Pubdate: Wed, 17 Nov 1999
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 1999 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Contact:  1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22229
Fax: (703) 247-3108
Author: William R. Mattox Jr.
Note: William R. Mattox Jr. is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.
Also: This OPED, along with another "Dear Parents With Foggy Memories:
Please Don't Pretend You Never Inhaled," posted separately, occupied the
top half of the newspaper's The Forum page. 

What Should You Tell Your Kids About Your Drug Use?


It was the kind of rock 'n' roll scene sure to trouble every
thirtysomething, churchgoing father (like me). On stage, Tom Petty belted
out a string of his most popular songs, many of which contain clever
double-entendres related to drug use. Out on the lawn, I sat among a
veritable teenage wasteland of stoned young kids - many of whom were so
fried they couldn't be roused to hear Mary Jane's Last Dance or You Don't
Know How It Feels.

While I tried not to ruin the concert for my twentysomething friend, who
had asked me to attend after his girlfriend dumped him, I had a hard time
dealing with the sight of so many glassy-eyed young people stoned out of
their minds.

These kids reminded me of a glassy-eyed, pot-smoking teenager I used to see
all of the time.

In the mirror.

In my youth, I not only experimented with marijuana, I inhaled. Frequently.
In fact, I sometimes tell people that one of the many differences between
me and Ralph Reed, who was the College Republicans' president at the
University of Georgia when I was the Young Democrats' president, is that
Ralph and his GOP buddies got drunk after their meetings, while I and my
Democratic friends got stoned.

This was before Ralph and I each "got religion" - a change rather
significant to this story.

The National Institute for Healthcare Research reports that illegal drug
use is far less common among young people who attend church regularly. Some
might be tempted to consider this a ho-hum finding that merely shows that
churchgoers are less likely to break the law. But at least one prominent
ex-toker seems to think there is more to this research than meets the eye.

In a fascinating - but little-noticed - speech earlier this year, Vice
President Gore called youth drug use a "spiritual problem" that is "part of
a larger entity of evil." According to Gore, many turn to drugs seeking not
just to escape the pains and pressures of everyday life, but also to rise
above their profound feelings of emptiness, alienation and worthlessness.

In my youth, I would have scoffed at the notion that my drug use was a sign
of spiritual unrest and snickered at the suggestion that I smoked weed to
try to fill a hole in my soul.

But it is rather curious that those who "get high" often speak of the
experience in mystical or transcendent terms. Indeed, Tom Petty's (We've
Got to Get to) A Higher Place sounds like a title in a church hymnal.

And I'll admit that I was blown away the first time I read that Christian
writer Francis Schaeffer sympathized with youthful drug users in our
relativistic age because they "are smart enough to know that they have been
given no answers" to life's ultimate questions. In essence, Schaeffer
perceived that Karl Marx got it backward when he said that "religion is the
opium of the people." Many of the opium users who visited Schaeffer's Swiss
retreat center before his death in 1984 actually were looking for the
transcendent meaning, purpose and significance that true religion offers.

Lest there be any doubt, I hope that my four kids will see the ultimate
futility of using mind-altering drugs - without repeating my foolish mistakes.

No, I do not feel like a hypocrite for asking them to do as I say and not
as I did. I want them to heed the Chinese proverb's wisdom: "A fool makes
his own mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others."

Most of all, I want my kids (and those at the concert) to understand that
the pains, pressures and sorrows of life do not point to a meaningless
existence, but to a higher reality. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "If I find in
myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical
explanation is that I was made for another world." 
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