Okay, so here’s a question

I just posted about the Washington D.C. checkpoint, which is in response to the large amount of violence in that area. So, here’s my question. Where does all that violence come from?

Now, there are always wicked men who “eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” (Proverbs 4:17). And yet, I wonder…how much of this violence is connected to the drug trade? For example, my understanding is that nearly all the murders last year in Peoria were drug-related. Sadly, I don’t have any specific numbers on hand, though I would be quite interested to hear how I could go about proving or disproving this. I’m going to guess that this isn’t a particularly controversial point.

So, let’s say that I’m correct, and much of the urban violence that we suffer is the result of competition for the illegal drug trade. Can someone explain to me again why we’ve created a Prohibition on drugs? Why should the government be taking any sort of responsibility for the substances that people put into their own bodies?

And, on top of this, look at the various ways in which our fundamental rights are being violated in the ongoing “war on drugs”. (Watch this piece for an example of what I’m talking about, or just refer to the Washington Post article about the checkpoint.) Is this a price worth paying?

How is this justice?

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22 responses to “Okay, so here’s a question

  • Comrade Andrew

    That’s a good question, but can be asked about a different issue like this. Or, to frame it another way, “Why should the government be taking any sort of responsibility for the welfare of citizens who choose to travel abroad?” Or, “Why should the government be taking any sort of responsibility for how fast people drive?” Or, “…for how much alcohol is in a person’s system when they drive a car?” And so forth.

    I realise that libertarianism runs deep and strong in America, but it will always have difficulty when it is confronted with the secondary effects of a choice that don’t harm the chooser, but which harm bystanders. If the government has any kind of mandate to protect the general welfare of the populace then there are certain restrictions that are necessary. Otherwise I can fire 7.62mm rounds through a kindergarten as long as I don’t hit anyone.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    (Well, given that you’re working through your Th.M, I figure that you should be sympathetic to this line of thought….)

    Here’s the thing. The government’s job isn’t to “protect the general welfare of the populace”. Rather, it is to be “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4) Government is formal retribution for evil acts. And, again, God defines that evil, not what we want it to be.

    So, yeah, I’m generally opposed to speed limits, for example. I’m not persuaded that the government should set some required maximum rate of speed but to ensure that people make proper restitution for the damages that they caused and to inflict punishment if it is aggravated or habitual. The same would apply to drugs and alcohol. Saying, “I was drunk” or “I was high” is no excuse to worm out of the consequences of your actions.

    While we’re here, regarding drugs, consider this passage from the Bible:

    “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” (Proverbs 31:6-7)

    It is apparently altogether fitting for those who are poor to turn to wine or strong drink to relieve their misery. Why doesn’t this apply to getting high? Consider the plight of the poor. They slave all day for harsh masters who often exploit them. They struggle to find food and shelter and clothing, and then they are despised for failing to live up to “social standards”.

    I have lived this life, you know. My family was on food stamps, and, even though I was working, we were on the verge of total economic collapse. I have been laid off from jobs that I desperately needed, because otherwise we weren’t going to eat. They were going to shut off the power in my house. The creditors were on their way.

    This is the life of the poor. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to get high and forget it all for a moment? Why not? Work hard during the day, then smoke a joint at the end of the night. What is so wicked about that?

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Oh, and I know that this is an old stat, but I thought I’d toss it out there. According to this article, in 1988, Baltimore had 234 homicides. 112 of them (48%) were drug related. (Check out the “Strategy Reviews Needed” section for more information, including how the local hospital helped keep this murder rate from being even higher.)

  • Comrade Andrew

    There are a number of ways I could approach this. First, I don’t subscribe to the notion that government is the fist of God, but I do subscribe to the notion that the general morality has a lot in common with the Hebrew morality. That is to say, having a healthy fear of government retribution is useful in avoiding various Mosaic evils. However, the problem that I have with this is that it motivates people through fear. Better to drive at a reasonable speed because you care for the other people on the road, rather than to drive at the speed limit to avoid a fine. Fear is a fine motivator (pun intended) but one would be better to do it out of charity or love. I won’t eat meat or drink wine if it causes someone to stumble, even though I am free to do such things. Remember that everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial to the gospel.

    Secondly, the use of intoxicants to dull the pain is an old remedy, and not one that I take lightly. For people with the capacity to exert self-control, this is not a problem. No wonder that Christians are advised to find the middle ground between drinking a little wine for the health and not getting drunk with wine.

