The perennial question aimed at those of us who want drugs legalized
(besides this rhetorical wonder: "You just want to smoke pot, right?")
is "What then? What do you do to stem drug abuse once the legal and
political sanctions are kaput?"

It's a fair question, considering that most Americans labor under the
assumption that the drug war helps to curb abuse in some meaningful
way. The fact that more and more drugs are available with smaller and
smaller price tags puts the lie to that notion, but, for the many
millions of Americans who still take it as gospel, an answer may help
to elucidate a deeper dynamic of drug control - one that operates
without legal strictures and governmental regulations.

Part of that answer requires looking into our past - digging up our
cultural roots - because a major key to control is found there.

Without doubt, Christianity has held a powerful grip on the worldview
of the West. "It is Christianity ... as it has existed in its main and
minor streams throughout the past 2,000 years ... which has had the
formative impact on Western culture," wrote Thomas J. Burke. "It
encompasses both the Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, for these
have provided the main frameworks in which Western man has created his

That worldview has manifested itself in myriad ways - art, learning,
historiography, politics, etc. - but one powerful area, almost totally
ignored by both Christians and non-Christians today, is dope.

A Christian culture comes with built-in controls for drug abuse - and
they're not the standard fare typically heard from the Jerry Falwells
and Pat Robertons. The overwhelming message about intoxication in
Scripture, as Falwell and Co. would agree, is "Don't," and the history
of the drug trade makes the effect of this injunction clear. But much
of that history shows that government-sanctioned prohibition had
nothing to do with it. Other forces were at work.

As the East and New World opened to traders and colonists, a wide
array of psychoactive substances became available to the West:
cannabis, chocolate, coca, coffee, jimsonweed, mescal beans, morning-
glory seeds, opium, peyote, psilocybic mushrooms, qat, tea, tobacco,
yage or caapi from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, and some 100 other
hallucinogens and oddities in the Americas alone. Given the huge
variety of mindbenders, it might seem odd that the drugs that caught
on among Westerners were chocolate, coffee, tea, and tobacco - all
very mild psychoactives.

Some may argue that the reason more potent drugs didn't reach
popularity had more to do with the cost of harvest and shipment of the
substances, and that some of the drugs - such as coca (used to make
cocaine) and qat - have short shelf lives, making an ocean voyage to
the Old Country at full potency a difficult proposition. But, while
there is truth to this argument, as historian David T. Courtwright
explains in his book, "Force of Habit," "Nonmaterial considerations
also influenced Europeans' judgments about which drugs should become
cash crops and international products. As Christians, they were
suspicious of chemical shortcuts to altered consciousness."

Look no further than tobacco to see that this is true. Moderate use of
tobacco was praised by Cordelier monk Andre Thevet who warned in his
1557 book, "Singularites de la France Antarctique," that "if you take
too much of this [tobacco] smoke or scent, it goes to your head and
inebriates you like the fumes of strong wine."

The potential for intoxication did not, however, by itself stem
tobacco's use. Just as Christians drank beer, wine and spirits, the
sticking point was inebriation; drinking moderately was praised.

Wrote Thevet, "The Christians who are now in those parts have become
amazingly fond of this herb and its smell, even though at the outset
its use is not without its dangers until you are used to it; for this
smoke makes you perspire and feel faint, even to the point of falling
unconscious - as I tried out for myself. That is less strange than it
may seem," he continues, "for other fruits may be found which offend
the brain, however delicate and good to eat they may be."

Christians got around the intoxication problem with tobacco by both
accustoming themselves to the drug and cultivating the mild Nicotiana
tabacum strain of the plant instead of the N. rustica member of the
family, which sometimes contains as much as 16 percent nicotine. But
there was still another problem.

Beyond Scripture's command to not be drunk, there is also the command
to flee false religions. Indian shamans used tobacco - especially
rustica - in rituals, and ingested so much they could actually
hallucinate on the weed - some even overdosed - and, observed
Courtwright, "The (Christian, civilized, rationalizing) Europeans
were, to put it mildly, uninterested in shaky blastoffs to the spirit
world." Most drugs used in the Americas were, as Amerindian expert
Jack Weatherford points out in his book, "Indian Givers," used "in a
primarily religious context."

This was of immediate concern to Westerners. The Greek word in
Scripture translated as "witchcraft" is "pharmakeia," which was
smuggled into the English language as "pharmacy" and "pharmaceutical."
Drugs, to the Christian, had a connection to false religion and the
Devil. The main critics of tobacco bellowed their disapproval from
this position.

England's James I pointed to tobacco's religious role in the Indian
cultures in denouncing the drug. Likewise, Italy's Girolamo Benzoni in
his 1568 "La Historia del Mondo Nuovo" condemned tobacco's religious
functions by saying that "such a pestiferous and wicked poison can
only be an invention of the devil." In fact, in the late 1400s, after
Christopher Columbus discovered the New World (and cigars), one Luis
de Torres was arrested by the Inquisition in Madrid and sentenced to
10 years in prison for smoking - which the church deemed some sort of
sorcery. "Ironically," write Eric Deschodt and Phillippe Morane in
their book "The Cigar," "the time would come when Spanish clergymen
would have the best cigars in the world made for their sole use."

Why the u-turn from loathing to loving? By observing the multitudinous
ways in which, and reasons for which, Indians used tobacco, wrote
Courtwright, "Europeans came to understand that tobacco use did not
necessarily entail hallucinations." In fact, given the amount and
frequency of tobacco use by Indians, most smoking was for non-
religious purposes - they simply enjoyed it. And it wasn't long before
Westerners did as well.

In 1615 alone, report Deschodt and Morane, the English imported
?200,000 of the stuff from Trinidad and the Orinoco. In time, the
Dutch Reformed, French Catholics, and English Presbyterians and
Anglicans all cultivated and used tobacco. Baroque master Johann
Sebastian Bach actually wrote a paean to praise his pipe in which he
allegorized smoking to the gospel, concluding by saying:

On land, on sea, at home, and abroad, I smoke my pipe and worship

Historically, mild psychoactives have not been pooh-poohed by
Christians, nor does Scripture condemn them. For instance, the Bible
routinely praises the joys and blessing of wine. The fact that it can
intoxicate doesn't mean it has to if responsibly used. As Christians
have historically and scripturally understood it, if psychoactives can
be used in ways that do not intoxicate and do not participate in false
religions, then there is nothing wrong with using them. There is, in
fact, benefit in using them - namely, they bring enjoyment and
pleasure - which is why coffee, tea, chocolate and tobacco became
popular in Christian cultures such as Europe and America.

Of course, that was then. Whatever vestige of an overarching Christian
culture there is in the West is just that - a vestige. The issue, as I
will take it up tomorrow in part two, is how to sift some of these
cultural drug-control factors out of the past and apply them to today.

For the most part, the Christian West - due to generally agreed-upon
social and cultural norms - reigned in drug abuse. Psychoactives were
still used and enjoyed, mainly responsibly, without a top-down program
of prohibition as we experience today. People in large part chose to
use the substances around them in non-abusive ways.

If we scrap drug prohibition, as I'd like to see, doubtless more
people will use drugs. Not to diminish the role of the individual, who
is the only moral agent responsible for his or her own decisions, a
major question in the drug reform movement is how we - without the
same cultural controls as in pre-prohibition days - will respond.

Tomorrow: "After the drug war, part 2: Controlling excesses"

Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Thu, 20 Dec 2001
Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)
Copyright: 2001, Inc.
Author: Joel Miller,