Drugs and Spirits

The True Source of Enlightenment

Many people would never think of looking in the Scriptures for guidance about using drugs, hallucinogenic drugs, in particular. Given the number of states that have allowed the legal use of marijuana in recent years, at least for medical purposes, it is apparent that the minds, lives, and laws of many are being changed and influenced by the “tune in, turn on, and drop out” generation of the post-Vietnam era.

Even many Christians have been less opposed to marijuana legalization than in past years, tending to focus on what they believe may be more pressing issues.  After all, the Apostle Paul recommended that Timothy take a little wine for his stomach, so it doesn’t seem much different to use pot to feel better also.

Two arguments are central in the movement to change the laws.  

  • First, some seem exuberant that tax revenues are being collected in the legal states from the sale of marijuana to support children’s educations or other local concerns.
  • Second, many proponents argue that medical marijuana is highly effective in relieving the painful symptoms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and other such illnesses.

Consequently, citing studies and even supposed government experts, many advocates claim that no brain cells are damaged or destroyed, and no brain damage results even from long-term, high-dose use.  Regardless, the tides have changed, and the rise in  pot acceptance seems to have accelerated just in the past few years.

Proponents of legalization have argued that since cannabis is a natural plant, not the product of a chemical laboratory, it was designed by God for humans to use, at least for medical dosages.  God did not design plants to be used to to be used to get high, however, as I will demonstrate from the Bible.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Be not drunk with wine but filled with the Spirit.” And being drunk or high limits our ability to make wise decisions and resist the temptations of the devil. There is a reason why, I think, that liquor is often referred to as “spirits.” And how can any kind of smoke inhalation be benign, especially when marijuana supposedly lowers the user’s IQ over time?

No, I have never smoked, sniffed, or toked, unlike certain recent U.S. presidents, and I have never even been drunk, so my opinions are a bit unique, perhaps. However, I don’t believe I have suffered at all by not engaging in pot smoking or other mind changing drug activities: For example, I have never had a hangover or wondered where I was when I woke up.  I never learned that I had acted foolishly at a party or received a DUI.

Proponents Have Their Reasons

I have an idea that many proponents of “medical marijuana” are being disingenuous about their advocacy:  They only want to start moving in the direction of legalization for everyone by starting with those who are in pain and deserve sympathy.

And the excuse that legalizing pot will raise tax incomes for the local governments does not inspire confidence because the governmental “powers that be” are not especially wise overall in how tax money is used.  Marijuana production does not produce true wealth since it all goes up in smoke, just like tobacco. Yes, profits may be made, but it is all worse than paper money.  

And it may be that the ingredients in marijuana my indeed be helpful in some cases for medical purposes, although I have an idea that other medications are probably available that are just as good.  Regardless, why not just extract the chemicals and make them available to ill people in a form that is not smoked. Abuse is abuse, no matter how it appears. 

I’ve personally witnessed the deleterious effects getting high has on students who come stoned to the classroom enough to know that pot does not produce healthy minds, even if the effects appear to be only temporary.  Supposedly, marijuana is not addictive like tobacco, but once any habit is formed, it is very difficult to stop the behavior, whether the user is chemically addicted or not.

However, my concerns are not so much political, cultural, or social, and I have no direct personal or scientific evidence of my own.  I am nevertheless concerned about the spiritual ramifications of any drug use, including pot.

Supposedly, the main reason for using drugs, aside from peer pressure, is to get “high,” at least in the beginning.  Everyone wants to feel good, and anything that produces good feelings is highly valued in our society, even if the overall long term effects are negative.  As the saying goes, “If it feels good, do it!”  

And making drugs illegal only makes them more desirable for some people, for people often want what they cannot have. This fact makes illegality an incentive for those wanting “forbidden fruit,” especially when the criminal justice system and penal systems have not been effective in preventing drug use.

