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Drugs vs. Religion

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Americans are accepting pot in seemingly unprecedented ways. Even as it is becoming legal in more places, such as Colorado by an act of the voters a couple years ago, there are still consequences to face with the widespread use of marijuana. We still reap what we sow.

Just the other day, a headline from the Associated Press (7/26/14) read, “Pot seen as reason for rise in Denver homeless.” The article states, “The Salvation Army’s single men’s shelter in Denver has been serving more homeless this summer, and officials have noted an increase in the number of 18- to 25-year-olds there.” Just in the prime of their life, and they already need help.

I find this ironic because last month, comedian Bill Maher said on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on Comedy Central that he is glad more young people today are getting into drugs versus religion.

Maher said if he were running for office, “… my slogan would be Drugs are Good and Religion is Bad. (applause) …. I think people are coming over to my way of thinking: drugs are good and religion is bad. I’m gonna stick with that!”

Personally, I think the opposite is true. Drugs are bad. Religion (as defined as a personal relationship with Jesus) is good. That’s especially true for society, where we have to live with the consequences of other people’s choices.

Of course, religion is an elastic term. When Maher uses it, he mashes together everyone from the evangelicals to Osama Bin Laden—thus, painting all religions with the same brush. The effects of biblical Christianity have been very positive, but that’s not true of drugs.

How many people use illegal drugs? The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (samhsa.gov) gathers “information on the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States aged 12 years old or older.”

They report that in 2012, “an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This estimate represents 9.2 percent of the population aged 12 or older.”

They say that pot is “the most commonly used illicit drug,” involving some 18.9 million users on a regular basis. The survey also noted the recent jump in those who use some harder drugs: “The number of past year heroin users increased between 2007 (373,000) and 2012 (669,000).”

Drugs versus Religion. Interesting either/or. I think Maher is right on this point—it’s either/or.

Many studies on the impact of religion have found that the more religious a person is (in the context of attending churches), the less likely they are to use drugs. These results are consistent.

For example, two decades ago, in a report compiled by the Gallup-affiliated organization, Religion in American Life, based in Princeton, New Jersey, the researchers found that regular church or synagogue attendance is generally correlated to a better work ethic, stability in family life, and more volunteerism to charity. But how did that impact drug use?

Gallup reported that regular worshipers are 50 percent more likely to reject illicit drugs than non-worshipers.

About that same time, U.S. News & World Report  had a cover story (9/9/96) with a picture of a church and this headline: “THE FAITH FACTOR: Can churches cure America’s social ills?”

In that article, they ask and answer this intriguing question: “What’s the surest guarantee that an African-American urban youth will not fall to drugs or crime? Regular church attendance turns out to be a better predictor than family structure or income, according to a study by Harvard University economist Richard Freeman. Call it the ‘faith factor.'”

Regardless of the decade, the studies find similar results. “More God, Less Crime” is what we get. That’s the title of a book showing these things by Baylor professor Byron Johnson.

On the issue of drugs, Dr. Johnson once told me, “We did one study for two years, and we found that you’re more likely to use drugs if you live in a white middle-class suburb than you are if you live in a housing project in the inner city environment and you’re African-American—if the inner-city kids go to church and the ones in the suburbs don’t.”

The  Daily Mail  (1/14/14) of the UK reports on similar findings from a Manchester University study. The title of their article sums it all up—“How religion cuts crime: Church-goers are less likely to shoplift, take drugs and download music illegally.”

Drugs are such a dead end street. If you spent an afternoon or evening feeding the homeless at the Salvation Army downtown, you’d see what many years of drug use can do to a human being.

Every once in a while, I fall prey to those Internet time-wasters, “Ten stars who had dorky yearbook pictures” or the like. But one was worth the time. It showed famous stars whose faces were ravaged through years of drug abuse. How tragic. And it wasn’t just their faces.

Why do people use drugs? To medicate their psychic pain, to soothe their restless souls. But as St. Augustine said in the 4th century, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” The more people embrace the Lord, the less we have to build homeless shelters for young people tragically turning to drugs for solace.

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