is twofold: first, that religious people (especially Catholics) do not have troublesome relationship with pleasure, and second, that people *in general* criminalize drugs not because they bring pleasure but because they harm society.

          Bracketing the PCP issue, what do you think about those two points?

          • Paul Boillot

            "But Joe didn't *misrepresent* Harris' argument, he simply provided at least one case where the association doesn't hold, thereby showing that drugs aren't outlawed because religious leaders dislike pleasure."

            Harris is talking about pleasurable drugs which are non-harmful. That excludes PCP.

          • I think engaging an example that makes up nearly a quarter of the article IS engaging a signficant chunk of the article, and Joe's reasoning -- as well as your explication of it -- only holds if Harris is saying that pleasure is the ONLY reason EVER given for outlawing drugs, and such a view is a tacit misrepresentation of Harris' view.

            Or in other words, showing that a particular drug was banned for reasons unrelated to pleasure is not enough to demonstrate "that drugs aren't outlawed because religious leaders dislike pleasure."

            As for the problem-with-pleasure aspect, I'll repeat what I just wrote above; we can always point to Catholic natural law theorist Robert P. George's view that activities done solely for pleasure are immoral, as they alienate the body by making it into an experience-producing machine. This certainly casts a dubious eye on the experience of pleasure.

            Regarding your last point, some people do criminalize drugs because they harm society, and others because they are suspicious of pleasure -- and that second group often hides their motivation (perhaps even from themselves) by concocting harms that do not exist.

          • Vasco Gama

            «... we can always point to Catholic natural law theorist Robert P. George's view that activities done solely for pleasure are immoral, ...»

            Are you implying that activities done solely for pleasure are moral?

          • I am implying that activities done solely for pleasure are not necessarily immoral.

          • Vasco Gama

            such as?

            eating, drinking wine, smoking?

          • Every holiday my fiance makes an array of amazing chocolates for me and others. The first one I had both for pleasure and to express my pride in his ability. The second? Purely for pleasure. They certainly did my body no good, but the harm was negligible, so I do not consider eating that second chocolate -- an action done entirely for pleasure -- to be immoral.

            Fast forward three days later, when I'm eating them out of habit and in quantities that do mess with my blood sugar and body composition: I could make an easy case that I'm harming myself for only a small amount of pleasure, and that's immoral.

            Thus, activities done solely for pleasure are not necessarily immoral.

          • Vasco Gama

            I see you get it, and you realize that it may become immoral, and it is not that there is a clear and obvious line between indulging our desires and become immoral. I guess the Christian view is not distinct from your perspective.

  • Paul Boillot

    @Brandon Vogt

    The other day Ms. Jennifer Fulwiler's article was re-published here containing an egregiously false quote attribution which, in addition to being poor basic citation practices and a mostly-wrong quote, fundamentally changed the sense of the purported source.

    Today we see a piece by Mr. Joe Heschmeyer which again supplants the meaning of the original author for Joe's.

    The 'premise' Mr. Heschmeyer is referring to:

    THE young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal. He wears an overcoat. Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb. His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison. The bus is crowded and headed for the heart of the city. The young man takes his seat beside a middle-aged couple. He will wait for the bus to reach its next stop. The couple at his side appears to be shopping for a new refrigerator. The woman has decided on a model, but her husband worries that it will be too expensive. He indicates another one in a brochure that lies open on her lap. The next stop comes into view. The bus doors swing. The woman observes that the model her husband has selected will not fit in the space underneath their cabinets. New passengers have taken the last remaining seats and begun gathering in the aisle. The bus is now full. The young man smiles. With the press of a button he destroys himself, the couple at his side, and twenty others on the bus. The nails, ball bearings, and rat poison ensure further casualties on the street and in the surrounding cars. All has gone according to plan. The young man's parents soon learn of his fate. Although saddened to have lost a son, they feel tremendous pride at his accomplishment. They know that he has gone to heaven and prepared the way for them to follow. He has also sent his victims to hell for eternity. It is a double victory. The neighbors find the event a great cause for celebration and honor the young man's parents by giving them gifts of food and money. These are the facts. This is all we know for certain about the 11 1 2 THE E N D OF F A I TH young man. Is there anything else that we can infer about him on the basis of his behavior? Was he popular in school? Was he rich or was he poor? Was he of low or high intelligence? His actions leave no clue at all. Did he have a college education? Did he have a bright future as a mechanical engineer? His behavior is simply mute on questions of this sort, and hundreds like them.1 Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy—you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on it easy—to guess the young man's religion?2

    ~ Sam Harris, The End of Faith pp. 11-12

    According to Joe, the admission of falsehood:

    2 Some readers may object that the bomber in question is most likely to be a member of the Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam—the Sri Lankan separatist organization that has perpetrated more acts of suicidal [sic] terrororism than any other group. Indeed, the "Tamil Tigers" are often offered as a counterexample to any claim that suicidal terrorism is a product of religion. But to describe the Tamil Tigers as "secular"—as R. A. Pape, "The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," American Political Science Review 97, no. 3 (2003): 20-32, and others have—is misleading. While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death. The cult of martyr worship that they have nurtured for decades has many of the features of religiosity that one would expect in people who give their lives so easily for a cause. Secular Westerners often underestimate the degree to which certain cultures, steeped as they are in otherworldliness, look upon death with less alarm than seems strictly rational. I was once traveling in India when the government rescheduled the exams for students who were preparing to enter the civil service: what appeared to me to be the least of bureaucratic inconveniences precipitated a wave of teenage self-immolations in protest. Hindus, even those whose preoccupations appear to be basically secular, often harbor potent religious beliefs.

