Diadems of the Decade from Saturday, June 25, 2005, vol 16, no. 176
Smoke 'em if you've got 'em!
Musings on Smoking and Morality
While the PC Police do all they can to tolerate every sin possible and make smoking the only sin against society, the Church, contrary to New Order parsimony, does not see it the same way. The Fish is a symbol of Christians. Therefore we have posted a fish smoking a cigarette to illustrate Kevin's point that tobacco is not sinful, only in its excess and abuse could it be sinful just as many other items are not sinful per se, yet modern society is quick to condemn while not only giving a pass to, but encouraging abortion and sodomy.
"The other argument the anti-smoker brigade uses is 'we are temples of the Holy Spirit, therefore we cannot defile ourselves.' Yet in this area, especially it's usage in 1st Corinthians 3, I submit that the emphasis is more on the spiritual realm. Does smoking somehow damage a persons character? We know for example that lying, stealing, sexual sins, these kind of things do lead to a damper on ones character and result in an extinguishing of the grace of God from the Christian soul, in the venial realm, slowly but surely, in the mortal realm, completely. Yet this is not so for smoking, in that someone's character is in no way effected by smoking a pipe after a long day from work. It is a neutral act. The person can still be quite holy, however a liar or a cheat or one engaging in sexual sin cannot be holy, as these kind of things directly contradict the strive to holiness."
I cover very diverse subjects in these musings. From Catholic Traditionalism to the Charismatic Renewal, to the liturgy, private devotions, politics, and the occasional Star Wars reference. Therefore I apologize to my readers for a very out in left field topic I'm about to bring up. Yet recent events have caused me to go into writing mode.
In a forum I am an active participant in (or you could say I'm an active troll) an invasion has recently happened of what I view the New Puritanism in Christianity, even worse in the Catholic faith. It comes from Protestant sects which teach that smoking is inherently sinful. I am a firm believer that it is reasons like this that Catholics are losing the culture wars, because we do not have a consistent morality.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was a smoker of 8 years up until my 22nd birthday. The day after my birthday I quit smoking. That went well for 6 months, until a recent relapse, but picking back up quitting tomorrow. I'll get to my reasons for quitting later.
The main reason many people believe smoking is a sin is because it's unhealthy. Yet this causes what is known as the classic "slippery slope." If unhealthiness equals sinfulness, then we have a problem. What about fast food? Eating a Big Mac is not good for your health. What about any risky behavior? The Anti-smoker brigade believes that smokers are risking killing themselves, hence violating the 5th commandment. Yet the skydiver clearly flirts with death, does he sin?
Then we move onto the definition of what is "unhealthy?" There is no clinical definition for what constitutes being unhealthy. There are signs that one is unhealthy, but those signs are not a precise definition. In order for something to be inherently sinful, there must be an objective nature the sin contradicts. As being healthy is a matter of personal interpretation and subjective feeling, something cannot be inherently sinful because it is unhealthy. It can be sinful for other reasons, but health is not one of them.
As we can see, such argumentation is truly absurd. It is quite a good thing the Church teaches nowhere near this. When asked for Church teaching on this issue, the anti-smoker brigade predictable gets silent. This is predictable because there is no evidence in Church teaching for this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is far more permissive than these zealots:
2288 Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.
Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.
2289 If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for it's sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports. By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships.
2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.
Note well what is said here. What is condemned is the excess, not the thing itself. What is excess? When pressed on this matter, the anti-smoking brigade will state that use of tobacco itself is an excess. However this stands the meaning of the Catechism, and language upon it's head. If the Church were intending to say that all tobacco use is sinful, why was it not included in paragraph 2291, which viewed illicit drug use and drug use for anything other than therapeutic reasons as gravely sinful? Furthermore, the definitions of excess as a noun and adjective are as follows:
Noun - The state of exceeding what is normal or sufficient:
Adjective: Being more than is usual, required, or permitted.
Excess does not mean any usage, but a very specific style of usage, that which is beyond deemed normal or usual. However, the question still remains; what is excessive? I submit excess in this area is on a person basis, as smoking tobacco, whether cigar or cigarette is what is known as a morally neutral act. The same is true of gambling, which ironically enough, the anti-smoker brigade also views as inherently sinful most of the time. The Church teaches otherwise. There is nothing wrong with gambling, but excessive gambling is wrong, just like excessive smoking. Most define excess in gambling as those who gamble when they need to pay a mortgage. They place the habit above those commitments and responsibilities they have. If you are a smoker, and rather than buying diapers for your son buy a pack of Marlboro's, then you are most certainly guilty of excess.
Another way in which smoking can be sinful is if we turn to gluttony. If you are smoking 4 packs a day, it could be safe to say you are guilty of overindulging and gluttony, just as the person who eats far too much fast food is guilty of gluttony. Yet this comes back to the abuse and excess of a certain thing, not the thing itself.
The other argument the anti-smoker brigade uses is "we are temples of the Holy Spirit, therefore we cannot defile ourselves." Yet in this area, especially it's usage in 1st Corinthians 3, I submit that the emphasis is more on the spiritual realm. Does smoking somehow damage a persons character? We know for example that lying, stealing, sexual sins, these kind of things do lead to a damper on ones character and result in an extinguishing of the grace of God from the Christian soul, in the venial realm, slowly but surely, in the mortal realm, completely. Yet this is not so for smoking, in that someone's character is in no way effected by smoking a pipe after a long day from work. It is a neutral act. The person can still be quite holy, however a liar or a cheat or one engaging in sexual sin cannot be holy, as these kind of things directly contradict the strive to holiness.
Nobody doubts that smoking is unhealthy. Yet just because something is unhealthy does not make it sinful. This is the warped view of morality that has infested today's secular culture, and has no business in Catholicism.
Yet why is your humble journalist quitting smoking then? Simply put, there are things I enjoy more than smoking. There are things I look forward to in the future that I like more than smoking. Also it's a discipline issue. As a way to discipline my body in service to God, there are certain things I'm willing to offer up for God's greater glory and other issues which for personal reasons I won't list here, though I'm sure some of my readers know them.
However those of you who like smoking, smoke 'em if you got 'em, and the next smoke you have, offer it to God for this humble journalist.
DIADEMS OF THE DECADE
FOCUS with Kevin Tierney from Saturday, June 25, 2005,
Volume 16, no. 176