I was raised in a home with two heavy smokers, one of whom became an alcoholic by the time I was about age ten. To this day it is very difficult for me to imagine what might make someone want to taste a cigarette or a shot of whiskey. It is not just that both are unpleasant reminders for me of hard times in the past but that the evidence is so clear that both are dangerous and addictive.
“Alcohol is responsible for about 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year,” according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means that well over six million people have died directly or indirectly from alcohol abuse in my lifetime. As I recall, the population of my hometown when I graduated from high school was a bit under 9,000 people. That means, in effect, that every single year about ten of my hometowns disappear. Every single year. And in my lifetime, we’ve lost the equivalent of more than 700 such towns. Add to that the number of physical and emotional problems caused by alcohol. . . .if you can even imagine what a huge number that might be.
The numbers for smoking are even more staggering. “Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including an estimated 42,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure,” according to the CDC. And for every death there are another 30 people with serious illnesses attributable to smoking. Meanwhile, the government-subsidized tobacco industry spends about $23 million every day, advertising the pleasures of smoking.
The problem lies not just in the tobacco and alcohol themselves, and not just in the incredible amounts of money America wastes on advertising these products. The deeper issue is that we have created an addictive society. Could anyone in the world count the number of people addicted to shopping, gambling, iphones, drugs, video games, sex, violence, and so on? Each addiction is very common and very, very costly.
To walk a clean, straight, responsible path in life requires a degree of integrity and self-confidence which our society openly opposes. Jesus was a straight-walker and called us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. When we entrust ourselves to him and walk his path, we lose hedonism and short-term pleasures in exchange for a deep joy. We give up greed and self-centeredness and gain the freedom to love one another. We give up anxiety and feel at peace. We lose shame and humiliation, enjoying humility and confidence instead.
Which does the fool choose: following Jesus or following the addictive society?