    ~ Sam Harris The End of Faith p. 239

    Joe is wrong in his assertions and paraphrasing about Harris' meaning, but it's worse than that.

    Brandon, as the 'editor' of this site, you have an obligation to vet your contributing authors. Both Ms. Fulwiler and Joe have given false information about their sources which you have reprinted. Their errors are easily corrected with an insistence on proper citations. Ms. Fulwiler could've tracked down her 'quote' as easily as I did to find out it was an amalgamation of two different people. Joe can only get away with mis-representing Harris by not quoting the actual source material.

    If you want this meeting and discussion place to be creditable, if you want the material you post to be treated seriously; I believe you owe all of your readers the diligence of making sure your contributing authors are fact checked before you post them here, so that you are not printing false information.

    • Once again, thanks for the comment, Paul. As I said in the combox in Jennifer's post, I appreciate your concern.

      That said, a few things in reply:

      First, you accuse Jennifer of making an "egregiously false quote attribution." I see many things wrong here. First, Jennifer never attributed *any* quote. She clearly wrote: "to paraphrase Bertrand Russell." Second, it wasn't an *egregious* mistake. If it even was a slip-up, it was minor at best--no need for sensationalist rhetoric. Third, the quote was ancillary to her main points, all of which still stand. While I appreciate the hours you spent trying to validate that quote, it would have been better spent engaging her main arguments.

      Second, you accuse Jennifer of making "poor basic citation practices." I'm sure you realize this is an internet discussion forum--a blog, really--and not an academic journal. While I agree that we should link to sources where possible, it's not expected in this format. If our "citation practice" dissatisfies you, we won't force you to read and stay; you're free to comment elsewhere.

      Third, regarding your criticism of Joe's article, the same points apply. You're attacking what you believe is a misquote, even though the quote in question is ancillary to Joe's main argument. Even if you were right, it's an inconsequential exercise.

      Fourth, you are not right. Joe in no way misrepresents or misunderstands Harris' claims. He rightfully noted that the Tamil Tigers have "no ties to any religion." This is precisely what Harris admits in his book, even if Harris also believes that they share *some* things in common with certain religions (but so do all groups). This means that Harris' original insinuation is flawed, namely that religion is typically responsible for suicide bombers.

      Finally, as I've said many times before here, nobody is making you visit and comment on this site. If you're seriously convinced that our authors "[give] false information about their sources", or that our content is not "creditable" or worth "[treating] seriously", then I extend the friendly suggestion to find other sites more to your liking.

      Best of luck!

      • Paul Boillot

        "If it even was a slip-up, it was minor at best--no need for sensationalist rhetoric. Third, the quote was ancillary to her main points, all of which still stand"

        We'll have to respectfully disagree one whether name-dropping the most well-known atheist philosopher and writer of the 20th century in an attempt to prove atheism is 'meaningless,' while paraphrasing a quote he did not make is good journalism.

        I take honesty in citations seriously, especially about serious topics.

      • Peter Piper

        Please take 5 minutes to think carefully about your responses to criticism on this site. If it is possible to characterise some criticism as not constructive, you dismiss it on those grounds. This would be appropriate if you had a nurturing attitude to constructive criticism, but you do not. Your response to constructive criticism is to drop hints that those doing the criticising should leave.

  • Paul Boillot

    In the words of Socrates, "everything in moderation, nothing in excess."

    Incidentally, "everything" includes that phrase itself: we should, in moderation, engage in immoderate behavior. Harris often argues for caution mixed with openness to perception-altering substances.

    Is it a shock that his nuanced ideas about chemical intake are not explicitly and comprehensively laid out in a book about faith? No. Would one be able to construe Harris as pro-PCP if one read/saw the rest of his publicly available stance on MAS? No.

    Harris is not talking about PCP, as Rob pointed out that's a straw man. The title of the article "Is Sam Harris Right about Drugs?" pulls from one section of one book that Harris writes about religion, not mind-altering substances.

    If we were going to seriously discuss Harris's views on MAS, it might be helpful if he had written extensively on that topic alone....

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/drugs-and-the-meaning-of-life

  • David Nickol

    Let's remember that according to the Gospel of John, Jesus's first miracle (at Cana) was to change water into wine after everyone had "drunk freely." The NIV translates the comment by the headwaiter who tasted the wine Jesus had made from water as follows: "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."

    It appears to me (and this is just an impression, not the result of some deep study) that in the Bible, getting drunk at a wedding feast or other celebratory occasion is not condemned. What is criticized is being a "drunkard" or getting drunk at an inappropriate or inopportune time.

    • Colin Gormley

      My understanding is that these feasts would large and/or last for days. And given the duration and number of people that would attend such a large quantity of wine was often needed for folks to get their fill.

      The NIV does not imply that the guests are drunk at this point. It simply points out that the custom is to bring out the best first and the lesser later. And the KJV translation implies even less:

      And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

      • Paul Boillot

        "The NIV does not imply that the guest are drunk....the KJV translation implies even less"

        How familiar are you with ancient hospitality standards and specifically those of the Middle East around 30 CE? Implying that multi-day feasts were widely parsimonious, full of temperate revelers seems at odds with the little knowledge I have.

        Furthermore, the KJV translation doesn't "imply even less," except in so far as it just comes out and states it:

        "Normally hosts start with good wine, and then switch to the cheap stuff when everyone has had a lot to drink...you did the reverse."

