Marijuana, Caffeine, and a Therapeutic Drug Culture

That’s the subject of my latest essay over at The Gospel Coalition.  Here’s my concluding paragraphs:

Yet the more interesting cases come closer to us. Consider the interrelationship between caffeine and marijuana. On the one hand, many of us rely on caffeine to fuel our work obsessions. Caffeine abuses reveal an overworked, exhausted culture that refuses to rest. A cup of tea is a wonderful gift. Five cups a day may signify unhealthy dependency.

On the other hand, recreational marijuana use seems can engender something resembling sloth. Proper relaxation is a sort of satisfaction—”a job well done”—not a form of escape. Cannabis use may undercut this rest, or at least short-circuit it.

Sloth and overwork are symptoms of the same diseased understanding of how we labor. Some people will strap themselves to and die on the wheel of performance, while others escape their troubles by medicating themselves. In that sense, drugs are (ab)used to therapeutically fill a gap that is felt without being articulated.

Drug use of various kinds highlights our culture’s fundamental commitments and raises questions about how we interact with those commitments as Christians. Just how far does the therapeutic mentality infiltrate our churches? The fastest-growing segment of drug use seems to be painkillers and prescription medicines. Such “white collar” abuses reveal the same sort of escapist mentality that marijuana may foster in different social contexts.

Expanding the framework for evaluating marijuana implicates us all. But the gospel of Jesus Christ creates churches where we carry one another’s burdens. We admonish one another by observing the ways we have failed in our discipleship because we idolize performance and success. Then we begin the process of repenting for our own sins and ensuring that a gospel-centered judgment about whether to use marijuana will actually sound like good news.

I approached the piece as something of an exercise in moral reasoning.  It’s underdeveloped in a lot of ways, but I am attempting to expand some of my earlier thoughts on the body into new areas.  Make of all of it what you will.

 

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Digging Down to the Substance of Things

Trevin thinks that when it comes down to it, the curiosity of the blogger makes the blog:

The best blogs are a combination of the two. The blogger has a curious nature, and this curiosity manifests itself naturally in his or her writing interesting material that grabs the attention of readers. Cultivating a sense of curiosity, a sense of wonder and awe at the world we live in, is vitally important for delivering interesting content day after day.

I have found that interesting blogs are written by interesting people. What makes an interesting person? The ability to be continually fascinated by ideas.

I think Trevin is almost right, and is one of the best exemplars of the principle.  Both of his regular blogging and his daily links demonstrate a wide range of interests.

But there’s a corollary that he doesn’t much develop, that I think he is an even better representative of.

Curiosity can only be sustained if it’s constantly going deeper, searching for that elusive bedrock that is the heart of the matter.  It is a nearly irresistible impulse to probe beneath the surfaces, to look for something that has not yet been discovered or has not yet been articulated.  And when you find it, the gold rush is on and the people will follow.  Because people who go into the depths will not be boring long.

If I may take the application broader, one pervasive myth of evangelical preaching (in practice, if not in theory) is that the way to keep people engaged is to keep the content on the bottom shelf.  The paradox, of course, is that the exact opposite is true–at least if you want people to hang around longer than the sermon goes.  To capture people’s hearts, you must at some point capture their minds, and to keep their hands busy working they must at some point be fed with meat.  Yes, you might lose some.  But not nearly as many as you might think.

 

Top Posts for June and July

Here are the top 10 posts from the past two months at Mere-O:

  1. unpacked the music of Terence Malick’s beautiful Tree of Life and how it should affect our understanding of it.
  2. I examined  parents who allow their children to have sex with others provided it’s in their own homes generated a number of comments.  Check out “The Soft Bigotry of Low Sexual Expectations.”
  3. Nathan Hitchen submitted a guest review of Tree of Life which took a very different approach than mine.
  4. In light of the release of the final Harry Potter installment, Cate offered an appreciation of the series.
  5. Cate also penned a lovely two part meditation on what it means to forgive someone when you can’t forget their offense.  See part one and part two.
  6. took on religious liberties in light of the decision by New York to permit gay marriage.
  7. I highlighted and reflected on a long essay on consumerism and Christian music.
  8. I highlighted five books on the body for evangelicals that are not his own.
  9. Luke Timothy Johnson claims the mantle of “experience” for approving of homosexuality within the church.  And I linked to him.
  10. Finally, we discussed whether postmodernism can be, or not be.  Which isn’t the only question, but it’s an interesting one.

