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.


  1. I walk, bus, and ride the train as well. And what I've learned, particularly from the bus & train, is a clear in what it means to be a part of a community. Everyone on the bus / train is at the mercy of the transit schedule, be it on time or late. We are not in total control of the commute, and everyone is sharing in that experience. We learn lessons in sharing space, seats, and inconveniences that naturally come with this sort of thing. So for me, I find a great applicable lesson in community, not immaturity.

    As for pot, I've never smoked it, nor to do I have plans to. It isn't something I feel I'm missing in life. But my friends, from high school until now, who do smoke pot, it was for no other reason than to get high, or to get the girl high. That seems like the better discussion, the one about escape versus presence during rough seasons in life.

    Good post, Dan.


  2. Excellent review, Daniel, written with that subtle, dry humor that I enjoy. I think your rationale for the booklet's existence is correct - probably written as church policy. I have to laugh at Driscoll's connection to public transportation...maybe that's what he sees or thinks he sees in his area? I suspect European travelers are more mature!

  3. Driscoll calls these "Evangelical Views," but cites and quotes many who aren't evangelical leaders or even speaking specifically for or to Christians...

    So he should properly call this section "Catholic Views".

    1. The only reason you have anything at all resembling Christianity is because of what your sect's founders pilfered from the Roman Catholic Church. The only reason you feel so inclined to dis actual Christianity is because you KNOW you trading in stolen goods and your feel guilty. That' called your conscience.

      Repent you iniquities and confess your sins like a real Christian.

    2. gauche is a Roman Catholic.

    3. Late getting back to this, but I was actually and merely intending to pun on the definition of small-c "catholic" (i.e., universal) and to appreciate the additional ambiguity introduced by English capitalization rules.

      I see now that there is a further ambiguity in my own statement.

  4. Anonymous10:09 PM

    Mr. Driscoll's audience is not the sophisticated, highly educated one that is reading Mr. Silliman's normal product. He doesn't know, for example, that superior education and thinking abilities can render opaque or nuanced what is obvious to most. He sees the connection between stoners and taking public transportation in order to goof off on a smartphone. Tsk tsking sources, dismissing observations, bemoaning fonts and fluff-- Mr. Silliman reveals---to me, at least---only that he lives in the ivory tower and has nothing to say himself.

    1. You obviously didn't read the article. Silliman neither "tsk tsks" nor "dismisses" any sources or claims, but rather the exact opposite. He does the investigative work Driscoll failed to do for himself. He goes into much greater depth and detail on Driscoll's sources than Driscoll did himself, and carries his half-finished thoughts out to their logically flawed conclusions. What this post reveals---to me, at least--- IS only that "Anonymous" lives in a fantasy world of his own creation and has nothing to say based in reality.

    2. It's not clear to me, Anon., whether you think I take Driscoll and his audience *too* seriously, or not seriously enough.

      Or maybe both?

    3. Anonymous12:41 AM


      I'll bet you're highly educated (and underemployed) and likely even a close cohort of Mr. Silliman's. You actually had me impressed until you closed with a facebookesque sort of rant.

      1. Driscoll's point about young men and their public transportation habits is supported by the article he cites. Driscoll was not making a social science connection between smoking pot and lolling about with an Iphone on public transportation. The parallel he drew was simple: both are symptoms of delayed actualization, if you will. He made no other connection. This hardly warrants five paragraphs and three comments on the public transportation habits of highly effective scholars. Maybe not a straw man, but surely a red herring.

      What really irks is understanding why Mr. Silliman's article (and the comments) careen off into a discussion about users of public transportation, while, as noted above, the mention of public transportation was at most a (perhaps stretched)alternative illustration of his premise--that young men are already evading responsibility. The point is that inviting young men to be a stoner will likely result in evading more responsibility. It is hard not to think that Mr. Silliman really wants to attack the idea that smoking pot has negative consequences---but rather than take on Mr. Driscolls veiled conclusion, he tried to discredit it indirectly, by critiquing a nearly irrelevant aspect of Mr. Driscoll's piece. Not quite ad hominem, but close.

      Mr. Silliman:

      I'd have to say that I think you spent much time and thought critiquing a simple, rather well-reasoned piece. This required that you gallop off into a discussion that only indirectly attacked his point.

      It was unworthy because it was not borne of a fair appraisal of his purpose, audience, or experience I do think that Mr. Driscoll likely has a clearer and more accurate assessment of stoners and of young men in general. Perhaps you did not take him seriously enough given this. And because you spent hours pointing and polishing a piece about a simple point made simply, perhaps you've taken yourself a bit too seriously.

    4. Far be it from me to say what I "really want to attack," but there's nothing indirect going on. Much less red herring, straw man or ad hominem. I critique exactly what I mean to critique here: arguments and assumptions about an audience.

    5. Anonymous6:42 PM

      But you critique (technically effectively, I hasten to add)an argument that he does not make, or, at least, one that is peripheral. His point was not about what young men do on public transportation. That you focus on this is apparent from your tongue-in-cheek disclaimer and from the comments--others responded with regard to public transportation. Behavior on public transportation is a red herring, at least. If you had relied a bit more on that corollary in your critique of his statements about pot, it would be a full-fledged straw man.

      I do realize that you intended to critique the piece, as opposed to the man or, perhaps, even what he had to say. This was a disservice, I think, as the RESULT IN YOUR audience was to besmirch the man and an idea that he only peripherally expressed. I think that you have something to say about the Christian reaction to the legalization of pot, but your piece was instead about the job Driscoll did in expressing his views.

    6. Anonymous,

      Since you find Daniel's analysis lacking perhaps you could point out the actual argument Driscoll makes. Because from where I stand it seems like it's the same argument he makes concerning public transportation.

    7. Anonymous4:49 PM

      Driscoll provides a variety of views. Indeed, Mr. Silliman summarizes Driscoll's "survey" approach quite nicely.

      Driscoll compares young men's use of pot with the observed and reported phenomenon of young men (not necessarily the same ones) taking public transportation to allow time to dawdle on their smart phones. If Driscoll's piece can be said to have a thesis, it is that legalization of pot will lead to wider use by young men, who already have enough problem with becoming responsible adults.

      Mr. Silliman criticizes Driscoll's approach to the question of the effect legalized pot might have on young men, without offering his own view. Mr. Silliman could no doubt write circles around Mr. Driscoll. I just wish he had wrestled with the question rather than criticizing Mr. Driscoll for not wrestling with the question in the scholarly way that Mr. Silliman might have.

  5. Mr Silliman, your name says it all.

  6. I guess when one is unable to refute the author's position, one simply resorts to mocking the author's name. How witty.

    1. It's my own private version of Godwin's law.