        As someone who has had a drink or two in my time, that course of action jives pretty well with the idea that the party goers were intoxicated.

        • As someone who has had a drink or two in my time, that course of action jives pretty well with the idea that the party goers were intoxicated.

          Paul - see my comment above. I was thinking the same thing!

      • But anyone who's been to college knows that's rule number 2 for a drunken night out! (After, "liquor before beer.") Save the Natty Ice for later, drink the good stuff first.

        I love how timeless that verse is - people don't change.

        In all seriousness, I think David has a point. Of course, you're right that the Bible is not condoning drunkenness here - and neither does the Church. But that Jesus celebrated and feasted enough to be called a "glutton and drunkard" speaks volumes. It's okay to enjoy the simple pleasures in life - so long as we don't lose control of ourselves, or make an idol of them.

        • Colin Gormley

          Indeed. And if what you said is what David means than that is fine. It appeared to me though that he is suggested there is nothing wrong with getting so smashed that one is impaired and condemnation for getting drunk is limited to setting. I'm willing to be corrected by him on this though.

          And one of my new favorite drinks for Christmas is Egg Nog with a bit of Jack Daniels. Perfect for a new parent of a three month old who thinks that "nap time is for losers".

          • Try a little Kraken rum with it next time - that was my go-to this Christmas!

          • Andre Boillot

            Jack Daniels? Kraken Rum? What's wrong with you people!?

          • David Nickol

            It appeared to me though that he is suggested there is nothing wrong with getting so smashed that one is impaired and condemnation for getting drunk is limited to setting.

            I think we are very much under the influence of our Christian (and even Puritan) past that we automatically react negatively to the idea of "getting so smashed that one is impaired." I know I do. But I would have difficulty coming up with a good moral case against intoxication aside from the harm it may very well result in. That, however, is a consequentialist argument, and Catholic morality is not based on consequentialism. If there were a very safe drug, and one could experience a state of highly pleasant intoxication without putting oneself or others in danger, I am sure Catholicism would have a non-consequentialists argument against it, and I strongly suspect I would find it unpersuasive.

            I had an operation once and got two hypodermics of Demerol in preparation for being wheeled off to the operating room. It was quite glorious. Someone asked me how I felt, and I said, "Woooondeeerfuuul." It was the first time I had had surgery as an adult, and I had not expected that even a drug could put me in such a mood. I don't think there would be anything "intrinsically evil" in deliberately repeating the same experience just for the pleasure of it. The only objections I can come up with are consequentialist—e.g., danger of physical or psychological addiction, concern that at some point while having the experience I would be called on to do something that required all my faculties, and so on.

          • Colin Gormley

            >But I would have difficulty coming up with a good moral case against intoxication aside from the harm it may very well result in. That, however, is a consequentialist argument

            Not necessarily. Catholic moral thought holds that our bodies are not free to do what we like with them. We got them from God, and thus they deserve our respect. And this includes over-indulgence in even perfectly legitimate goods.

            I think we should make a distinction though. If one drinks to the point where one has had "too much" this simply reflects poor judgement. To drink for the purpose of getting wasted is the problem. In this case the end sought is the debilitation and the resulting pleasure.

          • David Nickol

            And this includes over-indulgence in even perfectly legitimate goods.

            But who defines overindulgence? With alcohol, have you overindulged when you feel a big more relaxed, get a pleasant buzz, start to find everything funny, can barely walk, or pass out? Why is the concept so often applied to eating and drinking, but so rarely applied to watching too much television, listening to too much music, talking on your cell phone incessantly, playing too many video games, or praying too much?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            All those activities come under temperance, too, DN.

          • David Nickol

            All those activities come under temperance, too, DN.

            True, but the discussion here is about "piety and pleasure." There is a strain in Christianity that has wanted no pleasure to be derived from sex, drugs, and alcohol. For example, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (which, amazingly, is still active today) did not stand for moderation in the use of alcohol. Here's an interesting bit from Wikipedia:

            Although the WCTU was an explicitly religious organization and worked with religious groups in social reform, it protested wine use in religious ceremonies. During an Episcopal convention, it asked the church to stop using wine in its ceremonies and to use unfermented grape juice instead. A WCTU direct resolution explained its reasoning: wine contained "the narcotic poison, alcohol, which cannot truly represent the blood of Christ."

            Not that I said "there is a strain in Christianity." Certainly Catholicism as I knew it growing up was not anti-alcohol or anti-gambling. There were parish events where beer was served and various gambling games were played to raise funds.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I would not call it a "strain" but a "stain."

          • Paul Boillot

            Incidentally, I think "I had not expected that even a drug could put me in such a mood" is the reason that Harris advocates for safe and moderate experimentation to be legal: changing the range of possible experiences has proved to be valuable for humans for millenia.

          • David Nickol

            One of the problems that I think has to be overcome with legalizing certain drugs is that tens of millions of people using prescription drugs for medically legitimate reasons had better not be put in the position of having to go to the doctor two or three times a year to continue on drugs they have been using long term when other people who want to use drugs that are currently forbidden can buy them with ease. In New York State, for example, you cannot get a prescription for more than a 30-day supply (nonrefillable) for painkillers (the strong ones), anti-anxiety drugs, and stimulants. (There are exceptions that allow 90-day, nonrefillable supplies.) If I have, say, chronic back pain, and need a strong painkiller, why should I be under more burdensome restrictions governing my ability to obtain the drugs I am legitimately taking than someone who wants to buy cocaine?

