Monday, September 09, 2013

Drug Control is a Catholic Moral Imperative

Teófilo de Jesús

Brethren: Peace be with you.

Bottom Line Up Front

Drug control and enforcement – what some call “prohibition” – is necessary to protect freedom and liberty where it is most vulnerable: at the level of the individual human being. Thus, the dual exercise of freedom and responsibility constitute defining characteristics of human beings as distinct from brute animals. The abuse of legal and illegal drugs destroys individual freedom and also a person’s ability to with full consciousness of one’s personal responsibility to live in harmony with others in society. Liberalizing drug controls and decreasing enforcement will lead to a culture of tolerance toward those who profit from drug production and distribution. Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have spoken very eloquently about the dangers of drug trafficking and the undesirability of drug liberalization. Therefore, Catholics in position of responsibility should know that drug control and law enforcement constitute a legitimate and desirable exercise of governmental power to protect society, our culture, and pursue the common good.

Shattered Consensus

The public consensus in the United States, at least during the last 40 years, has maintained that there are substances unfit for human consumption due to the dangers those substances present to one’s body and mind. This public consensus also maintained that the rights of the majority to health and welfare trumped the rights of any minority of “free, consenting adults” to use or abuse narcotics for personal recreation. This historic consensus is now under attack and in a number of states has been shattered, as the drive to legalize marijuana for “medicinal use” demonstrates. That these popular movements seeking to decriminalize, legitimize, or legalize either “medicinal” or recreational narcotics use – or both – appeal to “apple pie” American values such as individual freedom and choice, is ironic, for narcotics use destroy freedom and responsibility at a personal level.

The True Meaning of Freedom

The mass drive to legitimize recreational narcotics use willfully distorts the meaning of human freedom. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach. 

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." 

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts. 

1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.

Therefore, according to Catholic anthropology, human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are called to exercise their freedom toward the good and in respect to the freedom of others. In other words, being free carries with it the concomitant responsibility to choose what is good for oneself, for other persons, and for the community. 

Drug abuse and dependency destroys individual freedom

Though closely related, the terms “drug abuse” and “drug dependency” represent two distinct phenomena that often, though not always, overlap. According to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH; here and here), drug abuse is the use of illegal drugs, or the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for at least a year with negative consequences. Whereas drug dependence means that a person needs a drug to function normally. Abruptly stopping the drug leads to withdrawal symptoms, "drug addiction" is the compulsive use of a substance, despite its negative or dangerous effects. A person may have a physical dependence on a substance without having an addiction. For example, certain blood pressure medications do not cause addiction but they can cause physical dependence. Other drugs, such as cocaine, cause addiction without leading to physical dependence.

The NIH also describes the symptoms often connected with drug abuse, as follows:

• Confusion

• Continuing to use drugs even when health, work, or family are being harmed

• Episodes of violence

• Hostility when confronted about drug dependence

• Lack of control over drug abuse - being unable to stop or reduce alcohol intake

• Making excuses to use drugs

• Missing work or school, or a decrease in performance

• Need for daily or regular drug use to function

• Neglecting to eat

• Not caring for physical appearance

• No longer taking part in activities because of drug abuse

• Secretive behavior to hide drug use

• Using drugs even when alone

The symptoms of drug abuse listed above can also define a person’s loss of individual liberty, as he or she becomes slaves to substance abuse. No person can be truly free, morally or as a citizen of free country, when that person is a slave to a substance sold by others for profit. The drug addict becomes a slave, not only of his narcotic of choice, but the person who sells the narcotics to him. Thus slavery is disguised as good, that of “individual liberty and freedom”, overlooking the addict’s inability to live responsibly towards himself and others.

