Smoking Pharisees

| | Comments (6)

Many Christians treat smoking as one of the worst sins, something you can assume someone isn't a Christian if you see them doing. Tim Challies has a good post showing why such an attitude is Pharisaical.

Now I think a good argument can be made that smoking is morally wrong, even without the Bible, though it would be based on controversial ethical views that aren't common to all the main ethical theories. A virtue- or character-based ethic will have the easiest time showing this, I think, though other principles might count. Still, the other sorts of things that come out immoral on these grounds wouldn't compare too well with the Pharisaical people who place smoking on such a pedestal of evils. One consideration against smoking, that it pollutes, counts similarly against failing to recycle or driving an SUV. Another, the annoyance factor, counts just as much against mowing your lawn at 9am in a university area or playing loud music after 10pm in a neighborhood with kids. Pursuing the character trait of taking care of your body means avoiding sloth and gluttony as much as smoking, and those aren't on the list of total evils of most of the people I have in mind (though I'd say the same thing about someone who is overweight, whose spiritual level I have seen people wonder about). The second-hand smoke issue is stronger, but that depends on the context of the smoking, which can be controlled, and this reason also counts against people who have cars that pollute so badly as to harm people's health. Would most of these things be on the list of sins the observance of which should create the impression that someone probably isn't a Christian? Then neither should smoking.


As far as taking care of yourself (your body is the Lord's temple, and that kind of concern), I've heard recently that obesity is just about to overtake smoking as the number 1 preventable cause of death (not that two wrongs make a right, this is just a matter of balance in concerns). With the insensitivity/second-hand smoke issue, you're right. It all depends about how the smoker smokes and how they interact with the non-smoker, so smoking qua just smoking is kind of irrelevant.
There is an odd aura around smoking where people feel it's dirty to such a degree that something else must be wrong with the smoker.
People should just see it as what it is, somewhat of a personal failing, but a rather minor one, if the smoker tries to not bother others with their smoking.
There is a problem with the 2nd hand smoke issue by the way, and the smoking in restaurants, etc. There has actually been no scientifically sound evidence that shows that second hand smoke harms. It's all based on a faulty common sense argument. If smoking harms, second-hand smoke must harm, just less so. Almost all of the arguments that show second-hand smoke are harmful are based on an EPA study that was thrown out by a federal court after it was found faulty. To date, there has been no definitive study that shows that second-hand smoke harms. All the numbers you hear on public service announcements about how many people a year are killed by second-hand smoke are all based on faulty extrapolations/deductions from the very same EPA study which was thrown out by the court.
Anyways, I digress. A sin? It's not clear. One of the greatest arguments I've heard against it have to do with how it affects other people, at least possibly.

The people who's Christianity I wonder about, are those who insist on smoking in public places and facilities, in spite of (and often spitefully) 20% of the population has asthma or other reactive airway diseases, and thus suffer anything from bronchitis to death for the sake of the pleasure of these 'Christians' who value their pleasure more than the lives and health of others.

Obesity can be caused by a number of factors other than and totally apart from gluttony (which is more typically expressed as bulemia). There are at least five known virii which cause obesity, as does diabetes and insulin resistance, which is itself caused by people trying to be healthy and following the Department of Agriculture's Food Pyramid.

I am not aware of any non-volitional causes for smoking in public places.

Yes, but most obesity is caused by overeating, and most of this overeating is volitional.
Also, being exposed to occasional public smoking does not cause or exacerbate these conditions.
I'd like to hear of even one case where bronchitis, death, or asthma was caused by occasional public exposure to second-hand smoke (and it was scientifically established as a cause, not a mere correlation or an expression of anecdotal annoyance or the invalid inference from B following A to the conclusion that A caused B). Someone who, say, smokes in his car with his child is another matter.

There are some people who already have certain conditions that are made much worse by second-hand smoke. Asthma is one of them. One chief cause of asthma, however, is parental overprotection from germs. (See here for more on that.) Exposure to germs (from two months and on) is the best prevention of asthma and allergies. So it's a kind of negligence that isn't from inaction or from the action of being exposed to harmful substances (like cigarette smoke) but from the action of overprotection and from environments that are simply too clean for the child to develope a healthy immune system.

What I find interesting about this well-tread discussion is the selectivity with which the vice is chosen. Aside from the things currently illegal, most Evangelicals pick on smoking and drinking. The argument always goes either that a) it's bad for the body and since the body is the temple of the Lord, it's bad for you, or b) it's an addiction, and since we're not supposed to be addicted, it's bad for you.

Like Parableman, I think the great inconsistency is that nobody pays any attention to the host of other things we do (especially in America) that are bad for you, but not considered "vices" per se, although in some ways they may be more destructive from a health standpoint. The greatest of these, to me, is "stress". We are a stressed out people, and stress exacerbates the negative effect of any health concern we might have, and any pleasure we might enjoy, whether inherently bad for you or not. Stress kills, and this has been proven over and over, but it doesn't get the same attention among many Christians like smoking or drinking.

Jeanne Calment, the 122 year old French woman who died in 1997, smoked two cigarettes a day until she was 112 or so (and stopped because she couldn't see the cigarettes anymore), ate two pounds of chocolate a week, and drank a glass of port a night until she died, and one can't really say with a straight face that she would have lived significantly longer if she hadn't done those things. One thing she was not, however, was stressed. (see this article). My great-grandmother, who died when she was 113 also had a life without stress. She wasn't a teetotaler either.

We could indulge in too much of anything and have it cross over into sin: too much red meat will give you cancer, too much sugar will blow out your gall bladder, too much salt will give you high blood pressure.

I don't think the proper argument is one of "permission" rather, one of "liberty". And futher, consistency in whatever argument we choose. We can abuse anything if we like, but moderation, I believe is both more difficult, and more mature than abstinence for the sake of false piety. I know this post wasn't about use or misuse of alcohol, but just as a side note: Jews, who (at least in the past have) had a higher rate of social drinking than religious non-Jews, are far less likely to be alcoholics or addicts (see Dennis Prager's Why The Jews?). I believe it is because for Jews, moderate drinking is permitted in religious life, but excessive drinking is abhorred. They don't generally engage in excess, unlike their religious gentile counterparts, who drink and smoke less, but are far more indulgent when they do (although some scientists think its also genetics).

The French have the same sort of thing with moderate drinkers, especially of red wine, which has all sorts of anti-oxidants. Also, they eat many smaller courses over a day instead of the three big meals Americans eat, and that's much, much healthier. It's not so much how much you eat but how you eat it.

Leave a comment


    The Parablemen are: , , and .



Books I'm Reading

Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently

Books I've Been Referring To

I've Been Listening To

Games I've Been Playing

Other Stuff


    thinking blogger
    thinking blogger

    Dr. Seuss Pro

    Search or read the Bible

    Example: John 1 or love one another (ESV)

  • Link Policy
Powered by Movable Type 5.04