            Also, while my libertarian streak causes me to balk at the government protecting me from myself, if there are recreational drugs that are so highly addictive that to try them is tantamount to getting hooked on them, then I am willing to let the government do its best to keep me from trying them.

          • Paul Boillot

            I can only speculate, re:availability/pricing of hypothetically legalized drugs, that if broad-spectrum legalization were to occur, there would be nothing stopping a current prescription holder from finding a willing and reputable supplier to provide the same substance without interruption or additional hooplah.

            I would also imagine that prescription-writing would still occur, as the general population doesn't have the knowledge or experience to accurately self-medicate.

            "...I am willing to let the government do its best to keep me from trying them."

            I will only counter with B. Franklin:
            "They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." ~ Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor

          • David Nickol

            I don't think one is giving up "essential Liberty" to let the government ban a drug (if one exists) that is so highly addictive that to try it is to become addicted to it. Also, antibiotics are now losing their effectiveness because they have been foolishly overused. I think tighter restrictions on antibiotic use would have been (or would in the future be) a reasonable function of government.

          • Paul Boillot

            "I don't think one is giving up "essential Liberty" to let the government ban a drug (if one exists) that is so highly addictive that to try it is to become addicted to it."

            I don't know if that's true; people are fighting hard for their right to smoke tobacco.

            Should the government be granted the power to 'ban' any substance that would cause extreme harm if ingested? Bleach? Do we, as citizens, feel comfortable giving up the say-so on what does or does not enter our bodies?

            Remember: I'm talking about ingestion, not production or distribution.

            Your counter example of antibiotics seems to me to fail due to a difference in kind. Antibiotic overuse is not analagous to h_s_x.

            Hypothetically_addictive_substance_X is harmful to those that excessive their rights and liberty in ingesting it. Over-use of antibiotics is not harmful to the person ingesting the unnecessary antibiotic (immediately at any rate). It is harmful to the population at large.

            It's more akin to a hypothetical_substance_y which would be a drug that does nothing to the person ingesting it. During metabolism, however, h_s_y would break down into components that, when excreted by the sweat glands and released to the surrounding air, were carcinogenic to those around the ingest-er.

            I don't want to cede my rights to ingesting something that will only harm myself to the government. I do want the government to exercise it's authority if I'm ingesting something harmful to those around me.

        • David Nickol

          But that Jesus celebrated and feasted enough to be called a "glutton and drunkard" speaks volumes.

          And remember Jesus's likening himself to a bridegroom, for example,

          And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast."

          All, McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible says about what we know of weddings from the New Testament is the following:

          The NT adds little information on wedding customs. It appears that the wedding feast was celebrated at night (Mt 25:1 ff; Lk 12:36). The festive character of the occasion and the high conviviality are illustrated in the account of the wedding at Cana which Jesus attended (Jn 2:1 ff).

          Under the entry for wine, McKenzie does say, "More and better wine was expected at festivities (1 S 25:36; 2 S 13:28, WS 2:7, IS 5:12; Jn 2:1-11)."

          I get the impression (though I don't see much point in doing research to back it up), that by today's standards the drinking that went on during a 1st-century wedding feast would strike us today as excessive. I think if the wedding guests at Cana had driven there in pickup trucks, cars, and SUVs, it would have been wise of them to appoint designated drivers before the feast began so they could all get home safely.

          Christianity has more of an ascetic strain than Judaism. The Jewish Virtual Library entry for asceticism says,

          ASCETICISM Rigorous abstention from any form of self-indulgence which is based on the belief that renunciation of the desires of the flesh and self-mortification can bring man to a high spiritual state. Asceticism never occupied an important place in the Jewish religion. Judaism did not believe that the freedom of man's soul could be won only by the subjugation of the flesh, a belief which was central in religions based upon anthropological dualism. . . .

          • Colin Gormley

            >I get the impression (though I don't see much point in doing research to back it up), that by today's standards the drinking that went on during a 1st-century wedding feast would strike us today as excessive.

            The problem is not if drunkenness was in fact a regular part of Jewish weddings. The question is does the Wedding at Cana give tacit approval to get wasted. The story itself doesn't seem to support that given the lack of information. Drinking wine and feeling the effects, even substantially, is not the issue. Getting wasted to the point of jeopardizing one's health or endangering one's self in some fashion (such as the aforementioned lack of 1st designated driver programs) is.

            >Christianity has more of an ascetic strain than Judaism.

            This only stands to reason. Christianity has far more of an emphasis (to my knowledge) on one's personal relationship with God. Judaism is marked by fidelity to the Covenant established between God and the Jews. Righteousness is measured by how well one kept the Law.

            Asceticism made no sense in Judaism compared to Christianity. At least so far as I understand it.

          • David Nickol

            The question is does the Wedding at Cana give tacit approval to get wasted. The story itself doesn't seem to support that given the lack of information.

            Teetotaling Protestants see what I think is a legitimate problem (for teetotalers) in the story, in that Jesus produced somewhere between 600 and 900 standard bottles (.75 liters or .2 gallons) worth of wine for guests who had already had plenty. We don't know how many guests were there, but it would have had to be a very large feast for that to be the last of the wine served.

            My view is that the author/editor/redactor of the Gospel of John would have been well aware that his readers would have known there was a good possibility that Jesus was creating excellent wine for guests who had already had plenty and who quite probably could have been drunk, and that was simply not a concern. I wouldn't exactly call that tacit approval of excessive drinking, but it looks to me a lot like complete indifference to the issue. That doesn't necessarily mean complete indifference to the matter of excessive drinking. It just means that sending a message about how much or how little it is proper to drink was not the intention of "John."

