Faith in Recovery Pt. 2: The Surprising Truth About Religion and Drug Use
Informative list may change the way you see religion
“Every addicted person brings with them a distinct personal history, which should be listened to, understood, loved, and, where possible, cured and purified. We cannot fall into the injustice of classifying them as if they were objects or broken junk…”
Getting high and organized religion. These two constants of human history have been at odds, most notably in the modern world. Most religions have historical roots with adulterant use, yet most religious leaders advocate abstaining from drugs.
Therefore we need to understand that the views on drug use by religious organizations are more complicated than one would think. Some have specific laws, other interpretations, and some religions have no official message about the use of narcotics.
The answers may surprise you.
While The Church of England, part of the Anglican Communion, has a consistent religious doctrine on the use of drugs and moderation of alcohol, it does try a holistic approach to combatting addiction. The Church of England Board of Social Responsibility has supported the decriminalization of marijuana and the easing of penalties for drug laws.
The Church did stir controversy last year when they used a drug addict to represent Jesus with a crown made of syringes. The Anglican Church used the images to represent the healing change many drug addicts had gone through by converting.
The Baha’i Faith explicitly prohibits drug use: “Beware of using any substance that induceth sluggishness and torpor in the human temple and inflicteth harm upon the body. We, verily, desire for you naught save what shall profit you.” Alcohol is also prohibited.
Baha’i scholars state this comes from purity of the soul. They believe the spiritual effect on an individual is far graver than the legal consequences or health effects of drug abuse.
Buddhism does not have direct rules against drug use. In fact, Buddhism doesn’t really have direct rules against any behavior. It offers guidance on how one should try to live their life. Buddhism does argue pollutants should be avoided. The Dalai Lama has stated drug use hurts the mind’s ability to be introspective, which leads to unintended and unguided consequences.
There is no official doctrine on drugs in Catholicism. The Bible does not directly state “do not smoke marijuana.” The Catholic Church has strongly been against the use of drugs for nonprescription use. Pope Francis has called drugs “evil” and does not support their legalization. His approach, matching his more liberal style, has been to focus on saying “yes” to spirituality.
There are several lines of Scripture recommending a sober mindset in general. “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
How does the Catholic Church match the ideology of saying no to drugs while allowing alcohol in their ceremonies? The answer is moderation. The Catholic Church argues alcohol can be moderated, while most narcotics cannot, which allows the use of alcohol versus other substances. This does not mean it is encouraged. Most priests encourage sobriety.
Christianity has the same viewpoint as Catholicism: No substance use, although alcohol is okay in moderation. However, there are Bible passages indicating total non-use: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
Hinduism has one of the most intertwined connections with narcotics use in its origin. Soma, a drink with psychedelic properties, is directly mentioned in the Vedas (the first Hindu texts). Some images of the god Shiva depict him with a marijuana pipe.
While some Hindus still use marijuana or psychedelics most Hindus dissuade their use. While there is no direct religious text denying them, leaders declare it hurts the ability to achieve spiritual harmony. Again, the goals of spiritual harmony and drug use are seen as contradictory.
Islam has a strong stance against the use of any substance, with direct quotations in the Quran about it. “Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer.” Therefore, many Muslims are taught to be completely substance free. Under Islam it is considered to be haram (unlawful). Some Muslims argue the Quran only bans alcohol and if the Quran does not explicitly deny something, it is permissible.
Interestingly some extremist groups like ISIS give their fighters amphetamines and argue it is justifiable because it is being used for a higher authority and has medicinal purposes.
The purity of the body is a consistent theme in most religions. Jainism follows that overarching ethic. Members are instructed to abstain from anything intoxicating, unless for a medical purpose. The pollution of the mind should be avoided to avoid disrupting the state of supreme being called Jina (Conqueror).
Unlike other religions, Jainism does not allow alcohol use. Jainism has a strict diet that is vegetarian and also excludes some vegetables like onions and potatoes. This is based on their principle of non-violence. The goal of Jainism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation. The spiritual effect, or Karma, of violent actions, stops this from happening. Since alcohol involves fermentation, which includes microorganisms, it is not considered vegetarian.
In Judaism, the body belongs to God, therefore, the body must be treated with respect. While alcohol can be consumed at festivals and ceremonies, like the Sabbath, it must be done in moderation. All other substances are banned.
Like other Judeo-Christian denominations, total abstinence is not required. Wine “gladdens the human heart.” It just can’t be excessive. Additionally, the physical health of the body is seen as a form of worshipping God.
Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the study of the Bible to overcome a substance addiction problem. The code of behavior is based on Proverbs 3:5, 6 – “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.”
