Beyond The Pale

Pat Robertson’s, Rhetoric, Social Justice

Several days ago—my first draft read “yesterday afternoon,” but life sometimes gets busy—while reading the New York Times online, I stumbled upon an article about Pat Robertson’s claim that he believed that the use of Marijuana should be legalized. His point, as an Evangelical, was not that the use of Marijuana was good, that it should be endorsed, or that he had any desire to use it, only that he thought it should be legalized. After reading the article, with which I wholly agreed, I posted a link to it on Facebook and promptly forgot about it.

As I’m currently deployed to Afghanistan, I live on an almost inverted time scale to most of the people who read my feed and make comments, so when I went to bed that night, there were no responses to the post, not that I expected any. As I mentioned, the link didn’t bear enough weight in my mind to keep me thinking about it, as the claims it made seemed fairly obvious. When I woke up the following morning and went to check my email before calling my wife, I was surprised to see that I had received twenty new emails in the intervening eight or ten hours. Several years ago, this would have been common, but of late I’ve been much less active on the internet, and I’ve received very few emails from people other than my wife. I couldn’t help but wonder what had brought in all the traffic. As soon as I opened up the first email, I realized that, without really intending to, I’d done what I have such a habit of doing and started a fight about whether Pot use should or should not be legal.

Most discussions of decriminalization for Marijuana tend to go in one of two directions, which are really the same direction. Either people want it to be legalized because its use isn’t damaging and alcohol, which causes much worse behavior than Marijuana ever could, is legal, or they want it to be illegal because it’s destructive, wrecks homes and lives, makes you lazy, and contributes to other kinds of criminality. Both of these pictures are clearly oversimplifications of what their backers really believe, and I’m not trying to build up a couple of straw man arguments to knock down, but keeping these rough sketches in mind is useful.

The argument that happened on my Facebook page while I was sleeping had basically taken the same course that most arguments about Pot tend to take, and while I wasn’t surprised, I was disappointed because the reason that I so heartily agree with what Pat Robertson was saying is that he didn’t make the arguments that we usually hear. Instead, Robertson approached the issue from the perspective of social justice.

Robertson basically argued that we incarcerate people for a crime with only one real victim, themselves. Sure, because of the current state of affairs, there is a whole black market on the product, and any black market produces crime, but that black market is not a natural outgrowth of the availability of the product, but of it’s prohibition. Just as a huge black market grew out of the prohibition of alcohol in the United States and was wiped out by it’s later re-legalization, so the crime producing prohibition of Pot produces much crime that would be wiped out were the product legalized, regulated, and taxed.

That’s not to say that the use of Pot should be condoned, any more than the use of alcohol should be condoned. There is plenty of room for disagreement on this. My denomination states in it’s position papers that it considers alcohol to be a tool of Satan, used for destroying lives and causing addiction. My parents completely agree with this statement, and I can’t fault them for the position. I believe that high fructose corn syrup is a tool of Satan, used for destroying lives and causing addiction. My parents drink a lot of Dr. Pepper and use fake Syrup on their pancakes. I try not to judge them for this. I drink a fair amount of Guinness and the occasional tumbler of Ol’ Number 7. I hope that they do me the same courtesy. I don’t argue that high fructose corn syrup should be illegal. I’m never heard my parents argue that alcohol should be.

Just as I don’t advocate the consumption of fake sugar, and my parents don’t condone the consumption of alcohol, Pat Robertson doesn’t condone the consumption of THC. His argument, and it’s a good one, is that it is unjust to throw someone in prison, damage their families, reduce their lifetime earning potential, and force them into association with real criminals for doing something unhealthy.

Our prisons are over crowded, and they are crowded with people who have no business being there in the first place. If we believe that Pot use is wrong and dangerous, destructive and addictive, then we need to do something about it, but incarcerating them isn’t the thing that needs done. There are other ways to go about this. When a person gets addicted to alcohol, we try to enroll them in AA. When they eat too much Mc. Donald’s, we send them to Jenny Craig.

Christians are mandated to care for the poor, not to oppress them. To deprive a community of it’s young men, by far the largest portion of drug related incarcerations, fits that bill. Utilitarians want to reduce human suffering. Prohibition and the resulting crime and imprisonment increase the quotient of human suffering beyond the gains of reduced consumption. Liberals want the oppressed to be humanized, removed from the margins, empowered. Conservatives claim to want to preserve liberty and reduce government spending. Libertarians want the government to have less power. And so on. There are incentives for every party to advocate this change, and yet very few voices do—not as a result of the real situation, but as a result of the blinding rhetoric we have chosen to use to talk about it.

March 23, 2012 Posted by | Censorship, Christianity, Church | 8 Comments