            Drinking wine and feeling the effects, even substantially, is not the issue. Getting wasted to the point of jeopardizing one's health or endangering one's self in some fashion (such as the aforementioned lack
            of 1st designated driver programs) is.

            As I said in another message, Catholic morality is ultimately not based on consequentialism. I am quite sure that a little digging will turn up Catholic moral principles that will condemn intoxication for pleasure no matter how safe it can be made for the person getting intoxicated and those around him. This, from Aquinas, comes pretty close:

            On this way drunkenness is a mortal sin, because then a man willingly and knowingly deprives himself of the use of reason, whereby he performs virtuous deeds and avoids sin, and thus he sins mortally by running the risk of falling into sin. For Ambrose says (De Patriarch. [De Abraham i.]): "We learn that we should shun drunkenness, which prevents us from avoiding grievous sins. For the things we avoid when sober, we unknowingly commit through drunkenness." Therefore drunkenness, properly speaking, is a mortal sin.

            It seems to me that "pure" Catholic morality would say, "Drunkenness is a mortal sin, because then a man willingly and knowingly deprives himself of the use of reason." To knowingly deprive oneself of a sense of reason would seem to me to be an offense in and of itself (within Catholic thought) even if no danger could come of it. God gave man reason, and deliberately suspending it would be an offense against God.

      • David Nickol

        The NIV does not imply that the guests are drunk at this point.

        First, we should note that probably the last thing on the mind of the author/editor/redactor of this part of the Gospel of John was how much people drank at wedding feasts in general or this one in particular. Nevertheless . . . .

        McKenzie says in the entry for drunkenness in Dictionary of the Bible:

        1. O[ld]T[estament]. Alcoholic intoxication seems to have been fairly common among the Israelites. The culture hero Noah who discovered win is represented as discovering its intoxicating power also (Gn 9:21). Intoxication was the normal result of festive dinners (Gn 43:34; 1 S 25:36; 2 S 11:13; 1 K 16:9; 20:16). The dinner of Joseph and his brothers (Gn 43:340 is paralleled by Egyptian art and literary allusions which show that drunkenness was normal at feasts. . . .

        2. N[ew]T[estament]. The words of the steward at the wedding feast of Cana suggest that intoxication was not uncommon at such festivities (Jn 2:10). . . .

        The account of the Wedding Feast at Cana is so filled with symbolism that I assume it is theological rather than historical, so I don't see that there is anything to be gained by speculating about the blood-alcohol level of the wedding guests. However, I think what we can reasonably say is that at the time and in the culture where the Gospel of John was written, readers had good reason to suspect the guests had already had a great deal to drink and certainly could have been drunk. And even if they had just had plenty of wine, but not too much, what do you imagine the guests are going to do when the wine served at this point is better than anything they have already had?

        • Colin Gormley

          >readers had good reason to suspect the guests had already had a great deal to drink

          I'm not too sure about that. We don't know the circumstances to know what caused the shortage of wine (number of guests/number of days/mixup in the order, etc). Given that there are servants this could indicate quite a posh wedding.

          >o I don't see that there is anything to be gained by speculating about the blood-alcohol level of the wedding guests.

          It goes toward your original point:

          >It appears to me (and this is just an impression, not the result of some deep study) that in the Bible, getting drunk at a wedding feast or other celebratory occasion is not condemned.

          If I read your point correctly you are attempting to draw the notion that drunkenness is not condemned by citing the Wedding at Cana. My point is that there isn't enough information in the story to draw this conclusion.

          >And even if they had just had plenty of wine, but not too much, what do you imagine the guests are going to do when the wine served at this point is better than anything they have already had?

          Never said they had plenty, :-) As stated before the text itself doesn't give us enough information to draw a moral judgement about drunkenness.

          • David Nickol

            If I read your point correctly you are attempting to draw the notion that drunkenness is not condemned by citing the Wedding at Cana.

            No, I had this quote from Dictionary of the Bible in mind:

            Alcoholic intoxication seems to have been fairly common among the Israelites. The culture hero Noah who discovered win is represented as discovering its intoxicating power also (Gn 9:21). Intoxication was the
            normal result of festive dinners (Gn 43:34; 1 S 25:36; 2 S 11:13; 1 K 16:9; 20:16).

            I think we are looking at literature from another time and culture and applying our 21-century sensibilities about drinking alcoholic beverages. Wine was the beverage in biblical cultures. People didn't say, "Let's open a bottle of wine for dinner tonight." They drank wine all the time. If I am not mistaken, children drank diluted wine. Wine was a fact of everyday life, and I don't think the idea of getting tipsy or even smashed by drinking too much wine was of the same kind of moral concern it is in Western culture today. I am not saying the Bible endorses getting plastered. I am saying drinking was an everyday occurrence, drinking too much gets you intoxicated, and mild or even moderate intoxication was no doubt commonplace, and intoxication at feasts was no doubt common. And I presume the attitude was basically "so what?" Drunkenness may not have been condoned or approved, but in a culture where everyone drank wine every day, I can only imagine people took drunkenness for granted.

          • Colin Gormley

            I saw like four replies from you but out of all of them this is what I think is most important:

            >I am not saying the Bible endorses getting plastered.

