Why the Drug Problem Is a God Problem | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | February 3, 2011 | Ignatius Insight
Why the Drug Problem Is a God Problem | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. |
February 3, 2011 | Ignatius Insight
"Many, many bishops, above all from Latin America, tell me that
wherever the road of drug production and trafficking passes—and that
includes large sectors of these countries—it is as if an evil monster had
its hand on the country and had corrupted the people."
-- Pope Benedict XVI, Light of
the World (Ignatius Press, 2010), pp. 60-61.
One of the few good things about old-fashioned war, usually, was that
we had a definite enemy and a cause that could be defined or understood in
political terms. With the current drug wars, we have something rather
different, though possibly even more lethal: an undermining of a society from
within, not from without. Armies could presumably protect the civilians behind
the lines, though bombing, shelling, and now missiles made that less easy.
But drugs introduce a new element. The war is closer to a civil war.
The traffic that supplies the raw material, however, passes beyond borders; it
does not much discriminate between soldier and civilian, or innocent and
guilty. The frontier is the human will and soul, not any "front" defined in
terms of rivers, mountains, or oceans.
In its latest report on "Mexico and the Cartel Wars in 2010",
Stratfor tells us that some 11,000 people were killed last year, double the
number of 2008. Some 30,000 have been killed altogether. It begins to make Iraq
seem like a peace-keeping operation. The cartel names are great—Sinaloa,
perhaps the most powerful, La Familia, Gulf, Los Zetas, Aztecas, and the
Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (Juarez). These groups are constantly
fighting for turf, moving, changing names and alliances. We hear of the Cartel
Pacifico and the New Federation.
Several of the leading drug lords have been killed—Arturo Beltran
Leyva, Ignacio "El Nacho" Coronel, and Nazario "El Mas Loco" Moreno Gonzales,
who is called the "spiritual leader" of La Familia. Several have been arrested,
including Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal. Others such as Fernando "El
Ingeniero" Sanchez Arellano and Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera still flourish.
These cartels are said to have "offices" in some 230 American cities. They are
connected with European distribution and with the supply sources in Columbia
and along the Central American route. Drugs are be smuggled into the U.S. by
boat, airplane, or border crossing. The money made must be returned to Mexico,
in one article I read, often through Atlanta.
It is estimated that $25 to $40 billion dollars are involved each year.
The cartels are involved in kidnapping, human trafficking, "protection," and
all sorts of "businesses." Police, newspaper writers, clergy, or politicians
who seek to do something about it are often killed or their families
threatened. So it is big business with high stakes. I have seen estimates that
around 500,000 people are involved. It must be at least that. Every major
Mexican town has its problems, not just those on the immediate US border. The
relation of the Mexican government to its state governments, the army, the
Federal Police, to the Congress to all this mess is tangled.
Obviously, the governors of American Border States like Texas and
Arizona recognize that this trafficking is an immediate present danger to their
citizens. Some Americans are killed; others threatened. Many writers think it
is the most important problem that faces our society today. Lack of more
effective and urgent response makes one suspicious about how high up the
This issue is always presented as something that needs to be
stopped—the killings, the arms, the smuggling. Once we stop the flow of
these items, the problem will end, or so we are told. Less often do we think in
terms of "Why does all of this evidently profitable 'commerce' go on anyhow?"
I know a young lady who teaches in a Catholic high school in small Iowa town. I
asked her if she sees any of this drug business there or if she has ever heard
any preaching about it. She said that it does go on and there is general
silence. Of course, we see "drug free" signs in many places, especially
schools. Whether those areas are or are not "drug free" we often must wonder
about. The drugs are evidently being sold all over the place. We know that what
results in the purchasers—addiction, broken lives—are usually
treated as health or recreation problems, not criminal problems.
It is with this background that I was particularly interested in a
passage in the Light of the World
interview of Benedict XVI with Peter Seewald. As I mentioned in the beginning
citation, Benedict is quite up-to-date on this issue. He regularly hears
bishops from all over the world, particularly Latin America. They report to him
what is going on in their dioceses. When this drug trafficking appears, as it
does in more and more places, it is as if an "evil monster had its hand on the
Something diabolical surrounds this trade, in fact. "I believe that we
do not have an adequate idea of the power of this serpent of drug trafficking and consumption that spans the
globe," Benedict continues. Where have we heard of that "serpent" before? With
our eyes, we see that this scourge "destroys youth, it destroys families, it
leads to violence and endangers the future of entire nations." We have seen
these effects in Columbia. We now see it in Mexico if not in our own country.
