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Junkie America

Junkie America Thaths


John Zmirak - published on 02/25/14

Is our goal North Korea with crucifixes?

This article was inspired by the controversy over long-time pro-life activist Austin Ruse’s recent article arguing that Catholics should not seek to outlaw contraception.

Imagine if a large majority of Americans were habitual pot smokers — some of them holding down jobs and seeming to get along; others grossly debilitated by the numbing, dulling effects of that soporific drug.  Productivity at the workplace would suffer, of course, and countless aspects of our culture would be damaged by the fact that so many people in their prime creative and working years had chosen “middle age in a bong.”  So pervasive was marijuana use that any notion of trying to ban it would get you laughed out of the room — and voted out of office.  Nevertheless, a solid five percent of the population knew the truth about marijuana and abstained.  Some of them even whispered that pot should be illegal, but no one took them seriously.

But this imaginary America would face much bigger problems than pot.  In addition to the supermajority of habitual pot smokers was a large swath of heroin addicts, who used that legal drug to such excess that every year almost a million Americans died from overdoses.  The effects of heroin on society were so overtly appalling that nearly half of our citizens were opposed to heroin use, and popular opinion was swinging in the direction of outlawing the drug.  In fact, almost half of the pot smokers in America wanted to outlaw heroin — and some of them joined an organized movement to pass laws to that effect, a movement largely led by the people who didn’t even use marijuana and who considered its use destructive.

Now you can imagine the tensions that would exist inside such a movement.  The abstainers would wince when their allies drifted out of meetings to smoke outside, and would no doubt try to persuade the friends they made that — bad as we all agree heroin is — marijuana was more of a problem than they thought.  That smoking pot might in fact be a gateway drug that led people closer to heroin.  But they’d largely keep quiet, and work hand in hand to address the graver problem that was actually killing people, saving the talk about pot and its ill effects for private conversations with people who had come to trust them.  Using this method, they might well convince some of their more earnest stoner allies to embrace complete sobriety.

The one thing that sober members of the temperance movement would know that they shouldn’t do — in almost any context, ever — was to suggest that their agenda for restricting drugs would eventually lead to a legal ban on pot.  As they worked alongside their slightly hazy allies attempting to save a million lives per year, they might roll their eyes and slip them a pamphlet from time to time on the downside of marijuana.  But even if in their heart of hearts they fantasized about putting pot dealers out of business and into prison, they would keep such daydreams quiet.  They would realize that banning a deadly drug was far more important than spinning out ideal, intellectually consistent arguments for imposing a drug-free America via the guns and prisons of the state.  They would know that in this damaged, junkie country, talk of outlawing pot would sound at best utopian — and at worst, authoritarian.

Most of the temperance activists would know that, but some would not care.  A few would be so outraged at the drug culture — or so in love with their own righteousness — that they would shout from the rooftops that every drug must be outlawed, and that any member of the temperance movement who didn’t agree with them was not really anti-drug.  By adopting this radical stance, they would draw a lot of attention, and probably raise more money than they otherwise would have.  Sometimes, they might target and try to destroy other temperance activists for being “inconsistent” and “compromised,” and giving in to the “culture of drugs” by keeping the issue of banning marijuana off the table.  What effect would such hard-line activists have on the movement to outlaw heroin?  They would help to discredit it, of course, essentially telling everyone in the country that if you outlawed deadly heroin, the temperance movement would not stop at that, but would be emboldened to try to outlaw the much less harmful drug that most Americans enjoyed.  That message would be music to the ears of the heroin industry, whose leaders would snicker gleefully each time the “hardliners” got some attention in the press.  But the hardliners wouldn’t care, because they were much more focused on proving the integrity of their motives and the consistency of their logic than they were on stopping people from dying of heroin overdoses.  Their hearts pure and hands clean, they would march on with heads held high.

Just so, today, there is a small contingent of faithful Catholics who are not satisfied to reiterate — as we all should — the Church’s teaching about contraception and chastity.  They are not content to assert that abortion should be illegal, and try to convince Americans of the hidden moral and social costs of contraception.  Rather, they insist that because contraception violates the natural law, the state would be right to ban  it, and then proceed to assail as sellouts those who disagree.  

Let’s drop the drug analogy and examine the sex question squarely.  It is true that no one has a moral right to do something self-destructive and sinful.   Actions that violate the natural law are intrinsically evil, and we should not think of them as exercises of “rights.”  They are abuses of liberty that do not really serve our life or further our true pursuit of happiness.  

Does that mean that it would be prudent, or even sane, to make all such actions illegal?  We can know the existence of God by reason alone, and so asserting atheism flouts the natural law.  Does that mean we should ban all atheist books, and remove the children of atheists from their parents’ homes so they can be raised as Christians?  No, because doing those things would violate greater goods, including the free expression of ideas and the integrity of the family.  Indeed, there are countless actions people perform every day that violate the natural law, which we could only suppress by creating a totalitarian state.  While abortifacient medicines should certainly be illegal, attempting to ban all contraception — from condoms to coitus interruptus — is such a remote and unlikely prospect that it’s not even worth talking about.  We can honestly say as Catholics that we don’t even favor it, given how destructive and intrusive any attempt to enforce such a law would prove.

Some Catholics seem not worry about such consequences, and so they spin utopian schemes for suppressing every sin through the organized violence of the state.  They won’t succeed, of course, in turning the United States into a North Korea with crucifixes.  But they do an excellent job of discrediting the rest of us, who use the governing virtue of prudence as our yardstick, who know all the evils that unlimited government — now enabled by modern technology — brings in its wake.   Let us drop these daydreams of wielding power over our neighbors, and instead strive to serve the good, the true, and the beautiful in the country and in the moment where God chose to let us be born.

John Zmirakis the author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism. His columns are archived at The Bad Catholic’s Bingo Hall.

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