            Then we are in agreement! :-D I honestly wasn't sure what your position was on that aspect (the endorsement of the Bible re getting wasted). That was my only point.

  • Here's influential Catholic natural law professor Robert George on doing things purely for pleasure, ie, not done as part of some larger, beneficial activity:

    a person could, we imagine, pursue pleasure in eating or chewing gum in a way divorced from larger projects such that his activity could only accurately be described as “pleasuring himself” in a way analogous to the masturbator or psychedelic drug-tripper …In that case, we would say that eating and gum chewing damage personal integrity insofar as those acts effect an existential alienation of the body from the conscious self by simply using the body as an experience-inducing machine. Thus, such behavior should, for moral reasons, be avoided.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      How about providing George's larger context? You make him sound like he things chewing gum is analogous to masturbation. It certainly scored you some up votes.

      • Paul Boillot

        Does Rob make George sound like that, or does George actually sound like that?

        Can you provide a wider quote that would change the meaning of what Rob posted?

        • The answer, Paul, is that George actually sounds like that.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          "Chewing gum, rocking in a chair, and taking a walk are examples of 'innocent pleasures'" (p. 317).

          • Unless they are "divorced from larger projects" in which case they are "analogous to the masturbator or psychedelic drug-tripper" and "damage personal integrity."

      • It certainly scored you some up votes.

        That was snarky -- unnecessarily so. I've provided the context in the past for that quote, and I'm happy to do so again.

        http://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1880&context=law_faculty_scholarship (page 318)

        Having implied my motives are less than pure ("It certainly scored you some up votes.") I'm eager to hear a fuller justification for that accusation.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I apologize, Rob, for the snark and have edited my comment accordingly.

          • Kevin I might have overreacted just a touch.

  • Renard Wolfe

    The correlation is there, but not direct causation.

    Its not that religion causes a dislike of drugs, its that conservative thought causes both religion and a dislike of non traditional drugs. There's no rational hatred for the hate of marijuana and the love of alcohol.

    • Mmmmm… Well, considering research, there probably is less reason to be against marijuana than in the past.

      "There's no rational hatred for the hate of marijuana and the love of alcohol."

      I would think that the big difference between the two is how alcohol doesn't affect one's behavior unless you consume a large amount. Marijuana, from my understanding anyway, does affect behavior more immediately… There does appear to be a difference between the two at least in that respect, and those who aren't able to access a lot of information might be able to draw the conclusion that marijuana is worse than alcohol simply by observing a person that drinks alcohol and observing a person who smokes marijuana and observing how it immediately affects behavior.

      This doesn't involve research of course. I'm just pointing out that to someone just observing, it might come off as worse.

      I suppose my big concern with many of the movements to legalize these substances is using the substances with other substances and their interaction with one another. If it is given out for recreational purposes, the odds that it will be combined with other substances that might end up being dangerous together/extra addictive together does increase… These are my concerns though. I am not an expert in the field whatsoever.

      • Paul Boillot

        "I would think that the big difference between the two is how alcohol doesn't affect one's behavior unless you consume a large amount."

        The big difference was that alcohol, was a drug from the old-world. It was a drug with the deepest historical roots in western traditions, whereas cannabis was a drug used by the lowest class of emigrants, and unknown to the western tradition.

        There is a gradient of behavioral impact for marijuana just as there is for alcohol. In general the dosage necessary for intoxication is less for cannabis, so too are the increments corresponding to varying levels of intoxication, but there is nothing in principle different between having relatively 'a little' alcohol and 'a little' marijuana...just that the absolute amounts will be different.

        "Marijuana, from my understanding anyway, does affect behavior more immediately"

        You next talk about immediacy of intoxication; but that has to do with the absorption vector.

        Inhaling anything is one of the faster ways to intoxication because of the huge surface area of the lungs. That surface area leads to an efficient gas-exchange between air and blood, thus getting substance x (THC, tobacco, cocaine, etc...) into the blood, and thus to the brain, quickly.

        Eating/drinking cannabis will work just as slowly as drinking alcohol, afaik. Furthermore, you can absorb alcohol in a variety of ways besides drinking which will decrease the time to intoxication.

        • This is very interesting… Do you have any references to this, especially to that concerning the historical roots of marijuana? Do you believe that it is illegal today because of its historical roots? I would be somewhat skeptical of that being the primary reason, but I would be open to it playing a part.

          "Inhaling anything is one of the faster ways to intoxication because of the huge surface area of the lungs."

          That was very interesting too. I'd ask for links, but I think that would probably go over my head :)

          So, what are your thoughts on the regulation of recreational drugs? One of my big concerns is that with more recreational drugs being legalized (and that does seem to be the way the country might be going), how does one prevent bad drug combinations? Marijuana by itself might not be so bad, alcohol by itself might not be so bad, and as Andre seemed to indicate, maybe LSD might not be so bad, but if one person had all three within their system couldn't that cause significant issues? What I'm saying is that legalizing numerous recreational drugs could potentially be dangerous not because of the individual recreational drug, but because of the interactions between other recreational drugs and really not many ways to regulate it. Yes, you could teach people certain drug combinations are bad, but all of those drugs can significantly impair one's judgement, so teaching wouldn't necessarily change much… How does one monitor this? Why do we need to legalize more drugs when we already have alcohol and cigarettes? I just perceive it as adding more fuel to the fire...

          • Renard Wolfe

            If you're worried about drug interactions alchohol is way, WAAAAY worse with medications than with pot. I don't think there's been a lethal drug interaction with pot at all, has there?