Thanks for your continued support and willingness to engage us here at Mere-O.  You’re feedback and comments are a huge part of what makes writing worthwhile and makes Mere-O so special.   (Check out here for other ways to connect with our content.)

Blogging as Letters to our Future

Alissa Wilkinson:

So maybe we can think of blogs—at least the good ones, and maybe even ones like these—as letters, if not to friends, to everyone, to the future: here is who we are, as it unfolded in real time; here is what we were thinking, even when it turned out to be wrong; here is how we thought about each other and about ourselves; here is what we made of our world. Sometimes it won’t be worth saving, and often it won’t be thoughtful. Some day, when they edit our lifelong blogs and put them in a volume (like, say, we do now with the letters of a famous thinker), they’ll edit out the useless pieces, fix our grammar, add clarifying footnotes about confusing allusions. It won’t be a complete, accurate, well-thought-out view of life, but it will be a pretty good picture of what it was to be us.

That’s a helpful way of thinking about it.   The best blogs have always managed to combine a fierce dedication to exploration, an unswerving devotion to intellectual integrity, and a belligerent refusal to be boring.   The “typical” stuff of great writing, those.

But add in the transitory nature of the medium and the possibility that the thought might be fleeting and forgotten and blogging can become downright exciting.  Lower the stakes and sometimes let an idea out that you might have been storing up for a cocktail party (as a manner of speaking).  The thought might just need a group of people to hack away at the dross to determine whether there’s anything left keeping around.

Of course, all that depends on not taking blogging quite as seriously as we might a book or some other medium (and, I would note, a resolute willingness to occasionally utter “I was wrong”).  Treating the exercise as letters to our future might help deflate some of the self-pretentious seriousness that always creeps in, particularly if we remember that at the end of it all, there will for most of us not be an editor waiting to collect and collate our correspondence.

Marx: Administrative Tyranny?

As I mentioned earlier in the week, there’s been a great discussion going over at Bensonian.org on Terry Eagleton’s book Why Marx Was Right. As an avowed non-Marxist, I was somewhat surprised to be invited to participate in the discussion, but was happy to do so. Today, my post has been unveiled. Titled, “Administrative Tyranny: Marx’s Misguided View of the State,” I dissect whether Marx’s view of the State was correct and conclude that Marx’s impoverished understanding of individual anthropology contributed to the failure of state-level Marxism. Here’s my conclusion:

There’s a reason that Marxism is often labeled “Statism.” For Marxism to achieve its claim of unmitigated equality, it not only does, but must cede primary control to the State to accomplish this measure. Attaining equality is a leveling wind of government instrusion and one person’s government-ascribed right is another person’s responsibility. As far as Eagleton’s reading is concerned, perhaps he has read Marx correctly, but a correct reading of Marx does not mean that Marx’s theories correspond to historical success. In the preface, Eagleton does admit that his attempt in this project is not to portray Marx’s ideas as perfect, but plausible. Is Marxism perfect? No. Is it plausible? Yes, if plausible means having been attempted. But, the question remains: Has Marxism benefited its citizens with the entitlements it promises? I would submit an answer in the negative.