    But to return to the point, is not the proper Christian response one of helpful intervention? Instead of watching a struggling family spend money on distractions to dull the pain, the Christian act is to sell all his has and give it to the poor; to lend and expect nothing in return. The better solution, over and above intoxicants, is the practical act of love. That can’t be legislated by government, and I certainly don’t see a government avenging bankrupt families by prosecuting Donald Trump for not giving money.

    Do drugs cause problems? Yes. Do all drugs cause problems all the time? No. Somewhere between these two statements is a role for government in protecting users and bystanders. More importantly, living in the midst of that situation is someone who needs help and the Christian response must be to usefully intervene at the cause of the problem.

  • skeptic

    “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21
    Since you claim that “the government’s job isn’t to protect the welfare of the general populace” did you refuse their foodstamps on that principle? Our government was founded upon a number of principles, one of which was to “promote the general welfare.”

  • jon

    I think a more interesting statistic would be whether or not these “drug-related” deaths would be prevented if drugs were legal. I have a feeling most of these deaths were drug dealers vs. drug dealers… or some form of that. I’m sure a few, but not many were police (or law)-related deaths.

    Where does the notion come from that says violent crime flourishes because of the legal status of harmful, addictive substances?

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    >I think a more interesting statistic would be whether or not these “drug-related” deaths would be prevented if drugs were legal. I have a feeling most of these deaths were drug dealers vs. drug dealers… or some form >of that. I’m sure a few, but not many were police (or law)-related deaths.

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. Just like Prohibition, the illegality of drugs creates a black market with its own enforcement mechanism (i.e. violence). In addition to this violence, we have the systematic violating of our rights as part of the “cost” of fighting the drug war.

    >Where does the notion come from that says violent crime flourishes because of the legal status of harmful, addictive substances?

    I don’t understand this question. Can you elaborate a bit?

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Skeptic,

    As a matter of fact, I did resist going on food stamps for several years, until my family had reached the point that the people around me were pointing out that it was either food stamps or starvation.

    As a result, we had the joy of experiencing dehumanizing treatment by government officials. This is particularly true of my wife, who had to make the monthly pilgrimage to the Assistance Office to grovel for more aid. And then, when we were trying to start up a small side business, we were actually harmed by our entrepreneurial spirit, since the Assistance Office counted our *gross revenue* for our startup month (our best month) as being our average *profit* each month. Not only did we lose our food stamps, we were threatened with being sued to repay the previous food stamps that we had received, on the basis of money that we hadn’t actually received.

    But God is good. A friend approached me and said that he would give us money equal to what we were receiving in food stamps so that we could get off them. This is because *he* held this conviction, that the government ought not be providing for us, but that we should care for each other.

    It was like we were set free.

    Please, save me from the “compassion” of the government. It is true that we did not starve, for which I’m genuinely grateful. But they did not treat us with love or care or compassion.

    So, yeah, I’ve walked the road of government assistance, and it is because I have that I am opposed to it.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Andrew,

    Yes, I agree that acting out of love is the better motive. I would also say that acting out of a proper fear is God’s gift to us, to help when our love fails.

    >Do drugs cause problems? Yes. Do all drugs cause problems all the time? No. Somewhere between
    >these two statements is a role for government in protecting users and bystanders.

    Sure, though, again, as I look at the Bible, I see a role for the government to punish harm to others, but I do not see a role for the government to forbid a substance to myself. There’s a long distance from your statement and from the current drug policy in America.

    And, try this thought experiment. Replace the word “drugs” in your statement with something else. Coffee. Alcohol. Potato chips. Books. Theological training. It would be a true statement. But would you think that the government’s response ought to be the same as it has been to marijuana?

    >More importantly, living in the midst of that situation is someone who needs help and the Christian >response must be to usefully intervene at the cause of the problem.

    I moved myself and my family into an urban neighborhood for just this reason. I live where I hear gunshots on a regular basis due to violence. I talk regularly with an alcoholic, and my wife regularly talks with an ex-drug addict.

    I’m not just blogging about this. I’m living this.

  • Comrade Andrew

    > There’s a long distance from your statement and from the current drug policy in America.

    Well yes, this is true. The American governmental fetish with declaring war on things is self-indulgent, hypocritical and misleading.