Why is this growing menace not addressed on the massive scale it
deserves? One reason, of course, is that the drug traffickers, like Islamic
terrorist organizations, take any public criticism of their operation
seriously. In effect, someone is sent, often successfully, to silence any
investigation, jury, police force, media analysis, or adequate response.
But the pope is more interested in causes. It is not just a shady
business deal or trade. It manifests in an emptiness in our souls. "This too is
one of the terrible responsibilities of the West: that it uses drugs and that
it thereby creates countries that have to supply them, which in the end exhaust
and destroys them." This is surely what happens in Columbia, Mexico, and in the
lines of supply in other countries. Too often growers of poppies or other
sources of drugs are said to be poor and need the business. This "farming" is
all that is left to them. It almost gets a pass on "social justice" grounds.
"A craving for happiness has developed that cannot contain itself with things
as they are. And that then flees into the devil's paradise, if you will, and
destroys people all around," Benedict surmises. Not being "content with things
as they are" means that we often find an exaggerated demand for happiness that
must be settled here and now, no waiting. Not seeking happiness in the right
way sets us off in spurious directions to give us an artificial happiness that
in effect "destroys" us.
The bishops also tell the pope that allied to drug trafficking is "the
destruction that sex tourism wreaks on our young people." Some of this was
brought to our attention in the floods in Thailand and New Orleans. The bishops
tell the pope that this trafficking is so bad that it is "something we cannot
even begin to imagine."
Again the pope thinks that we can find an underlying cause. It comes
from "the arrogance and the boredom and the false freedom of the Western
world." Here again is the theme that our sins are not just our own but, unless
dealt with, are soon spread all over the world. They arise from a relativism,
from a false sense of freedom.
How do we analyze this situation? "You see," the pope points out, "man
strives for eternal joy; he would like pleasure in the extreme, would like what
is eternal. But when there is no God, it is not granted to him and it cannot
be." So the drug problem is, at bottom, the God problem in another form. It
would not exist if we were not created so that within us is a drive to eternal
joy, to the ultimate pleasure of seeing God.
We are to know what we are and how to achieve our elevated end through
virtue and grace. But we can reject this. We are free to do so. But we are not
free to escape our very nature, which will send us off seeking happiness
wherever if we do not choose to find it where it belongs in God. This latter is
the central adventure of our lives.
Happiness really cannot be found in any other place than in God. That
is simply the way it is. The drug trade is, in a way, almost visible proof of
this incapacity. So what is the alternative to God? Man "himself must now
create something that is fictitious, a false eternity." Thus, to the question
of what to do about the drug traffic, it looks like it will go on until we
rediscover God in a practical way in each of our souls so that we do not go off
seeking a "false eternity." "This is a sign of the times that should be an
urgent challenge to us, especially as Christians." The reality and failure of
drugs to provide happiness is indeed "a sign of the times."
Often, we do not like to hear these things. We think the problem of
drugs is a "social problem," a "political" problem, or a "medical problem." The
pope had it right in the beginning. No problem would exist if no market
existed. We do not address ourselves to the causes of this market. The market
exists basically because a notion of freedom separates man from God, rather
than unites him. We are "autonomous," we think. The drive to happiness in us,
we think, is not intended to incite us to find out what God had in mind for us
at our creation. No, it is to enable us to make our own "eternity" in this
life. But it is not so.
Christians "have to show—and also to live accordingly—that
the eternity man needs can come only from God. That God is the first thing
necessary in order to be able to withstand the affliction of this time."
Everything about man must be made good, made right, if this alternate drug
"happiness" is not to engulf us.
If we look at our society, at ourselves, we see that God is seldom "the
first thing necessary." Yet, Scripture tells us, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of
God and all these things will be added unto thee" (Matt. 6:33). Why should we
do this? In a way, the drug traffic has been a blessing. It makes clear both
that we all, whether into drugs or not, have an intrinsic unsettlement in our
souls about happiness.
All else we seek, we seek in the light of how we define this end. The
means to it are what prudence reveals. Does this thing I choose to do take me
to or away from the end that God has offered to me? But if the only end that I
have is one I give to myself, in the end that is all that I shall ever have,
namely myself. That, more or less, is the definition of hell, which we already
see in the results of this whole drug business.
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James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning,
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006),
The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007),
and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008).
His most recent book from Ignatius Press is
The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age,
is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!