 

What the Scriptures Say

Therefore, in spite of common assumptions, the Scriptures have much to say about drug abuse that are more significant than merely the legal, mental, or social problems that may arise.    This is what the Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus:

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.  (Ephesians 5:15-21)

Paul’s exhortations give many suggestions for walking in God’s wisdom, including using our time wisely, lifting our moods by praising God instead of getting drunk, and being positive in our outlook by giving thanks to Him.

The negative aspects of dissipation are present also by contrast, including living foolishly or living aimless lives.  Paul’s exhortations mean we should no longer amuse ourselves by spending money on what we don’t need, eating or drinking excessively, or immersing ourselves in sensuality and sensuous pleasures.

It is significant that being “drunk with wine” is pointed out by Paul specifically as being “dissipation.”  When fog or smoke dissipates, it disperses or evaporates and becomes less dense, eventually becoming invisible.  When we live lives of dissipation, we waste our resources, our energy, our time, and our talents, until eventually we have nothing.

Notice also what Jesus said to His disciples:

Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.  (Luke 21:34-35)

Notice how Jesus, like Paul, links drunkenness with dissipation.   Though the effects may differ, being high on drugs and being drunk both produce dissipation in the user’s life.

The Apostle Paul also warns that drunkenness is a “deed of the flesh,” and he mentions a number of other sinful behaviors which prohibit those who engage in them from inheriting the Kingdom:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (Galatians 5:18-21)

I want to focus on the word “sorcery” in this passage because it links directly with the problems of spiritual warfare.  

 

Sorcery and Hallucinogens

As an undergraduate student at the University of California in Santa Barbara, I was first exposed to the ideas of Carlos Castenada in an Anthropology 101 class.  His book (The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Berkeley: U of California P, 1998) was required reading, and I went through it with astonishment, for it told of Castaneda’s apprenticeship with Don Juan, a shaman, or “man of knowledge” from a group called the Toltecs in Northern Mexico.

Castenada wrote about “Mescalito,” a spirit that inhabits peyote plants, that facilitates divination, and allows the user to fly in the form of an animal.  To different drugs were used to show these powers: peyote and jimsonweed, or datura, also called the “devil’s weed.” Peyote is also a recreational drug because, like LSD, it can cause hallucinations.  Unlike LSD, however, it is a natural plant rather than a manufactured chemical drug making it more acceptable to nature-minded people.

From these descriptions, one can clearly see that hallucinogenic drug use has its foundations in the demonic realms of sorcery. Indeed, the Greek word used in the New Testament for “sorcery” is pharmakeia, the root of the English words for both “pharmaceutical” and “pharmacy.”   

Merely walking into a pharmacy is not like walking into a den of sorcery, however.  The difference between medicinal prescriptions and hallucinogenic drugs is primarily distinguished in the New Testament by the use of this Greek word that we translate “sorcery,” as in Galatians 5:20.   

Essentially, sorcery entails magic, wizardry, enchantment, spells, and other occultic practices, all those listed in Deuteronomy 18:10-12.  However, the use of hallucinogenic drugs is also included, for they are used to control people or induce people to use mind-altering drugs in a search for the divine within, rather than above.  This was essentially the sense of the original temptation in the Garden of Eden: 

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Peter understands that Satan has easier spiritual access to non-sober individuals.  Furthermore, the Apostle Paul writes down a searing message to those who practice “pharmakeia,” that is practicing sorcery by using substances to get high:  “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).  Even an “altered state of consciousness,” not just hallucinations, opens people’s minds to demonic influence, for their ability to think clearly and resist evil is diminished.

Essentially, then, people who get high on drugs will not inherit the kingdom of God, even if it’s only to feel good or relax. Hallucinogenic drugs open the divide between the physical world and the spiritual world, and demonic spirits may enter the user and take as much control as they are allowed.  One who is on hallucinogenic drugs rarely can say no to the demonic influences in their lives, leading to unwitting bondage to the enemy.

These Scriptures remind us that we must be vigilant against the schemes of the Devil, who seeks to ensnare us through deception. We are exhorted to set our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2), not seek for a disguised demonic spirit within who is deceiving us into thinking we ourselves are divine.  This was the temptation of the serpent when it said to Eve, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

 

 

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