Is Marijuana Sinful for Christians? A Thomistic Analysis

Does smoking marijuana count as a sin? I’m in beautiful Colorado and yes the natives are toking. As you know, marijuana is becoming legal in certain states. So once again, the ethics of marijuana are back on the table.

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If smoking marijuana is no longer illegal, is there any other moral reason why Christians should avoid it? Saint Paul told us to obey the arbitrary laws of our nation (speed limits in school zones) for the common good.

Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.” (Rom 13:1)

It used to be that pastors and youth ministers could tell teenagers, “It’s illegal. Respect the law.” That was not the most forceful argument, but at least it was something. Now, if you live in Colorado or Washington, that argument  falls flat.

But is Marijuana Sinful?

Marijuana (Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis) is not sinful in itself. Stay with me. Don’t stop reading. God created marijuana. It is an herb with medicinal purposes. When God created the herbs of creation, He remarked that they were all good, cannabis included.

Now according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, a thing can be essentially good but used wrongly. Lead is essentially good. However, if I poison your water with lead, that’s not good. If I shoot a pointed lead projectile (bullet) into your chest, that’s not good.

God created hemlock. It’s good. But if you drink it like Socrates, you’ll die. Not good.

So our argument about marijuana cannot center on the fact that “God created it, so it’s morally okay.”

Marijuana and Human Rationality

Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Christian tradition identifies man’s rational intellect as what makes us “in the image of God.” Humans use logic. We are rational. We have an intellect. Humans play chess. Humans follow the rules of grammar. Humans build suspension bridges. Humans paint images. Humans travel to the moon and back. Humans write novels. This is what makes humans like God and the angels. Our logical, rational, intellect is the greatest gift that God granted our species.

Judaism and Christianity, therefore, traditionally identify the blurring of this great gift (the intellect) as sinful. Being intoxicated with alcohol has always been condemned by Scripture and Tradition – going all the way back to Moses. Here’s a sample:

Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:21)

The New Testament lists of “sins preventing the kingdom of God” historically identify “mortal sins” for the Catholic Church. We don’t have time to look at the theology of moral sins, but I spent a considerable amount explaining Saint Paul’s doctrine of mortal sin in my book on Saint Paul. If you’re interested, please check out the book on amazon.

Paul Ebook White (1)Drunkenness is evil because it blurs and muddies our highest faculty – rationality. Think about it. When a person is drunk, he resorts to how animals act. Drunk people act irrationally.

Drunk people don’t use language properly. They don’t think logically. Their moral compass fades. They sometimes fail to control their bodily functions. They cannot operate cars or machines because their intellect has lost its facility. The more drunk you become, the less human you act. By the way, this is how you know when you’ve crossed the line between being “merry of heart” and “drunk as a skunk.” If you cannot perform rational tasks, you’ve crossed the line.

Marijuana and Rationality

I’ll show my cards up front. I’ve never smoked marijuana. I don’t know how it feels. However, I have observed pot-smokers quite a bit (yes, I’ve been to a Phish show and my fair share of Willie Nelson concerts). Marijuana also inhibits the intellect. It doesn’t just provide a buzz (like drinking two beers). Marijuana inhibits the intellect. I grant that it may not be as bad as being stone cold drunk, but it’s still a “high” that inhibits the intellect.

From the point of view of Christian anthropology, it’s a slam dunk. Smoking marijuana is sinful to the extent that it inhibits highest function of the soul. This would apply to cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, and other drugs. Alcohol is different because its effects can be graduated.

What about Medicinal Marijuana?

If you’re going to pull a bullet from my arm and we have no painkillers, I’m getting drunk. And that’s okay. Same goes for the medicinal use of cocaine, opium, codeine, and marijuana. Of course, there must be a true medicinal cause. I don’t think that “having a headache” or “anxiety” is a just cause for smoking marijuana. I’ll leave the details to the medical experts.

Medicinal marijuana would fall under the precept of Proverbs 31:6,

Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish.”

There are times when alcohol or others drugs are allowed for a greater good. However, I don’t think that Snoop Dogg’s prescription for smoking weed every day while sipping on gin and juice meet the medicinal criteria. Any substance that inhibits rational functionality should not be indulged.

If you’re interested in learning more about the structure of the human soul as it relates to virtue and vice, please download my FREE ebook on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas titled: Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages – A Quick Layman’s Guide to Thomism.

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Question: Do you agree or disagree about marijuana and the deadening of the intellect? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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