It’s 2021, and the history of cannabis/marijuana culture isn’t quite as taboo as it used to be. However, there’s still a vocal contingent of conservative politicians fighting to uphold cannabis prohibition laws. Interestingly, there’s considerable overlap between the anti-cannabis crowd and Evangelical Christians. Why is it that temperance movements tend to be associated with religious zealotry? Is the bible explicitly anti-cannabis?
What’s The Bible’s Stance On Substance Use?
For many conservative Christians, their opposition to marijuana doesn’t necessarily have to do with the cannabis plant itself—rather, they have an issue with intoxicating substances in general.
Take, for example, the alcohol prohibition movement of the early 20th century. The leading grassroots movement responsible for sparking legislative interest in banning the sale of alcohol had close ties to religious fundamentalism. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), formed in Hillsboro, Ohio circa 1873, led the charge against booze primarily by appealing to lawmakers’ faith. Despite there being little chance that modern America would reinstate alcohol prohibition laws, the WTCU is apparently still active today. On their website, the organization states:
WCTU believes in self-control, which is characterized by temperance. (Temperance- moderation in all things good and abstinence from all things harmful.) In order to have a life that is full, abundant, and free in Jesus Christ, membership in the WCTU requires abstinence from the use of alcohol beverages, tobacco products, illegal drugs and any other substance that would compromise the quality of health and life.
One would think that if temperance movements have roots in Christianity, the religious texts would be pretty explicitly against substance use. However, even the most casual of biblical scholars will tell you the New Testament is rife with references to alcohol. One of Jesus’ most well-known miracles was the transformation of water into wine. Not to mention that during communion, one of the most fundamental rituals in the Christian faith, wine becomes a symbol for the literal blood of Jesus Christ.
In some respects, the prophetic verses of scripture serve as a beautifully ornate blank canvas—one that any given person could potentially project their own morality onto. There is no “official stance” on substance use woven into the psalms and parables found in the bible. Instead, you have several, often contradictory, interpretations of the text that can drastically vary from reader to reader, sect to sect, or clergy to clergy.
Did Jesus Smoke Weed?
One reasonable interpretation of the New Testament casts the figure of Jesus Christ as a hippie-esque deity. Jesus is known for railing against the conventional paradigms of his era. He’s often seen in the company of sex workers, beggars, and other societal outcasts. The disciples essentially form a commune, in which each of the twelve’s individual wealth is collectivized. Not to mention, In typical Christian iconography, the Christ figure is depicted with long hair and a scraggly beard.
Suspiciously, Jesus sounds a lot like a pot-smoking bohemian. However, it’s unlikely that anyone in the Middle East during the time that Jesus is purported to exist smoked hemp flower recreationally. While hemp plant cultivation had been going on for some time, recreational hash smoking wouldn’t be introduced to the region for more than 1000 years after the death of Christ, during the reign of Caliph Al-Mustansir Billah.
Does The Bible Mention Cannabis?
The bible undoubtedly mentions alcohol by name throughout its verses, though the hemp or marijuana plant doesn’t get name-checked once. However, some of Christianity’s outspoken cannabis supporters often turn to scripture’s creation story as evidence that the God of Abraham would have totally been down with the ganja. Genesis 1:29-31 seeks to explain Yahweh’s decision to create vegetation:
29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…
In its simplest form, the idea behind this argument is that God made weed for us to enjoy. It’s his creation, and therefore it’s good.