Suffering or Soma

Do our local churches preach "Christianity without tears"?

The ancient use of herbs for medicinal purposes is well known. Coca leaves are still chewed by Peruvian natives in the High Andes to prevent altitude sickness. Poppy flowers yield opiates for pain relief. Curcumin research has shown it can shrink cancerous tumors even in the brain.

Coca-cola capitalized on the narcotic effect of cocaine in its first 1890 proprietary recipe, though it supposedly no longer uses it. Certain drug companies have created a devastating global addiction for opioids derived from poppies. In 1963, Harvard dismissed psychology professor Timothy Leary for pushing recreational use of the psychedelic drug LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), derived from mushrooms. Shamans have long used them for initiation rites and psychedelic trips to faraway places.

Hippies in the 1960s grooved on Beatles songs while sitting in a circle sharing a marijuana joint. For 50 years, youngsters were booked for carrying “pot.” Now marijuana is legal for recreational use in California. Believed to relieve pain, it has become a surging billion-dollar industry promising handsome tax revenues to the 40 American states that will legalize it by the end of 2020.

Savvy entrepreneurs have been promoting CBD ― suddenly everywhere at once, even in chocolate chip cookies at health food stores. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from Cannabid sativa, the common marijuana plant. The FDA has approved only one form of CBD (Epidiolex) specifically for epilepsy, but not for pain relief because clinical research has yet to verify that claim. Unfortunately, CBD products with less than one tenth of one percent of THC ― marijuana’s psychedelic component― usually offer no pain relief. More THC may be required to feel any relief beyond a placebo effect.

CBD users claim it helps with crippling arthritis joint pain, panic disorders, acne, and so on. With CBD’s wide spectrum of unofficial medical benefits without side effects ― unlike cocaine, opium, or even Tylenol ― it seems to be an astonishing match for Soma, the drug featured in Huxley’s Brave New World.

Recall these quotes from the novel on the virtues of Soma: “Evil’s an unreality if you take a couple of grams… The warm, the richly-colored, the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday. How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing every one was!… Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears ― that’s what Soma is.”

“Christianity without tears”: Do our local churches preach this? The Church has always taught the spiritual merits of suffering and repentance, but human nature shuns pain and pursues pleasure. Age-old teaching has been diluted to a watered-down wine unable to inebriate or inspire listeners to emulate Christ Crucified.

Such as when He refused to numb the intense suffering of his crucifixion with a drink of vinegar mixed with gall. In those days, charitable women prepared a narcotic potion for crucifixion victims, who, if not drugged, would vigorously resist their executioners. The gospel reports it was cheap vinegar wine mixed with myrrh for its stupefying effect (Mark 15:23). The Roman soldiers allowed this traditional practice to make their tough job easier. History suggests Christ was offered (but refused) that narcotic potion twice: before He was nailed to the cross, and after hanging there a while (Matt 27:23-34). It is significant that just before expiring He accepted a sour wine without myrrh (John 19:28-30).

Does that mean true Christians emulating Jesus should not use pain relievers like CBD, morphine, or OxyContin? Let the saints among us practice their austerities. Though it’s difficult to emulate Christ on His Cross in the course of our daily lives, perhaps we can refuse any stupefying drugs in our final hour, to remain clear-minded in the moment.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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