Saturday, March 1, 2008

Spiritual malaise

One of the most powerful things about the Internet and hypertext markup language is how easy it becomes to connect things.

Like many and perhaps most libertarians, I loathe the War on Drugs (one of several Wars On Rights our government is waging). I find it impossible to credit the idea that making marijuana, opiates, and cocaine illegal has done more good than harm. Criminalizing has had a neglible impact on demand, but has made satisfying that demand so profitable (by driving up the price) that the market can bear even the expenses associated with the businesses all being run by criminals, many of them drug-addled.

Ann Landers once asked a very perceptive question regarding the War on Drugs: "The real question is why are millions of people so unhappy, so bored, so unfulfilled, that they are willing to drink, snort, inject or inhale any substance that might blot out reality and give them a bit of temporary relief." And people do this regardless of the facts that the risks are just about unreal, and the primary result of indulging in recreational pharmacology is to make you stupid. I've been sort of asking myself this question for years, long before my reversion to mere Christianity or to the Catholic Church. As a libertarian, I tended to blame the lack of liberty.

I ought to have known better. The minimal and anecdotal evidence I have doesn't much support that; the US and Europe have unusually high levels of liberty, compared to much of the world, but as far as I know, they are also where people most often seek obliviation through drugs.

And then I ran across this post, by Jennifer F. Here's the pertinent bit, where she describes the feelings brought on by victory and triumph back when she was an atheist:
I'd forgotten about this until now, but up until a few years ago, almost every time something exciting or good happened I would feel a tinge of depression. No matter how great or exciting the situation, for some reason I could never quite feel fully happy about it. Just as my happiness would be about to reach a crescendo, something would make it fall flat, like when a singer just barely misses the high note. I didn't generally struggle with depression in this time in my life; it was just that for some odd reason whenever something particularly good occurred, it would trigger a vague sensation of despair somewhere deep down inside. I didn't understand why this happened, but my best guess was that maybe I had some problem with not feeling like I deserved good things, or that I had some issue with depression that I wasn't acknowledging.

Though those two things may have been factors, I don't think they were at the root of the problem. Thinking back on it today, it's clear that something else, a very real, inconvenient truth was there in the back of my mind when I got that promotion, deposited the big paycheck, bought the cool car, moved into the downtown loft, got that amazing Christmas present, traveled to the interesting places, went to the hip parties, landed a big client: this is as good as it gets...but it's not quite good enough.

The fun wasn't fun enough, the luxuries weren't luxurious enough, the excitement wasn't exciting enough to completely smother out that part of my soul that begged for something more. It wasn't that I wasn't grateful -- to the contrary, I regularly felt overwhelmed with gratitude for all the wonderful things in my life -- it's that there was a subtle but present sense of despair that these things weren't doing what they were supposed to do. I was kind of happy. But why wasn't I fully happy, why wasn't I completely at peace, why was I still a little bit restless, even when I technically had it all?
That's when it hit me square between the eyes: that Godless life she described lined up with Thoreau's description of lives lived in quiet desperation. People are turning to drugs because turning to themselves and their things, as our culture advocates, cannot satisfy. Western culture has turned to drugs in proportion to how far it has turned from God, in an ultimately fruitless attempt to fill the enormous God-shaped holes left in our lives by our unbelief.

So I am left with this conclusion: Rampant drug abuse is a scourge, to be sure. The War on Drugs is an even worse one. Because it's always best to fight evil as early and often as possible, the thing to do about them now is to evangelize.

To repeat the concluding paragraph of my first post on this blog:
One of the themes you will see me revisit, time and again, is the sincere belief that great evils are only rarely defeated by force and laws. Force and laws can resist evil, and that is the proper use of them. But evils, be they terrorism, violence, abortion, pornography, drugs, or what have you, are only suppressed by force and laws. They are defeated only when evil hearts are transformed by love.

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