Christian Eucharist and the Rastafarian sacramental marijuana
In his Chant Down Babylon song on his 1983 posthumous album titled Confrontation, the late reggae icon Robert Nesta Marley sang prophetically about the collapse of Western civilization and his systems of government, albeit metaphorically. In Rastafari eschatology, Babylon in the New Testament Book of Revelation chapters 17 and 18 represents the colonial system with its attendant Westminster parliamentary system of government that the late Sir Lynden Pindling and the other founding fathers adopted for The Bahamas.
Whatever one’s assessment of the Rastafarian cult is, the fact remains that its members look at The Bahamas and Protestant and Catholic churches through the prism of their religious worldview. For instance, in the Rastafarian textbook “The Promise Key” by Leonard Percival Howell, the pope is derisively labeled the devil. Such inflammatory rhetoric is commonplace among the cultists.
As Afrocentrists, Rastafarian members are following in the footsteps of radical black separatist and United Negro Improvement Association founder and Jamaican national hero Marcus Garvey, who saw similarities between the African diaspora in the Americas and the Jewish exiles of the Old Testament in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon in the sixth century B.C.
Consequently, Ethiopian African Black International Congress or Bobo Ashanti members, if they’re candid enough, would admit that they hold to a condescending view of the Bahamian constitution they are appealing to in order to sanction the use of ceremonial marijuana.
The Free National Movement government and members of the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana must not allow themselves to be intimidated by Rastafari elders and their legal representatives. The ceremonial marijuana argument is being used as a ruse for recreational marijuana. Any legislation that permits the use of ceremonial weed would inevitably lead to its recreational use by many non-Rastas. How would law enforcement officials be able to distinguish genuine Rastas from impostors caught using cannabis? Bear in mind that not all Rastafarian followers wear dreadlocks. For example, Rastafarian pioneer Leonard Percival Howell was clean-shaven and never wore locks. The dreads became the dominant group within the movement due to the radical influence of Brother Wato during the 1940s and 1950s. Another question: How would officials differentiate between the sacred use of weed from its recreational use? Giving in to Bobo Ashanti members would be opening a Pandora’s box.
Rastafarian elders are committing the false equivalence fallacy by alluding to the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. While Pentecostal and Holiness Protestant denominations, perhaps due to the influence of John and Charles Wesley, use grape juice during communion, Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans and possibly Eastern Orthodox congregations use alcoholic wine. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood. This miraculous process is called transubstantiation, and has been supported by the Lateran Council, the Council of Trent and Hildebert of Tours.
The viewpoint that the wine somehow becomes the blood of Jesus Christ was also the position of church fathers Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom and Cyril. Conversely, Lutherans hold to the consubstantiation viewpoint of Martin Luther, while most other Protestant denominations hold to the symbolic position of Huldrych Zwingli and church fathers Origen, Augustine, Basil and Gregory of Nazianze. Whatever the case may be, Catholics believe that they have biblical precedent and justification for consuming alcoholic wine during the Eucharist and even recreationally, by pointing to Jesus’ first recorded miracle of transforming water into fermented wine in John’s Gospel chapter 2. In verse 10 of the chapter, the Greek verb for drunk is methu, which means to be inebriated. In Matthew 26:27-29, Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Again, an objective interpreter would assume that the wine during the Last Supper was alcoholic.
Also, in Luke 7:33-34 Jesus states that while His Nazarite forerunner John Baptist abstained from wine due to his Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:2-4; Luke 1:15), He himself drank it. This was the basis of the Pharisees falsely accusing Jesus of being a winebibber. If I am interpreting Jesus accurately, one must concede that there isn’t anything inherently evil about alcoholic wine anymore than there’s inherently wrong about food.
The issue is overconsumption, which is explicitly condemned in Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:18 and Leviticus 10:9. Gluttony is just as much a violation of biblical law as drunkenness. This is a point which is often overlooked by many of my fellow evangelicals.
Consequently, while there are guidelines for the consumption of alcoholic wine in Scripture, marijuana and the use of other psychedelic drugs are condemned in Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 9:21; 18:23. In each of the three passages cited, the Greek word pharmakeia is used. The English transliteration of that word is pharmacy. The implications of that Greek word couldn’t be more clearer.