    I think my initial objection to your statement was to the libertarian notion of a victimless crime (self-harm, self-medication, etc.). I think that some of the so-called victimless crimes are not actually victimless.

    Lastly, I want to add to your comment that “I’m not just blogging about this. I’m living this.” … Keep going! The church is the church only when it is for others.

  • dlr

    ” The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”
    — James Madison, speech in the House of Representatives, January 10, 1794

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Hey, check it out! An actual conversation on the Internet!

    >I think my initial objection to your statement was to the libertarian notion of a victimless crime (self-harm, self-medication, etc.). I think that some of the so-called victimless crimes are not actually victimless.

    I’m going to answer this in a few different ways.

    The first is that I’m not a libertarian. I’m a Christian. As such, I am committed to the rule of Christ Jesus in all things, which includes the national government of the United States. So, when I make these sorts of comments, I’m doing my best to apply my understanding of what Jesus requires in His revealed will. If this happens to look libertarian from time to time…well, that’s a risk I’m prepared to take. 😀 Maybe this looks like I’m playing word games, but this is a big deal to me, actually.

    The second is that I generally don’t favor the term “victimless crimes”. Instead, I try to point at the Biblical principles for government (including the Mosaic civil laws and all that) to establish what the government ought to punish. So, for example, I do think that there’s evidence that the government ought to be involved in dealing with prostitution, even though this is a classic example of a “victimless crime”.

    The last is that the concern that you’re raising about the drug issue can already be addressed. You are concerned that drug use isn’t always a “victimless crime” because of its effects on bystanders. But let’s be precise here. Once we get beyond second-hand smoke from smoking weed, the “effects” on bystanders have to do with the poor behavior of the users, such as theft and violence. However, the crimes that affect bystanders are the theft and the violence, *not* the drug use itself. We already have laws and processes to address these crimes, *which have real victims*. The government should confine itself to addressing these issues, which it is well-equipped to do.

    Glad to be talking with you!

  • Comrade Andrew

    They aren’t word games, they’re clarifications and they’re necessary. Besides, it’s possible for two people to take the same action from different motivations or worldviews.

    Nevertheless, if I understand you right, you believe that the social evil is the proliferation of theft and violence, but that the root cause of these is not the drugs themselves, but the illegality of those drugs. Therefore, if the prohibition was lifted, law enforcement could concentrate on other crimes. You envisage a situation as it is in America with alcohol (i.e., if a person robs or assaults, they should be arrested regardless of the level or source of intoxication). Your preferred model of law enforcement is corrective rather than preventive.

    If I have understood you, then the problem is one of a negation of a negation. For example, when a person kills, the victim’s life has been negated (made opposite of what it was, from alive to dead). But then if the killer is captured, convicted and punished, the killer’s life has also been negated (from free to incarcerated, or in some parts of the world, from alive to dead). This second negation does not return the overall situation to its original starting position (i.e., the victim does not come back to life). I perceive this as a weakness of a system that is exclusively corrective.

    Do you therefore endorse government spending on education concerning social issues? But which social issues require that education? Drug use? Speeding? Sexual practices? Gun ownership?

    (And yes, it’s a good conversation…)

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Here I need to make a distinction between theft and violence. In the Bible, the government was supposed to deal with theft primarily through enforced restitution. For example, “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” (Exodus 22:1). This isn’t even a matter of returning things to the status quo. In the end, the victim of the theft is recompensed plus more! Then the matter is finished.

    Murder is different. Consider Exodus 21:12-14. “‘Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.'” According to this, murder and attempted murder are both capital offenses. The text even seems to indicate that the primary transgression by a murderer is against God. Numbers 35:31 prohibits receiving a ransom for a murderer, even though Exodus 21:30 allows for a ransom in the case of criminal negligence. I think that this is because a murder is an offense against the image of God (imago Dei) that makes humanity what it is.

    But, in neither case does the Law seem to be concerned with returning the situation to the status quo. So, your “negation of a negation” doesn’t seem to be a problem with Mosaic penology. And, to be blunt, the coercive power of the State is most obviously applied in a corrective manner, not a preventative one.

    (The one possible exception that I can think of is in Deuteronomy 22:8, where Moses prescribes a parapet for the roofs of new houses. Even there, though, it seems that this prescription wouldn’t be enforced, but it would be evidence of criminal negligence if someone were to be injured or killed due to the lack of the parapet.)