          • Paul Boillot

            To my knowledge there are 0 deaths currently attributed to cannabis use.

            However, we should keep in mind a few things:
            1) non-reportage due to legal penalties/stigmas
            2) lack of research due to legal penalties/stigmas

            I think I just read a study that indicated that marijuana smoke contains roughly the same, if not more, toxic and carcinogenic chemicals as tobacco smoke (minus nicotine, a powerfully harmful chemical). To my mind this makes sense: burning complex organic chemicals and starches is not likely to produce compounds congenital to lung tissue, despite the huge numbers of my friends in college who insisted religiously that there was nothing wrong with pot smoke.

          • Renard Wolfe

            So what would prevent more cancer, trying to ban pot... or sending every college freshman a free bong?

          • Paul Boillot

            Hah, I'm not sure.

            I think college-age me would have been willing to participate in FDA bong trials thought.

          • Paul Boillot

            "Do you have any references to this, especially to that concerning the historical roots of marijuana? Do you believe that it is illegal today because of its historical roots? I would be somewhat skeptical of that being the primary reason, but I would be open to it playing a part."

            First of all, let me applaud you: "I would be somewhat skeptical..." I think you should be skeptical of everything I say, of everything anyone says. I'm either correct, or I'm not, if you do enough research you'll be able to decide for yourself.

            But, since you asked, here are a few sources I found with a quick google search:
            1) Wikipedia entry on the legal history of cannabis.
            2) Cannabis timeline compiled by PBS.
            3) An in-depth timeline on why cannabis is illegal, from 'drugwarrant.com'.
            4) An in-depth timeline on the status of cannabis as a medicine.

            Personally, I though the wiki entry and the medical timelines were fairly dry, #2 and #3 give a bit more motivational context in terms of american legislation.

            WRT speed-of-intoxication; I remember reading about it in a text book, though it's proving difficult to track down a quick google source. In any case, inhaling is one of the quick methods because of the amount of intoxicant which gets transferred into the blood vessels, the large size of the blood vessels, and the short distance from the lungs to the brain.

            http://www.needle.co.nz/fastpage/fpengine.php/templateid/28
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug#Administering_drugs
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_injection#Alternatives

            Lastly, you asked about my personal opinions regarding legalizing drugs. I think that ingesting substances should only be illegal if harm, physical or financial, is done to someone else.

            I think that people have the responsibility to inform themselves about what recreational drugs they are taking, and their potential effects.

            As a practical matter; I don't believe you can legislate against drug use, and it is clear to me that the attempt to do so in this country has had disastrous results. (To say nothing of the results in supply-countries.)

            I don't think "we" the government needs to "monitor" use. I think information should be freely available to anyone who wants it so they can learn about substance xyz, and decide for themselves if they want to use it. Their actions after ingestion are their own, and still subject to normal laws like driving-under-the-influence or causing harm to others etc etc...

          • Thanks for your time and your thoughts :) I greatly appreciate it. I'm in the midst of studying right now with J-term classes, so I don't have the time at this moment to look at the articles you've posted with too much depth, but I will look at them when I do have some more time.

            Thanks again.

          • Paul Boillot

            You're very welcome!

            Additionally if you, or anyone else for that matter, do end up looking into these things more and discover more details and/or inconsistencies with the way I've present the data I'd be eager to hear them.

            I am by no means an expert on drug legality or modes of narcotic intake.

      • Renard Wolfe

        It is perfectly possible to just smoke a little and get no more effect than having a few beers. (or so I've seen. Never tried pot, and I don't like the taste of alcohol enough to drink the copious amount it would take to get me drunk. Docs HATE it when I pop awake on their operating tables and start commenting on their lack of bedside manner..)

  • I think this is a fascinating (and, given what's going on in Colorado, timely) piece. One part of Joe's article which I wish was getting more attention:

    I assume he's trying to attack Christianity's alleged hatred of pleasure. But he's really only attacking a certain Puritanical excess which the vast majority of sane religious people have long fought against... using Biblical texts.

    Amen! The Church has always been beset by Gnostics who eschewed the body and the material world. This is not the Catholic "thing," although you do see remnants of this kind of thinking in some Christian denominations. As Joe points out, the Church has always emphasized moderation and self-control, but not at the expense of shunning God's good earth. "Wherever the Catholic son doth shine, there's always laughter and good red wine!"

    Or, as CS Lewis' Screwtape (senior demon) laments:

    [God is] a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore.’

    • Paul Boillot

      I'll give Joe (and you) this much credit: Harris seems to be focusing specifically on the puritanical streaks in some of the Christian denominations.

      That being said; I think despite the purported hedonism of Christianity, there have been enough flavors of Christianity, and of Catholicism specifically, over the years which embraced mortification of the flesh and asceticism to justify calling the overall relationship between "piety" and "pleasure" an "an uneasy relationship."

      • Well, I don't think Lewis meant to suggest that Christianity is hedonistic. I think his point is that so many people, especially looking from the outside in, get caught up on the "rules" or practices, which are only meant to shore up and honor true love. Of course, Catholics also can (and have) put too much emphasis on these things, like the Pharisees, or develop unhealthy fixations. That's not a commentary on Catholicism, it's a commentary on them. This is why I love Pope Francis so much - he's reminding the world that the doctrines and disciplines, while essential, are not the heart of the matter.

        Another quote that always stuck with me, from GK Chesterton:

        Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries.

        • Paul Boillot

          "Well, I don't think Lewis meant to suggest that Christianity is hedonistic."

