Pardon Me, Our Hypocrisy is Showing!

By Rev. Howard Moody, Coordinator

The more I hear and read about the victims and casualties of our drug war, the more difficult it becomes to think seriously and rationally about how we are dealing with the drug issue. It becomes even more difficult when the arguments for public prohibition against, say, marijuana, are laced with moral indignation, and this is particularly true with an older generation.

Perhaps the most important and tragic aspect of our stance on drugs with the fear that it generates in the older generation is that our morals and ethics are twisted and our perspectives are perverted. We know factually and experimentally that alcohol taken continuously and excessively over a period of time will produce dangerous and even fatal changes in our bodies and that there are today in the United States 6,500,000 acute alcoholics; we know that cigarettes are creating malignant tumors with constant use, but the young are legally teased and seduced daily by films and TV into drinking and smoking. A person may die of acute alcoholism or lung cancer but not before our government has taken a tidy tax from his fatal misery.

Is it any wonder that when we try to exhort and moralize kids about the temptations and degradation regarding a non-addictive drug like marijuana, pronounced safe "unless taken in harmful and excessive amounts" - that those kids produce an opaque, non-listening look, while they are silently assessing our inordinate hypocrisy.

We can no longer cloak our hypocrisy regarding the preferred escape the young have found. In the 60's and 70's, parents did not approve of the younger generation's "bourbon-rebellion" against our drug of choice, and even then, they never protested the harsh drug laws by which their children were criminalized. Today, in the passing of time and the increase of information, parents know better than to think that "beer-binging" is somehow superior or safer than "pot-parties" of the younger generation. We still are ready to punish pot smokers with prison while sending our alcoholics to hospitals and clinics­­in which case, our hypocrisy is compounded by ignorance or an unmerciful moralism.

Further it should be a matter of major concern to us that in a nation of laws, when the common convictions, consensus and knowledge which originally supported a law with severe criminal sanctions have eroded, it is wise for the law to withdraw rather than to have the law brought into disrepute by open disobedience. Fr. John Courtney Murray in We Hold These Truths makes a pertinent point that is very relevant:

"...the aspirations of law are minimal. Law seeks to establish and maintain only that minimum of actualized morality that is necessary for the healthy functioning of the social order. It enforces only what is minimally acceptable and in this sense socially necessary... Therefore the law, mindful of its nature, is required to be tolerant of many evils that morality condemns."

So even those who believe that pot smoking is immoral ought to have grave misgivings about using criminal statutes to enforce our acceptable moral code, particularly in those instances where the "so-called criminal act" is without victims.

It is easy for the Church to remain silent on an issue like this because all the evidence is not in and the problem is complex, but that's an evasion not worthy of our faith and morals. One has only to remember the early Sixties when addiction from illegal drugs first became a public issue and the only institutions working with addicts were churches. At the time, the National Council of Churches with its strong resolution was leading the way to a more humane attitude and treatment regarding substance abusers. The Church must recover some of that compassion and courage which enabled it to become an advocate for the victims of addiction.

Perhaps today the most important and immediate task for all religious institutions and men and women of faith is to help create a new climate of public opinion whereby our laws may be reformed so as to deal realistically and humanely with the victims of addiction. We know there are no simple solutions but religious leaders need to clear the atmosphere of futility and resignation that has marked all too many "official" approaches by people whose moral imagination is so truncated as to believe the only answer to people using the "wrong" drug is persecution and punishment. We who proclaim that we are people of faith might contribute such hope and mercy as to counter the deadly intolerance and fatalism that has resulted in highly punitive measures of incarceration rather than healing modalities of treatment.

Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy
237 Thompson Street
New York, NY 10012