The biblical writers may have been familiar with marijuana, as the plant has been used for thousands of years by pagans during their religious rituals.
Catholics administer alcoholic wine to their underage converts during the Eucharist, albeit in very small dosages – an important point that is conveniently ignored by Rastafari elders. The Bahamian government turns a blind eye to this in deference to the church. Herein lies the issue with members of the Bobo Ashanti sect. They believe that they’re being discriminated against. However, what is worth noting is that when smoking weed, the effects can be felt within minutes. It’s that potent. What’s more, who will determine the amount of marijuana that Rastafarian devotees will smoke during their ritual? Will Rasta worshippers be monitored by state officials in order to ensure that they will not abuse their privilege?
In order to fully understand the link between the Rastafarian sect and recreational and sacramental marijuana, one must delve into the history of the sect. Leonard Percival Howell was Jamaica’s biggest ganja dealer during the 1940s and 1950s, according to French journalist Hélène Lee. His Pinnacle Rastafarian commune, founded in 1940 in Saint Catherine Parish, was both a Rasta camp and a communist experiment, as it is noted by historians that Howell had read “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
It was at Pinnacle where Howell and his devotees engaged in the production of marijuana on a massive scale, allegedly with the tacit approval of Jamaica Labour Party officials. Between 1845-1976, over 36,000 Indians migrated to Jamaica as indentured servants. They became known derogatorily as Coolies. These Hindu migrants brought along their Hindu customs, which included smoking kali weed.
In Hinduism, devotees smoke marijuana to attain an altered state of consciousness. During this dangerous process, the one under influence of the psychedelic drug is susceptible to demonic possession. Howell incorporated many Hindu practices into his Rastafarian religion. Many Rastafarian members are unaware of their religion being an offshoot of Hinduism. I have stated in the past that even Howell’s nom de plume for “The Promise Key”, Gong Guru Maragh, is Hindu.
The publication of “The Promise Key” in 1935 moved colonial officials to incarcerate the Rastafarian founder, on the charge that he had written seditious words against King George V and the colonial system. Howell’s erratic and boisterous behavior during court proceedings led many to surmise that he was insane.
No doubt Rastafarian
members and other marijuana advocates will continue to harp on the many road traffic accidents on the streets of Nassau as a result of alcoholic intoxication. Due to the devastating impact of alcoholic abuse in the United States, there was put in place a constitutional ban on the substance under the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, popularly known as the Volstead Act. This ban was enforced between 1920-1933.
Prohibition was repealed under the Twenty-first Amendment in late 1933. Four years later, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, being based mainly on discrimination against Mexican migrants. This particular legislation banned marijuana in the United States, being overturned in the Leary v. United States Supreme Court ruling of 1969. The 1937 legislation was effectively replaced by the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 under President Richard Nixon.
Members of the Ethiopian African Black International Congress want to have their very own Leary v. United States breakthrough in The Bahamas. What is worth monitoring by Royal Bahamas Police Force officials from the Traffic Division is the spate of highway accidents in the United States, due to drivers being intoxicated with the marijuana psychoactive constituent tetrahydrocannabinol, known also as THC. According to an October 2018 article by NBC News, in four of the states where marijuana has been decriminalized, there has been a six percent increase in highway crashes.
While it is still too early to say definitively what impact recreational marijuana is having on Americans since its decriminalization in 24 states and counting, it would be irresponsible and counterproductive to decriminalize weed in this jurisdiction, in light of the disturbingly high number of traffic fatalities since January of this year. Both alcohol and THC are intoxicants. However, with respect to alcoholic wine, the Bible gives clear guidelines regarding its consumption. In Psalm 104:15, the writer praises Yahweh for wine. Based on my understanding of Romans 14, believers are well within their rights to practice abstention if such liberties would cause a weak brother in the faith to stumble. That’s one of the reasons why I refuse to consume alcoholic beverages.
Regarding marijuana, however, the taking of psychedelic drugs is strictly prohibited in Scripture. And Rastas claim to be followers of the Bible. The only way I can see marijuana being allowed is for medicinal purposes in a controlled environment. We evangelicals are willing to accept this compromise. But I believe it would be immoral for anyone to use the constitution to permit a certain group unfettered access to marijuana, without any consideration of the negative impact such a move would have on the wider community.
– Kevin Evans