Another Drug Problem

Sometimes kids need to be "drugged".

Someone who appreciated our articles about the War on Drugs sent us a clipping of a letter which has been around the Internet and which has appeared in a number of newspapers:

The other day, someone at our local store read that a Methamphetamine lab had been found in an old farmhouse in the next county and he asked me, "Why didn't we have a drug problem when you and I were growing up?"

I told him I had a drug problem when I was young: I was drug to church on Sunday mornings, I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug to family reunions and community socials no matter what the weather.

I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher, or if I didn't put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me.

I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profanity. I was drug out to pull weeds in mom's garden and flower beds, and I pulled cockleburrs out of dad's fields. I was drug to the homes of family, friends, and neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline, or chop some firewood, and, if my mother had ever known I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she'd have drug me back to the woodshed.

Those days are still in my veins and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, or think. They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin; and if today's children had this kind of drug problem, America would be a better place.

God bless the parents who drugged us.

Religion and the Law

The letter touches on the role of religion in society, pointing out that in the past, parents forced children to attend church where they were exposed to various ideas concerning morals and appropriate behavior.  Many secularists have been writing books telling what's wrong with religion.  We've addressed a few errors of fact in Christopher Hitchens' book God Is Not Great, but we haven't discussed the positive role of religious faith in helping society run smoothly.

First, there is no doubt that church attendance at the mainstream denominations is down in the United States, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the overall population.

Whether the decline in mainstream religions is good or bad for society as a whole depends on whether religions affiliation has a good or bad influence on society.

In an article "Where angels no longer fear to tread," the Economist reports that scientists are beginning to try to understand the effects of religious beliefs on human behavior.

"Explaining Religion," as the project is known, is the largest-ever scientific study of the subject. It began last September, will run for three years, and involves scholars from 14 universities and a range of disciplines from psychology to economics. And it is merely the latest manifestation of a growing tendency for science to poke its nose into the God business.

Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon-arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens-but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.

After describing research projects which involved using brain scans to see how religious versus non-religious people processed various types of information, the article reports on research which examined the history of 200 19th-century American communes.  88 were religious and 112 were secular.

Communes whose ideology was secular were up to four times as likely as religious communes to dissolve in any given year.  A follow-up study found that the more restrictions a religious commune placed on its member's lives, the longer it lasted; restrictions had no effect on helping non-religions communes survive.  The researcher

... therefore concludes that ritual constraints are not by themselves enough to sustain co-operation in a community-what is needed in addition is a belief that those constraints are sanctified.

What this research suggests is that it is not sufficient for people to be taught the rules of the society.  In order for the rules to be followed, people must believe that there is some sort of divine authority behind the rules.

In many religions, God is presented as an all-seeing, all-knowing power who sees every infraction of the rules, and rule-breaking is described as "sin."  It doesn't matter if a person is able to commit a sin without anyone else knowing about it, God knows and God keeps score.  This idea encourages people to keep the rules.

This idea is clearly becoming weaker as our society becomes less religious.  Based on his remarks at the time, it seemed quite clear that the only thing President Clinton regretted about his sexual pecadillos was the fact that he got caught.

Unfortunately, the idea that breaking a law is only wrong if you get caught is not strong enough to sustain a society.  When the Berlin Wall came down and the East German government collapsed, it turned out that about 1/3 of the population were involved in maintaining internal security, either as full-time guardians against treason or as part-time informers.

Even with that much formal citizen support, the government collapsed when it lost its credibility.  Thus, assuming that the existing societal laws and conventions are a sound basis for operating a civilization and should be followed, there is great benefit in having members of the society internalize the rules so that the norms become self-enforcing.

The East German experience shows that it is not possible to enforce laws through police power alone; following the law requires belief on the part of the citizens.  It is clear that religious belief seems to have a positive effect in urging people to follow the law; religious belief has a stabilizing effect on society as noted by the person who wrote the letter about being "drug to church."

Free Will and the Law

In an article "An Absence of Free Will, a Tendency to Cheat", the New York Times reported:

A study suggests that when people are encouraged to believe their behavior is predetermined - by genes or by environment - they may be more likely to cheat.

"Free will" is the idea that individuals are able to make choices on their own.  Some religions hold the view that God has not only always known what choices individuals will make but that He has actually predetermined those choices.  This belief is sometimes called "predestination."

Predestination is the opposite of free will in that individuals have no choices at all.  As the Times reports, people who believe that all of their choices are predetermined, which is another way of saying that they have no free will and therefore cannot logically be held responsible for the choices they seem to be making, are more willing to cheat than people who believe that they have free will.  A different report on the same experiments goes into more detail:

Although the results of this study point to a significant value in believing that free will exists, it clearly raises some significant societal questions about personal beliefs and personal behavior.