After reading my assigned chapter, I am not compelled to believe that Marx’s view of the state was right. In fact, Marx may be more schizophrenic than right. Schizophrenic in the sense that Marx’s insistence on a minimalist administrative state requires his operative state to have more oversight than Marx would originally have granted. Maybe Marx was right and the instantiation of Marxism terribly wrong. I cannot tell. But if we’re still looking for demonstrably successful Marxism, history reveals its absence and for this reason, I cannot conclude that Marx was right.

 

Who’s Afraid of Marx?

Christopher Benson at Bensonian.org, has unveiled his introductory post on the blog tour of Terry Eagleton’s newest book, Why Marx Was Right. Organized by Yale University Press, Christopher’s site will have four different reactions each to a different chapter of Eagleton’s book. Contributors include Jonathan Fitzgerald, Jake Meador, Albert Lee, and myself.

Spirited engagement will undoubtedly ensue and I heartily point the thoughtful readers of Mere Orthodoxy to determine for themselves whether Marx was indeed right.

Passive Agressive Blogging

So, one guy writes a post about how young people who were raised within the church are leaving behind Christianity and offers a few reasons why.  Good post.  Dude’s got a book coming out on the topic, and it looks to be pretty good.

But then, there’s this other blogger who doesn’t seem to much like the content of the first post.  Talks about how all those young people who leave church might still be Christians, and about how those who are worried about it are trying to maintain the status quo and want to feed kids pizza and show them a good time.  Goes so far as to call it all BS, and tells the kids to get a tattoo and realize that even though they don’t have the stomach to hang around the same screwed up churches Jesus died for they’re gonna be alright.  (I’m just gonna guess he hasn’t read the book.)

Here’s my problem:   I’m in a position where I have to infer from the evidence that blogger #2 was responding to #1.  Even though the second post uses the same language as the first, talks about the exact same subject, and is written only two days after the first post goes up, blogger #1 never gets a mention or a link.  Not one.

Oh, wait.  What’s that?  You say I didn’t link to them?

Here’s #1. And here’s #2.

And here’s the book, which I am rather excited to read.

Here’s the deal, wannabe writers and bloggers:  if you critique someone or their ideas, don’t couch it in indirect language that never mentions them by name.  Or do it without at least the courtesy of a link.  It’s called etiquette, and it applies to bloggers too.

Addendum: I never thought I’d be that crotchety old guy on the blogging corner telling the newbies to quit breaking all the rules, but here I am.  It won’t happen again.  Promise.

Are Christian Blogs Boring?

Abraham Piper thinks so.

Abraham is an astute observer of the Christian blogging community.  And he has a hunch as to why:

To assert that all men are brothers, that prejudice and racism are bad, and that nature should not be despoiled may win a writer points in heaven, but it is doubtful that these pronouncements will quicken the reader’s pulse.

Piper is probably right.  I know no one who would accuse Mere-O of being a very ‘exciting’ place to read, even though I think that we’re up to something worthwhile.

But someday, I’m going to write a defense of being boring. It’s the arch-vice for our endlessly amused culture, and it might be–might be–one way of bearing witness against the vapidness of the world around us.

Meanwhile, Brent Thomas (prompted by Jon McIntosh) has a different complaint:

I by no means claim to be a “veteran” blogger but, after doing it for around five years, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen people stress about their blogs alongside stressing about their families and their ministries. I think there is a place for analyzing and discerning doctrines and trends within evangelicalism, but when every blog reads the same, I find myself growing weary of the whole thing.

I agree with Brent about how redundant the Christian blogging community is, which is why I probably have fewer friends in it than I might otherwise.  I have never seen the point of writing what I thought could be found a dozen other places online.  And while I’m pretty sure everything that I’ve written could be found elsewhere, I haven’t found that place yet.

But the more important point Brent makes is that blogging is essentially vain.  And while he means that in the sense of ‘pride,’ I actually think the Ecclesiastes notion of ‘vanity’ is a better description:  empty, meaningless, chasing after the wind.