Mormonism is known for outlawing alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. This comes from The Word of Wisdom, a revelation made by the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. The spitting of tobacco juices during Church meetings caused Joseph Smith to ask God if tobacco use was allowed. The holy response not only included tobacco, but alcohol, hot drinks (i.e. tea and coffee), and meat. Although coffee and tea are banned, it is not because of their caffeine content. Church doctrine does not specifically say caffeine is not allowed.
These restrictions gained more strict compliance after the elimination of plural marriage, arguably to increase the Mormon group identity.
There is no explicit ruling about drugs. The Mormon Church has stated anything which weakens the body weakens God’s creation and is not allowed. “The spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples.”
Read the previous article in this series:Faith in Recovery Pt. 1: Can Faith Help Battle Addiction?
In Scientology, it is taught drugs are bad and should not be used. Scientologists believe drug residue accumulates in the body and an intense detox therapy is needed to remove them. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, developed a series of technological devices to help recovery from addiction. Therefore, in order to achieve a powerful spiritual connection, drug use should be eliminated. The Church of Scientology supports programs who help counter drug abuse and addiction, including Foundation for a Drug-Free World and Narconon, a drug rehabilitation program. Foundation for a Drug-Free World has a program called The Truth About Drugs, which disseminates drug education information online and around the world.
Paganism represents a diverse set of viewpoints of worship and personal belief. Pagans generally view alcohol liberally. It is used in ceremonies and the enjoyment of alcohol is seen as an enjoyment of a gift from the Gods.
While some groups (covens) and individuals do use drugs as a way to achieve an increased level of spirituality, it is generally frowned upon. Personal responsibility is emphasized, as well as moderation.
Rastafarianism allows the use of marijuana for worship and as a part of religious rituals.
The variation between different belief systems means there are different variations on the use of drugs. Some religious practices directly involve the use of psychotropic drugs. The Native American Church uses Peyote to have spiritual visions and as a part of their ceremonies. They are legally allowed to do this. Other groups appreciate the influence of alcohol as a part of the natural world.
Ayahuasca, one of the most powerful hallucinogens on the planet, is used by South American tribes as part of a powerful religious experience. This has gained popularity globally, with thousands of tourists venturing to partake in the drug and ritual.
This religion has an intimate connection with alcohol. Sake, “the liquor of the gods,” is consumed at special occasions, like births or weddings. There is even a holy sake, Omiki, practitioners drink when visiting a shrine.
Given the high alcoholism rate in Japan and few seeking treatment, it is unclear if this practice condones the use. It may be linked to cultural practices that go beyond the religion.
There is some historical evidence marijuana was used for religious ceremonies, but it was not consumed.
There are no moral absolutes in Shinto. The main ethical code is to follow Kami (spirits/deities). But even the Kami makes mistakes and are contradictory. Shinto does try to eliminate impurities. This is called Tsumi and stands for pollution or sin.
While there is no specific mentioning of narcotics, it can be argued they are Tsumi. This would require a cleansing ceremony, potentially using alcohol.
Sikh doctrine is one of the few religions to specifically mention drug use. It is not vague about the prohibition of drugs: “Those mortals who consume marijuana, fish, and wine – no matter what pilgrimages, fasts, and rituals they follow, they will all go to hell.”
The reasoning is that intoxicants affect your ability to focus on God all the time. “Those who do not use intoxicants are true; they dwell in the Court of the Lord.”
There is an exception. The Nihang of Punjab, a Sikh military order, used marijuana in meditation. This was banned in 2001 by the ruling body of Sikh clergy. The leader of the Nihang at the time refused to follow the ruling and was excommunicated. Its use for meditation is still continued by some Nihang.
Taoism, like many religions, did use some substances historically. Specifically, hallucinogenic mushrooms were used for Taoist alchemy. However, Taoism does not condone their use. This is not a specific edict.
Taoism is about creating personal harmony. The addictive nature and intoxicating effect upon emotions and mental abilities is discouraged. “Riding the chase on horseback over the fields drives you crazy when you overdo it.” The focus should be on a purity of conduct.
Read the next article in this seriesFaith in Recovery Pt. 3: Is Faith-Based Addiction Treatment More Effective?
Interestingly, individuals are adopting principles of Taoism for drug recovery. The practice of meditation to build mental stamina has been linked to aiding in the elimination of addiction. There are parallels in addiction therapy and Taoist teaching. “Only when we are sick of our sickness shall we cease to be sick.”
A common theme in Wicca is the respect for individual autonomy. The focus is on someone’s connection to the natural world. If this comes through a consciousness enhancing substance, then so be it. There is no official rule condoning or denying drugs, beyond the use of some substances in rituals.
Read the previous article in this series:Faith in Recovery Pt. 1: Can Faith Help Battle Addiction?Read the next article in this seriesFaith in Recovery Pt. 3: Is Faith-Based Addiction Treatment More Effective?
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