Dec 10, 2012

Mark Driscoll on pot: sloppy, lazy, deeply unserious

Full disclosure: I am a public transportation user.

This makes it difficult to achieve or maintain the necessary distance to dispassionately review Mark Driscoll's new e-book, Puff or Pass? Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not. Because, it turns out, Driscoll's big argument opposing the recreational use of marijuana is the same as his argument against taking the train. Bus riders and pot smokers turn out, in Driscoll's understanding, to have the same problem. His message to both sets of "users" is identical: grow up.

I am not making this up, and I'm not stretching to make this argument.

Driscoll, "one of the world's most downloaded and quoted pastors," according to his church's website, explicitly makes this comparison.

He writes that the question of marijuana use comes up in his ministry because he works with "a high (pun intended) percentage of single young guys living typical, irresponsible urban lives." The real problem, the root problem of the issue of marijuana use, is that irresponsibility and immaturity: marijuana is just another example of the spiritual epidemic of boys who won't grow up, according to Driscoll. So even though smoking a joint isn't illegal anymore in Washington State, where Driscoll ministers, and even if marijuana isn't specifically prohibited by his church and maybe won't bring down church discipline, it's wrong because it's another way people avoid maturity.

Driscoll writes:
[...] as a pastor I have noticed that people tend to stop maturing when they start self medicating. Everyone has very tough seasons in life, but by persevering through them we have an opportunity to mature and grow as people. Those who self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol (as well as other things) often thwart maturity as they escape the tough seasons of life rather than face them. 
[...] when a man acts like a boy, that’s a real problem. A recent article even noted that young men are now less likely than ever to own a car, as taking public transportation allows them to use their smartphone more hours every day playing video games and downloading porn. The last thing these guys need is to get high, be less motivated, and less productive; instead, they need to "act like men, [and] be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13).
The article that Driscoll cites about public transportation users doesn't say anything like he says it says. He links an Atlantic Monthly piece entitled "Why are Young People Ditching Cars for iPhones?" The author writes that economic changes and changes in consumer culture explain the 11 point drop in young people's car purchases between 1985 and 2012. There's nothing in there -- at all -- about a somehow new age of irresponsibility, and not even a single mention of publicaly viewed porn or lives devoted to video games.

I don't know if Driscoll's just making stuff up or what.

I can tell you what people do on buses and trains, though. I commute to work on a train and spend, some semesters, up to eight hours a week on public transportations. I made the decision to take public transportation rather than buy a car for financial reasons, and also to make better use of my time. I read, grade papers and prep classes on the train. I have also slept on the train, had breakfast on the train, and occasionally played computer games on the train. The other commuters I've seen are like me: they read, write e-mails, listen to music, do homework, talk to people, watch TV, and sometimes just stare off into space. Apparently, to Driscoll, this looks like a public health crisis of immaturity. To me it looks like people doing stuff. Maybe Driscoll looks at commuter traffic and sees manliness: I see waste and frustrating boredom.

If car culture encourages adult behavior and car ownership correlates to personal responsibility, I'm sure I don't know how. 

But this is the thing about this little digital booklet. Supposedly the value upheld and advocated is maturity. On a certain level, that's what's happening. However, this work is also itself enormously lazy, and, I think it can be argued, encourages and fosters immaturity.

This is a slight book, free to download from The Resurgence, which offers resources to train and equip people in Driscoll and Mars Hill's brand of evangelical Reformed theology. It's only 36 pages, but with lots of white space, oversized fonts, and half an excess of front matter, it's more like 15.

And some of that is filler.

Part one of Puff or Pass? is labeled "Statistics." Driscoll -- with the help of a research group -- uses this section to recap two Pew Research Center studies about marijuana, both of which are freely available online (here and here). The reports have to do with public support for legalization, and also mention the percentage of people who say they've tried marijuana. Driscoll simply quotes the studies. There's no interpretation, no explanation, no arguments, and no effort -- not even a minimal one -- to try to connect those sociological facts to the question the book is supposed to answer. The relevance of this information is completely mysterious. If the statistics are supposed to be "evidence," what are they evidence of?  Driscoll just packs it in, and then moves on.