The Popes Speak on the Evils of Drug Trafficking and Abuse

Blessed John Paul the Great recognized this fact during his visit to Bolivia in 1988. In his homily during the Holy Mass he celebrated in the city of Santa Cruz, he said: 

…The [ilegal] drug commerce has turned into an authentic commerce of liberty, since it leads to a most terrible form of slavery while sowing your land with corruption and death. Therefore, it is urgent not only to protect young people from drug consumption, but also combat the [drug] is trafficking itself, since this traffic is a disreputable activity under any light. It is also urgent, at the same time, to discern the causes or deep roots of this phenomenon in order to define efficacious paths of action…

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was acutely aware of the inherent dangers of drug abuse and trafficking, as well as the responsibility the Church bears in combatting this evil. As he explained to the journalists joining him to his visit to Mexico in March, 2012:

We know well all the beauties of Mexico, but also this serious problem of drug trafficking and violence. It is certainly a great responsibility for the Catholic Church in a country that is 80 per cent Catholic. We must do our utmost to combat this evil that destroys humanity and our young people. I would say that the first step would be to proclaim God: God is the Judge, God who loves us but who loves us in order to draw us to goodness, to truth against evil. 

Thus the Church has the great responsibility to educate consciences, to teach moral responsibility and to expose evil, to expose this idolatry of mammon that only enslaves people; and to expose the false promises, untruthfulness and cheating that are behind drugs. We can see that human beings are in need of the infinite. If God does not exist, infinity creates its own paradises, an appearance of “infinitude” that cannot but be false. This is why God’s presence and approachability are so important. It is a great responsibility before God the Judge who guides us, who attracts us to truth and to goodness, and in this sense the Church must expose evil, must make God’s goodness present, his truth present, the true infinity for which we thirst. This is the Church’s important duty, so together let us all increasingly try to do all we can.

And Pope Francis, during his visit to Aparecida, in Brazil, pointedly addressed the twin evils of drug abuse and trafficking:

…Today, in this place where people struggle with drug addiction, I wish to embrace each and every one of you, who are the flesh of Christ, and to ask God to renew your journey, and also mine, with purpose and steadfast hope.

To embrace – we all have to learn to embrace the one in need, as Saint Francis did. There are so many situations in Brazil, and throughout the world, that require attention, care and love, like the fight against chemical dependency. Often, instead, it is selfishness that prevails in our society. How many “dealers of death” there are that follow the logic of power and money at any cost! The scourge of drug-trafficking, that favours violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage. A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America. Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future. We all need to look upon one another with the loving eyes of Christ, and to learn to embrace those in need, in order to show our closeness, affection and love…

(The highlighted part is mine)

The duty of Catholic citizens in the United States is to uphold drug control

The Framers of the Constitution of the United States described in its preamble a number of values to be protected by our government:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preventing Drug abuse and punishing the shameless profiteering derived from the illicit traffic in illegal and legal drugs, are rightful activities of a representative government instituted to insure our domestic tranquility, defending our communities, promoting the people’s welfare, and securing the “Blessings of Liberty”.

Liberty, personal freedom, and the exercise of civic and moral responsibility can only take place within minds and bodies free from the compulsion created by the abuse of powerful drugs and illegal narcotics. It is hypocritical to defend an individual’s right to poison his mind and destroying his will in the name of freedom, when drug abuse and dependence denies and destroys that very freedom. In fact, the first act of smoking a marijuana joint, snorting a cocaine line, injecting heroin, etc. is often the very last free action that person may do, for slavery will be his lot from then on. 

In a Nation where publicly-funded health care is increasing, further liberalization of drug laws can lead to increasing numbers of drug abusers and dependents, taxing the system beyond its design – whatever that might be. The cost of caring for the newly addicted might be greater than the costs blamed on “drug prohibition”.

Therefore, it is our responsibility as Catholics and as citizens of the United States, to resist ill-considered efforts at relaxing drug controls, and to apply scientific skepticism to any claim of the medical or social desirability to do away with laws controlling illegal or pharmaceutical drugs and favoring a laissez faire drug regime. 

What is a stake if our personal freedom. No society is truly free when the members of such a society are slaves to chemicals, as Pope Francis put it. The first front in our fight for true individual freedom starts with the singular, individual person: with his or her ability to choose the good and to be responsible to self and others in the pursuit of the common good.