    So, actually, no I don’t think that the government has a place is spending money on educating its citizens about social issues. (I’d make an “exception” of sorts and say that the government should ensure that the laws are clear and accessible to all its citizens. If we’re going to live together by these rules, it seems right that the government should ensure that the text of these rules are available to its citizens.)

    And, at this point, I’m going to mention something for you to consider as you’re pursuing your Th.M.

    My father is a pastor. (He has his M.Div. and everything!) One day, as we were talking about theology and philosophy and whatnot, he said something very significant. He said that systematic theologies were important, because we needed to put together the various principles found in Scripture and apply them wisely. However, it is possible to build on our systematics with more systematics, and use our conclusions to form additional conclusions. And, slowly but surely, we find ourselves moving further and further from the text that we’re supposed to be interpreting and applying.

    Theology isn’t like other fields of study. We can’t go out and observe our Creator like a biologist can observe rabbits. Theology is a lot more like ants trying to study humans…but even more so. We are not equipped with our unaided reason to understand God and His ways. Rather, the first part of good theology is learning to listen to what God has said about Himself and His ways.

    I am not saying this because I’m trying to get you to agree with me. Rather, I’m saying this in order for you to consider your methods. As we grapple with these questions, we must always ask the question, “What has God actually said?” And then, we must submit ourselves to His revealed will.

    Unaided human reason will fail (Aquinas to the contrary), but a true faith in God will lead to insight and understanding.

    Consider what Anselm said in his Proslogion:

    Come on now, little man, get away from your worldly occupations for a while, escape from your tumultuous thoughts. Lay aside your burdensome cares and put off your laborious exertions. Give yourself over to God for a little while, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the cell of your mind, shut out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek Him once the door is shut. Speak now, my heart, and say to God, “I seek your face; your face, Lord, I seek.” [Ps. xxvi]

    Come then, my Lord God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. . . . . Lord, turned in as I am I can only look down, so raise me up so that I can look up. “My iniquities heaped on my head” cover me over and weigh me down “like a heavy load” (Ps. 37:5). Dig me out and set me free before “the pit” created by them “shuts its jaws over me” (Ps. 67:16).Let me see your light, even if I see it from afar or from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to this seeker. For I cannot seek you unless you teach me how, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you, and desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you and love you in finding you.

    I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created in me this your image, so that I can remember you, think about you and love you. But it is so worn away by sins, so smudged over by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do unless you renew and reform it. I do not even try, Lord, to rise up to your heights, because my intellect does not measure up to that task; but I do want to understand in some small measure your truth, which my heart believes in and loved. Nor do I seek to understand so that I can believe, but rather I believe so that I can understand. For I believe this too, that “unless I believe I shall not understand” [Is. vii.9].

    Or, as Solomon wrote in the Proverbs:

    “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10)

    As you study your theology, be sure that the fear of the LORD is before your eyes. Otherwise, your learning will become a snare to you, and your effort and education will only be to the destruction of your soul.

    God be with you.

  • Comrade Andrew

    It seems that at this point you and I have a significant diversion in our hermeneutics. I don’t see that there is sufficient reason to hold on to the Mosaic law as a model for contemporary secular society, or as a model for the Church. This is, however, a large issue and I suspect that my arguing it with you will be fruitless for both of us. We’ve both put our sides of the issue out there, so I will leave it at that.

    Your second point is much more interesting anyway. In the interests of full disclosure, I don’t study theology professionally, so the only interest I have here is with regard to truth.

    The fact of the matter is that most of what passes for theology, philosophy or even preaching is not so faithful to the gospel. It is a fascinating area of opinion, but nothing more. Most of our discussion in this thread is mere opinion rather than a proclamation of faithfulness, and I’m OK with that. That said, I agree that it is most important to remain faithful to that truth. Even secular philosophy recognises that to divert from the truth is a bad thing.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    >Most of our discussion in this thread is mere opinion rather than a proclamation of faithfulness….

    Well, at the risk of sounding really snide, I’m going to disagree with you. Again, the following is not intended to just be word games; I’m really making a point here.