Good conversations in blogging are increasingly rare.  It’s mostly words, words, and more words, with very little substance and depth.  We can only survive in the shallows for so long–eventually, we must head off to the depths, to the books and the treatises and the classics.

But when I get overly cynical about being online, I stumble across a post, a conversation, a robust exchange of ideas in an edifying way that makes me think this is why we blog.

This week, that thought occurred as I was reading Mere-O.  And for that, I am extremely thankful.

Cutting through the Chatter: High Hopes for PostRank

It’s no secret that as the ranks of bloggers has increased, the need for more effective tools to find the truly hidden gems in the blogging community has increased as well.  Those blogs that routinely produce excellent content–see here, here and here, for instance–have solidified their position at the top of the blogging ladder, which allows them to expand their readership exponentially.  As I have argued in the past, the meritocracy that marked the early days of blogging has been superseded by a hierarchy.  The hidden gems of the blogging community face a more difficult time than ever rising to the top.

Part of the problem is volume.  With more and more people blogging, it can seem impossible to cut through the chatter and offer a distinct opinion or a unique voice.  And as someone who is looking for that unique perspective, it is nearly impossible to find it.

Enter PostRank, an RSS feed reader plugin that is trying to solve the problem of chatter by scoring content based upon interaction from readers.  When readers comment, bookmark, share on Digg, Pownce or other social networking tools, it adds to the posts score.  PostRank weighs the types of interaction differently, tallies up the score, and lets you know in Google Reader (or NewsGator) which posts have been interacted with the most.

There are shortcomings, of course.  There is no ability to rank posts, which some people might prefer.  And it doesn’t take into account people’s individual preferences–an interaction from one reader might actually mean more than interaction from another, depending upon their patterns of use.  If it gets smart enough to take both those features into account, it would be a masterful tool.

And while the system is going to be heavily slanted toward those who already have larger audiences, it is a solid step toward helping those who read lots of blogs find the few posts that have elicited heavy interaction.

As such, if you are using Google Reader or NewsGator and are tired the noise, I would highly recommend it.

(Also, check out our top posts based on interaction over on our sidebar).

(HT:  TechCrunch)

The False Meritocracy of Blogging

When I first started blogging, I would argue that it was as close to a meritocracy as I have ever seen. “The good stuff,” I argued, “almost always gets picked up and moved to the top of the heap. Good content is king.”

The structure of blogging, however, isn’t that simple. Many bloggers toil away producing quite excellent content that is never noticed. Others produce less quality content and continue to draw large audiences. Why?

As Yaro Starak explains, content isn’t king in blogging–building and having a platform is.

I’m proof of this point. It’s been a long time since I went about proactively asking for links, or buying traffic or tweaking the SEO elements of my blogs. Doing these things would grow my traffic quicker, but I know if I just put out great articles, my traffic will grow, not as fast as some, but much faster than the average blogger.

Relying on just my content to generate attention and spread through word of mouth works because I already have attention. When you have an audience and you do something, you bring in more audience. It’s as simple as that and may seem somewhat unfair, but that’s just the way it is. No matter how good you are, unless people are watching you when you perform your tricks, it doesn’t matter.

It may be our first impulse to resist the fact that well-known bloggers can expand their audiences more easily than unknown bloggers. For one, it is counterintuitive–our audience here at Mere O compared to the audience at Between Two Worlds or Evangelical Outpost is pretty small. Theoretically, we should be able to expand faster than either of them. But it doesn’t work that way.

Secondly, as Starak points out, it can seem unfair. But it’s not–the simple fact is that they have the platforms and smaller blogs such as ours don’t. As a result, they have influence that is proportionate to their audience–and when their audience evangelizes for them, they grow faster. There is nothing unfair about that (and in the case of the two blogs mentioned, that’s highly desirable–I “evangelize” for both of them whenever I can).

The principle reminded me of Jesus’ words to the disciples in Matthew 13:11-12:

To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I think it’s fair to say Jesus understood the dynamics of media pretty well.