          With respect, I think that's exactly what he meant, which is why he describes God as "a hedonist at heart." I think he meant that, within the confines of the "walls of a playground" of Christian doctrine and dogma, it's bonkers all up in.

          I think that specific aspect of Lewis's Christianity and Chesterton's Catholicism are exactly what Harris is not complaining about. I think those attitudes correlate nicely with Harris' own urges to caution and moderation wrt M.A.S. specifically, and immediate pleasure in general.

          But "Catholicism" is not, to my mind, an ideal form wafting in the ether; it is only what it's dogmas, doctrines, and members are. To the extent that these things vary over time and place, there are different flavors of Catholicism. You claim that ascetics and mortification-afficianado are just people who "develop unhealthy fixations," but their styles of worship and their religious orders are not cast out of the RCC, and so trying to distance yourself from them seems like a "no true scotsman" attempt to me. Even more broadly, Catholicism is just one subset of one branch of one faith tradition.

          Harris is on firm ground, outside of even the kiddie-end of the pool, when he says that "piety," in aggregate, has had an "uneasy," or inconsistent, relationship with pleasure.

          • 'With respect, I think that's exactly what [Lewis] meant, which is why he describes God as "a hedonist at heart."'

            Paul, not sure how closely you read this, but that was Lewis' character, Screwtape, describing God from his point of view. It wasn't Lewis' own description of God. Screwtape happens to be a devil, so he perceives a certain quality of God, but filtered through his demonic lens. In this case he sees the joy, and assumes it must be some sort of hedonism. Hope this helps.

          • Paul Boillot

            Dave, I've read the Letters, thank you, and I understand the point of the satirical novel.

            I suppose you'll have to try to understand that I am referring to 'hedonism' as the belief that 'pleasure is the highest good.' Since heaven is the most pleasurable thing which can happen to a christian, then I'll keep on believing that Screwtape is a biased, but ultimately truthful and insightful narrator. God wants everyone to be maximally pleased.

            Of course he's envious and jealous, but that doesn't mean that heaven won't be the most riotous party; "eye has not seen, ear has not heard..." etc. Screwtape is not meant to be a lying or deceiving narrator, in fact he's supposed to have a clearer view of the struggle than any human could, albeit from an odd perspective.

          • "Dave, I've read the Letters, thank you, and I understand the point of the satirical novel."

            Oh good. I'll take your word for it.

          • Paul Boillot

            I am relieved.

          • Whew. Me too.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Paul, the ascetical practice of mortification is easily misunderstood.

        The default in Catholicism is the virtue of temperance. Temperance is the power to choose acts that bring pleasure when it is appropriate and to refrain from those acts when it is not appropriate. It has nothing to do with enjoying pleasurable things less or suspecting that pleasure is suspect or even evil.

        • Paul Boillot

          You told me that asceticism and mortification of the flesh were misunderstood; I'm game, what do you have to tell me about them that would change my understanding?

          Then you wrote a paragraph about temperance....care to fill in the blanks?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Mortification is a form of asceticism (self-discipline). Mortification can be passive, which means that one accepts something that comes along, like "offering up" waiting for a bus that won't arrive on a cold day. It can also be active, like not eating meat on a Friday as a voluntary sacrifice.

            They are not accepted or sought because any suffering is good in itself. They are a means to and end. One of the primary ends is self-mastery so one is freer to love.

      • I agree with the OP on this one: The relationship between piety and pleasure is better described as balanced, not "uneasy". I'm not even sure what "uneasy" tries to connote, unless Sam is supposing that these two things tend to be mutually exclusive. But clearly that would be ridiculous, since in any life there are moments of pleasure and moments where one may choose a self-sacrificial activity (out of piety or any other reason). The Church asserts that if you live a pious life, the pleasures will be purer and the joys more joyous. The two aren't in a state of mutual unease, but rather mutual augmentation.

        I guess the more likely possibility is that Sam uses the word "pleasure" where others might say "excessive" or "disordered" pleasure. In which case, YES: There is some unease. :) The Church does not recommend lots of drugs and casual sex (and anything else wild old Sam lumps into the pleasure bucket) if you're considering a pious life.

        • Paul Boillot

          Dave, you and Joe can both calm down, Harris doesn't believe that the RCC is the one true religion, so when he says "piety" he's not singling you out.

          Cheers.

          • "Dave, you and Joe can both calm down"

            :D I'm sorry, but I picture you hyperventilating as you type that!

            As for the RCC, I was referring to your quote. You singled out the RCC. But no big deal.

          • Paul Boillot

            ":D I'm sorry, but I picture you hyperventilating as you type that!"

            Being bored makes you hyperventilate, does it?

            "You singled out the RCC."

            I am consistently unsurprised by your reading comprehension; Joe responded to Harris' quote as if he were attacking the RCC per se, and solely. Matthew Becklo asked us to refocus on a specific part of Joe's article, and how 'pleasure' has featured in the Catholic tradition.

            The focus on discussing Harris' ideas with respect to the RCC is coming from many places, none of them is me.

            You got that 100% wrong, but I wouldn't worry about it too much.

          • Speaking of getting it wrong, you should probably re-read my hyperventilate comment. :)

          • Paul Boillot

            Oh, I'm sorry, were you not trying to make a point?

            Roger, I won't feed the troll any longer.

  • Renard Wolfe

    Religion is anti fun
    Pot is fun
    Therefore Religion is anti pot. QED and other gratuitous latin.

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