    My ultimate point in this thread is to apply a basic principle: Jesus is the “prince of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5). That means that His miraculous birth, perfect life, atoning death, conquering resurrection, and ascension to glory have everything to do with the drug policies of the United States government. Because Jesus has earned the right to say what the President does, and who the FBI, DEA, and BATFE arrest. He said that “all authority in heaven and earth” was given to Him. (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, it would behoove us to listen to what He says.

    “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:12)

    Or, to put it another way, “contemporary secular society” is a myth. An impossibility. Jesus Christ demands that every corner of creation bow to His rule. And that includes kings and magistrates and governors and sheriffs and judges and police officers and code enforcement officials and all the apparatus of governance and rule.

    This is the gospel that we are ordered to proclaim.

    “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

    Being “faithful to the gospel” means repenting of our rebellion against Jesus,doing what Jesus says and telling others to do likewise.

    Which is really what I’m telling you.

    Are you prepared to listen to what Jesus has said, and then do it? Do you believe that it is your responsibility to conform your life to His revealed will, as found in the Bible and superintended by the Church?

    I ask this because, on an (admittedly cursory) overview of your blog, you seem quite content to explain away portions of the Gospel. I’m looking at posts like this and this. It’s like you want to strip down the Gospel to something small and streamlined, when the Gospel is big, encompassing multitudes.

    So let us expel authority from the search for truth. And what is left? Emptiness. A space devoid of imposing might and forceful power. It is the remainder after all ideologies are removed, after all institutions are dismantled. It is the remainder of all structures. There, in this space that defies the rest, is where it will be found. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world – of any world – and it seems we will find truth.

    How is this faithfulness to the truth? Is this the God that has revealed Himself in the Scriptures? Is this the God who spoke by the prophets?

    Rather, listen to what the prophet Moses said:

    And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

    (Deuteronomy 30:8-14)

    The word is very near you, Andrew. So, what do you think? Will you obey the voice of the LORD to keep his commandments and his statutes? Or are you content to “expel authority from the search for truth” and seek God in the abyss?

    For I tell you the truth: He is not there. (Revelation 20:3)

  • Comrade Andrew

    Will I obey the law? Not intentionally. A solid reading of Galatians should be enough to explain why. Will I imitate Christ? Absolutely. But that is not about obeying the law. Obedience to law is about prohibition and proscription. Imitating Christ is about love/charity/agape.

    The questions to ask you, if you are so intent on obeying the law, is whether you eat shellfish, shrimp or prawns? Do you trim your beard? Do you mix dairy and meat in the same pot (or on the same pizza tray)? If you obey one part of the law, you are obliged to obey the whole law or be condemned by it. But I repeat myself (and Galatians) here.

    I would welcome your comments on a specific issue on my blog. I especially think that when I post the conclusion of a recent paper there, you will probably have some things to add to the comments.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). Any understanding of agape love needs to harmonize with Jesus’ understanding of what that love looks like. Or what about Paul’s discussion in Romans 13:

    Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

    (Romans 13:8-10)

    According to Jesus and Paul, agape love and the Law are intimately tied together. Indeed, when Paul describes love, he points at the Law. Any reading of Galatians that doesn’t take this into account is flawed at best.

    Jesus demands your obedience to Him as an act of love to Him. These things are not opposed to each other; rather, we obey because of love, and our love is manifested through our obedience. Jesus said that all the Law and Prophets are summed up by saying, “Love God and love your neighbor”. (Matthew 22:37-40) So, if you read the Old Testament and you can’t see love, then you’re reading it wrong.

    Jesus didn’t leave us by ourselves to figure out what agape love is. He gave us an entire book to show us what it looks like. And yes, that includes the Old Testament, and that includes the Mosaic Law. Now, there’s plenty of room to talk about shellfish and hybrids and Nylon…some other time. Right now, I just want to focus on this point: Jesus gave us the Law so that we would know how to love.

    And, to bring us all the way back to the original point of the blog post, that includes how we love the poor in our midst, both as individuals and as a society.

    >I would welcome your comments on a specific issue on my blog. I especially think that when I post the conclusion of a recent paper there, you will probably have some things to add to the comments.

    Sure. Drop me a line or a comment or something when it’s ready, and I’ll poke my head in.

  • Seth Ben-Ezra

    Oh hey, at this point, I’m thinking that we’ve probably exhausted the conversational possibilities of this thread, so I’m going to move on. It’s been good talking with you!

  • Comrade Andrew

    No worries, Seth. I try to post something at least once a week (like today, for example).

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