There is significant social value in believing in free will.  Whether a person believes in free will or not is affected by religious affiliation.  Thus, religiosity has further effects on whether people behave honestly or dishonestly based on its teachings about free will.  Of course, in saying that their experimental subjects chose whether to cheat or not, the researchers are making the implicit assumption that people do, in fact, have free will.

Since society works best when individuals treat each other honestly, there is a clear value in teaching that individuals not only have free will, but that they are responsible for their actions.

The Death of Free Will

Unfortunately, our society has been sending a strong anti-free-will message since the late 1960's.  That was when social workers and other do-gooders started talking about the "root causes of crime."

The argument was that people were the product of their environment.  If the environment was bad, people would be bad; if the environment was good, people would be good.  The poorer a person was, the more likely the person was to turn to crime.  Thus, if government made the environment better and reduced poverty, people would behave better.

This is another way to describe the idea of the perfectibility of man.  This idea, which was advanced by the French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, states that people are capable of achieving perfection on earth through natural means, without the grace of God.  This is in sharp contrast to the much older view of mainstream religions that men are inherently sinful and cannot achieve perfection without God's help.

We now know that these two ideas lead to very different societal outcomes.  The US Department of Justice has assembled homicide statistics since 1900.  Their chart shows that homicide rates were falling in the late 1950's and started up steeply as the new ideas about people not being responsible for their crimes took hold.

The old-time belief in man's inherent sinfulness led parents to take their children to church and teach them that God would watch to see if they did right or wrong.  With the newer idea of the perfectibility of men, social workers could justify spending vast sums cleaning up neighborhoods and fighting poverty.  The idea utterly ignores the fact that, as Rush Limbaugh is fond of pointing out, people were far poorer during the Depression than they were in the 1960's, yet crime was much lower then than it is now.

The difficulty with talking about the root causes of crime is that it spreads the idea that criminals are not responsible for their actions.  "I had an abusive home," or "I came from a bad neighborhood" have replaced "The Devil made me do it" as the universal excuse.  In an earlier time, even people who said, "The Devil made me do it" realized that it was not an acceptable excuse for doing wrong.

Modern sociologists have not only made poverty and a bad neighborhood almost universally acceptable excuses for any form of bad behavior, certain racial groups have perfected the politics of being victims.  As we've pointed out before, some political leaders teach their followers to blame everything that goes wrong on racism.  This turns their followers into helpless victims, but secures their votes.

Is There No Individual Responsibility?

Our society seems to have decided that there ought never to be any consequences for anything.  If a girl gets pregnant without a husband, the welfare system is right there to fund her apartment and other expenses.  If someone comes down with AIDS due to their own hazardous actions, society pays for their retrovirals.  If kids fail to learn anything in school, they get promoted to the next grade anyway.

Such behavior, which by older standards would be condemned as utterly irresponsible, imposes unarguable costs on society.  Although the economy grows from year to year, in any given year the money society can spend is more or less fixed.  A dollar spent on welfare is a dollar not spent on fixing the roads.  A dollar spent on air bags is a dollar not spent vaccinating children.

If our society pours too many resources into unproductive activities, we won't be able to produce enough to meet our needs, and something will have to give.  If the economy gets really bad, it will be interesting to see what gets cut - something productive, or something unproductive?

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
The article states that religious communes were less likely to close down than secular communes, while interesting this doesn't prove a cause and effect relationship.

Religious institutions tend to be authoritarian where as secular institutions tend to be oligarchic or democratic. Religious institutions tend to enforce rules of self denial where as secular institutions tend to encourage self gratification. Either or both may be the actual cause, although I certainly have no way to prove any direction on the issue.

While I do believe that religion can be a stabilizing force on society it would be difficult to impossible to prove that as a matter of science. Instead it is a matter of philosophy.
April 30, 2008 6:29 PM
What does religion have to do with addiction? as a recovering addict who has worked with thousands of other addicts I can tell you right now - many of them were drug around to church, school temple, prayer meetings and the like. Did this make them addicts? nope
Nor did it stop them form becoming one.

This post is another example of an over simplistic rampage espousing the benefits of the church and bad mouthing parents today.
The problems of widespread addiction cannot be addressed with this type of limited attitude,

The war on drugs would see alot more victories if we actually declared a war on poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, ignorance, and child abuse in my opinion.
No not everyone who is an addict had a bad childhood - just most of them.
May 1, 2008 11:31 PM
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