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With its brutal
excesses

and reliance on snitches and finks as
informants,
I
don’t think it’s far off-kilter to describe the modern-day drug war as
oddly similar to the Salem witch trials. In fact, if words mean
anything, the war on drugs is a witch-hunt in the most literal
sense of the two terms — both “drug” and “witch.”

As the history books tell it, in the late 1600s the witches of Salem,
Mass., became the exalted guests at a New England hemp party — which is
to say, as a point of clarification, that they swung from ropes composed
of it, rather than smoked doobies rolled from it. Likewise, today there
are those who argue for the same treatment for drug sellers and users.
In Christian circles, this rallying cry to give dope peddlers the chair
usually hinges on the same justification as hanging witches.

Taking up this banner is Media House
International
Director Jay Rogers in a
review of the 1994 book, “Politically Incorrect,” by Pat Robertson’s
former right arm, Ralph Reed. “The moral Law of God requires only two
punishments for lawbreakers,” explains Rogers, “restitution or
execution. A repeat violent offender would spend the rest of his life
in servitude or would be executed,” Rogers elaborates, arriving at this
shocking conclusion:

    Convicted drug dealers who sold drugs to children would be
    executed for the crime of sorcery. …

Rogers hinges this bold call for blood on Scripture’s
condemnation of witchcraft. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,”
enjoins the Lord in the 22nd chapter of Exodus. As the Bible would have
it, the life of a witch follows the Bob Dylan lyric: “Everybody must get
stoned.”

Rogers has it sewed. It’s cake. Toke a bong, and they’ll stoke your
pyre. But what’s the connection? How does a death sentence for
hocus-pocus apply to pill heads and junkies?

Figuring ‘pharmakeia’

When I argued in my July 20 column, “One toke over the line,
sweet Jesus?”

that Christians should reconsider their support for the war on drugs on
the basis that Scripture gives no justification for legal action against
dope smokers and pill poppers, a flurry of e-mail erupted across my
screen. While much of it was good, many were either hesitant or
outright offended at the notion of legalizing drugs.

“Only drug dealers want legalization,” wrote one reader, Jim, adding,
“Drugs are destroying this country inside and out.” Then Jim offered
this gem: “It was prophesized in Revelation, ‘For by thy sorceries
(pharmakeia) were all nations deceived.’” Backing his charge that
legalization is bad news, Jim quoted the 18th Chapter of John’s
Apocalypse, making — just as Rogers does — a clear connection between
witchcraft and drug use.

Aboard the same ideological bus is evangelical end-times guru Jack
Van Impe. Writing about the latest outbreak of fad drug use in his April
1997 Intelligence
Briefing,

Van Impe references the ninth and 18th chapters of Revelation,
explaining the witchcraft-drugs connection when he notes, “The term
‘sorceries’ in these texts comes from the Greek term — pharmakeia –
translated ‘pharmacy’ or ‘drugs.’” Indeed, pharmakeia is the word from
which our terms “pharmacy” and “pharmaceutical” are derived.

As I point out in “One toke over the line, sweet Jesus?”

there is little in Scripture directly condemning drugs, as such (mainly,
God’s word attacks drunkenness, insobriety and dissipation). Au
contraire
, say the proponents of the “pharmakeia factor,” pinning
drugs to Scripture’s clear condemnation of witchcraft and sorcery.

It’s all Greek to me

A little lexical history is in order: When the Hebrew Scriptures –
the Old Testament to us Christians — found their way into the hands of
the Greek translators some 250 years before Christ was born, they
translated the Hebrew word for sorcery with “pharmakeia,” having
connotations to both witchcraft and drugs. As defined by the
Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek, pharmakeia is tied to
“the use of any kind of drugs, potions, or spells,” as well as
“poisoning or witchcraft.”

The connection is easy to see. In many pagan societies mind-altering
substances were used in religious ceremonies. Along with the Greeks’
use of drugs, the ancient Celts used to “do” mistletoe — and not for
kissing; ditto for American Indians and their use of peyote. The point
wasn’t, however, to kick back and wig out on a batch of herb. Drug use
was not recreational; it was ceremonial.

To see one Greek example of the use of pharmakeia, consider the story
of Jason and the Argonauts. In one passage, translated by Sir James
George Frazer,

the hero Jason goes to the sorceress Medea, who has the hots for him.
Not wanting him to be harmed in his upcoming battles, she concocts a
drug, a “pharmakon,” for him if he’ll marry her and take her to Greece.
“When Jason swore to do so,” Frazer’s version goes, “she gave him a drug
with which she bade him anoint his shield, spear, and body when he was
about to yoke the bulls; for she said that, anointed with it, he could
for a single day be harmed neither by fire nor by iron.”

The drug was magic. We’re not talking hashish here. We’re not
talking LSD. We’re talking oogie-boogie. Clearly, the word pharmakeia
has much more to do with magic than muddleheadedness, witchcraft than
wiffle pipes, sorcery than smack.

Consider the following passage from Leviticus. Talking about
ceremonial cleanliness and keeping the faith unadulterated by pagan
practices, God instructs in chapter 19,

    You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not
    practice augury or witchcraft. You shall not round off the hair on your
    temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings
    in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am
    the LORD. Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, lest the
    land fall into harlotry and the land become full of wickedness. You
    shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD. Do not
    turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them:
    I am the LORD your God.

As one e-mailer tipped me, “Obviously, this is not about ‘don’t
take aspirin.’” All these things are indicative of the religious
practices of the Canaanites — including temple prostitution,
self-mutilation and divination — whose land the Israelites were to
occupy. God didn’t want them whoring after the false gods of the
natives.

This is made all the more obvious when we look at the original Hebrew
words from which the Greek translators were working. The Hebrew terms
for witchcraft — words like “kashaph,” “qacam” and their derivatives –
refer to divination and spiritism; they have no drug-related
connotations. Zip, zilch, nada, nil — or “loh,” as the Hebrew puts
it. God’s concern in these passages isn’t with LSD blotters or
hypodermic needles. He’s concerned with false religion. It’s just a
lexical quirk that the Greek word is tainted with definitional baggage
– being connected to the perverse religious practices of the Greeks –
and is thus susceptible to manipulation in the current drug-war debate.

While none of this is to suggest that getting plastered on dope is
scriptural (I don’t believe it is), neither is it correct to say it’s a
form of witchcraft, deserving the same sort of punishment.

Defending bad ideas can be just about as entertaining as the circus;
the gymnastics are terrific. It seems the mental contortion artists –
adroitly bending, stretching and flipping logic with the greatest of
ease — are especially talented when it comes to debating drugs. But in
the end, it’s all just playing games with the text to arrive at a
predetermined end — saying dope is naughty. This is using Scripture to
support, rather than reform, your prejudices. And, at bottom, it’s
dishonest.

Rather than allow cultural biases, gut instincts or basic distaste to
cloud our judgment, as Christians we need to take the drug debate to the
bar of Scripture, which — while condemning drug abuse and insobriety –
provides no legal argument for pursuing a government-orchestrated war on
drugs.

Related items:

“One toke over the line, sweet Jesus?”

What does the Bible say Christians should think about drugs? This
column attempts an answer — and it isn’t death-by-stoning.

“Yakkity yak, don’t talk
smack”

A column about the drug war’s recent attacks on free speech.

“The problem with drug
raids”

A piece about sacking the Bill of Rights to pursue drug offenders.

“Witchful
thinking”

A criticism of the resurgence of feel-good, New-Agey Wicca.

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