Part two of the book is dedicated to setting out a variety of opinions on the legality of marijuana and the morality of using marijuana. Driscoll calls these "Evangelical Views," but cites and quotes many who aren't evangelical leaders or even speaking specifically for or to Christians, such as an editorial by Kevin A. Sabet, who's worked on drug policy for the last three presidential administrations, and Marc Emery, an imprisoned advocate for the legalization of marijuana, who has written about Rastafarians in the magazine Cannabis Culture. The Christians cited range from Pat Robertson to Douglas Wilson, several Christianity Today writers, and official statements from a variety of churches, including the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodists, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("whose members," Driscoll mentions parenthetically, "consider themselves Christian").

Driscoll doesn't actually review these various opinions, or do much in the way of evaluative work, thinking through the available arguments or ideas. He just says what they are. He classifies the opinions into options, so one can see several choice quotes for "OPTION A: Any Illegal Use of Marijuana is Immoral," "OPTION B: Recreational Use of Marijuana is Immoral; Medical Use of Marijuana is Immoral Until Science is More Conclusive," and so on.

After a certain point, with various positions being re-capped, it becomes difficult to discern what the point is. Surely American adults who are even half-way paying attention -- maybe they've been to high school, worked in a restaurant or spent time in a suburban parking lot -- can give a more or less decent account of why some people have a problem with marijuana and others don't.

But that's exactly the point.

This whole booklet seems to presuppose the reader is not a half-way intelligent, reasonably capable adult human being in 21st century America. The assumption on every page is that the reader needs the most basic information explained. Driscoll may say he wants Christians and his congregants specifically to think these issues through like adults, but he doesn't act like he's writing for adults. This booklet makes no sense unless you think the intended audience is people who are incapable of considering an issue like the morality of marijuana without a lot of handholding and rudimentary help.

Driscoll protests that this is not supposed to be a "comprehensive" or "definitive" treatment of the question, but is meant to help "Christians think through the matter in an informed way," but what he offers is more or less a cut-and-paste job, as if the intended readers couldn't Google this stuff for themselves.

This is not to say that there are no arguments made here, but they are precious few.

In at least one case, his argument is nothing more than a statement that he believes something "as a Christian." How the one thing connects to the other he doesn't bother to say.

Driscoll concludes that recreational use is always wrong but that medical use is OK "in some cases, under a doctor's supervision." The argument for medical use is just that he's not skeptical of the science that shows it's helpful in some cases. The argument against recreational use is that getting high is wrong, or anyway wanting to get high is wrong, and also there's the above-mentioned comparison to public transportation users and the injunction to "grow up!"

Driscoll notes here that he aligns with the Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians on this issue. That conclusion isn't beyond the pale or in anyway crazy, but it's also not really supported as much as just stated. There's a patina of research, a gloss of "careful consideration," but in the end Driscoll isn't doing anything more than making a declaration. A press release in response to Washington State recent legalization of marijuana would have been just as informative.

The real question of this booklet is why it exists.

At several points, Driscoll notes that he used to deal with the question of marijuana by just saying that Christians shouldn't break any law they're not morally required to break by God, but that now that objection to smoking a joint is gone. The change in the state law meant the issue came up again in this new context, and this is Driscoll dealing with it.

Mostly by not dealing with it.

As best I can determine from the textual evidence, this book exists so that Driscoll and his followers won't have to think about the question of marijuana usage. This is something Driscoll can reference and people in his church can reference and be done with, without really doing any serious work. This work exists so that when someone asks if it's OK for a Christian to smoke weed sometimes, an elder won't have to answer the question, but can instead just recommend the church's website. This isn't the kind of work one produces when a topic is important or something one cares about -- it's a sloppy and lazy and deeply unserious.

The only reason it might be taken as anything else is because it has Driscoll's name on it. If that happens, it'll be a prime example of exactly the sort of facile immaturity that Driscoll is supposed to opposed to but, nevertheless, seems to be encouraging.

If this is what it means to "act like men," I'd recommend taking the train.