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On Marijuana Part IV: Joseph Ratzinger's Theology of Drugs

By Jeremy Hausotter

Jan. 1, 2021

Table of Contents


1. Ratzinger’s First Thesis: Drugs were Unnecessary in the Middle Ages
2. Ratzinger’s Second Thesis: Drugs are a Protest against Facticity
3. Third Thesis: The Intersections of Facticity, Relativism, Drugs and Terrorism


Note to the Reader:

As of January 2023, I have published this essay as part of my book The Opium of Happiness. This text is a thorough revision of the essays on this site while adding over 100 pages not found on the website. Several of the Church documents used in this research can be found as appendices in the book.


Joseph Ratzinger in his book A Turning Point for Europe? presents a penetrating analysis of the crisis facing modern Europe, its causes, effects, and proposed solutions to the situation. I want to focus on a particular subtheme of the work, namely, his presentation of the modern drug phenomenon, a problem which is properly speaking modern. The startling claim in his treatment on drugs is that drugs and terrorism are symptoms of the same genetical disease. In fact, drugs, terrorism, abortion and euthanasia Ratzinger will argue all have the same genesis and this origin is one of the great ideological crises facing modern man.

1. Ratzinger’s First Thesis: Drugs were Unnecessary in the Middle Ages

The discussion on drugs begins with a question looking backwards to the medieval past: why were drugs virtually nonexistent in the Middle Ages whereas today it is nearly an uncontrollable endemic? Why today of all of human history has drugs become so prevalent and permeated itself into society?

The problem does not seem find a sufficient explanation in external conditions alone, but to have originated from a deeper spiritual turmoil. Ratzinger put forth the claim that the emptiness of soul drugs attempt to existentially fulfill did not exist in the Middle Ages.[1] Man’s thirst of soul did not need drugs or considered drugs to be a solution. God and Christianity provided satiation for the soul’s thirst that rendered drug usage as utterly unnecessary.

2. Ratzinger’s Second Thesis: Drugs are a Protest against Facticity

The contrast between the Middle Ages and modernity raises the obvious question: what changed in modernity to lead man to believe that drugs could be an acceptable solution to the problem of man’s thirst of soul? The answer to this question is due to the rise of dialectical materialism as represented in its various forces. In particular, Ratzinger acknowledges a debt to Ernst Bloch’s theory of facts to exegize our problem.

According to Bloch this world is a world of facts. Facts are relegated to the natural, scientific, and quantitative. The world of facts, furthermore, is a bad world, to which man must contradict and overcome in order to create a better utopia. This in fact is the principle of hope: to repudiate the present world and order it towards a particularized utopian vision.

One solution to the problem of the world of facts and its naked brutality is to protest against the world of facts by consuming drugs. He who takes drugs does so as an act of refusal of resignation to this world of facts. Drug usage becomes a way to seek the better world and a symbolic act of rebellion against an oppressive reality. Against the world of facts “man cannot hold out for long”, he despairs against the world and his perception of its facticity as a dungeon.[2] “The core,” of the drug abuse problem according to Ratzinger is “is a protest against a reality perceived as a prison.”[3]

Such a flight from reality represents a great perversion of mysticism and man’s need for the infinite for it encloses man within an immanence while attempting to extend man’s metaphysical limits to the infinite. This perversion arises because the natural process of man’s discovery and journey towards God is replaced by magic and technology. Drugs are understood as a magical key to the Numinous and as such drugs become a technology for obtaining experiences of the Divine.[4] (These two themes of protest against reality and critique of drug usage in religion both have parallels in the works of Soren Kierkegaard[5] and Martin Buber. Buber’s analysis of drug usage we will return to in Part V.)

The usage of drugs is a forward-backward orientated perspective on religion. It is an embracement of a contradiction, the appropriation of two competing existential attitudes or inclinations which compete with each other within the heart of man. In using drugs man rejects the pathway of religion to the Divine due to an atheistic attitude. Drugs replace God as man’s source of salvation from the world’s facticity making the use of drugs an existential act of rejecting God. On the other hand, drug usage attempts to fill in this spiritual void within the self which such interpretations of the world as facts instills within the soul. The desire to satiate the thirst of soul for God is done with the false solution of drugs.[6] Hence Ratzinger writes “Drugs are the pseudo-mysticism of a world that does not believe yet cannot get rid of the soul’s yearning for paradise.”[7] Man looks forward to an immanent utopia conceived existentially atheistic (for he needs not to have made an intellectual assent or volitional acceptance of atheism here) while reflecting backwards upon himself and his abyss within. Drugs discloses to man and society the vacuum left from this ideological worldview which cannot be treated by the mechanisms of society, and to an insight of man’s nature and his need for the Divine.[8]

3. Third Thesis: The Intersections of Facticity, Relativism, Drugs and Terrorism

Terrorism begins as a protest against the world and a desire to make it better.[9] Proponents of both drug usage and terrorism see the current present world as a world of problems and propose a future-oriented solution. “Narcotics are the attempt to anticipate already today a world that can be built only in the future.”[10]

This future-oriented perspective of which drugs and terrorism are symptoms of the positivistic proposition that what is moral lies in the future and not in Being.[11] Morality hence becomes a thing for man to create, and so “ ‘Moral’ is whatever creates the future”.

It is propositions such as these that justifies both euthanasia and abortion.[12] Children and the elderly can be sacrificed for the sake of research or maintaining a healthy herd through culling. A child can be killed in utero if he or she stands in the way of the mother’s “self-realization”, that is, her project of becoming herself, or even better, achieving her future goals and plans. The child is interpreted to be a barrier to the realization of her idealized future world and so the murder is justified for the sake of the induction of a solipsistic utopia. Similarly, the elderly are understood as better off dead in this futurist perspective and are rationalized away as an economic problem or as a pain management therapy. One’s kindness and thoughtfulness can justify all species of murder.

Each of these actions, drug abuse, terrorism, euthanasia, and abortion, therefore represent a radical departure from the world of Being in favor of an unhinged process of becoming. The rupture of this connection between the process of becoming from Being itself is the core problem.[13] Ratzinger argues that what is properly moral can be understood by its primal evidential character as grounded in Being. Man in previous times had the primordial intuition and conviction that man does not invent morality but finds it already present “in the essence of things”.[14] Here Ratzinger references C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man and the defense within it of this moral worldview which Lewis called the Tao.

Modernity separated itself from the primal evidential character of morality.[15]Many modern thinkers now propose a distinction between the world of feelings and the world of facts. The first world is subjective, the second objective. The world of facts is what is outside of man, naked facticity, the realm of the natural sciences and quantification. It is stripped of any claims of aesthetics or morality for these belong to the world of feeling within man. Religion, beauty, and goodness are subordinated to the subjective and therefore in control of man to define and determine; these have no place in the world of objectivity for they are quantifically indeterminable.

H.G Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds gives us a vignette into this world view. The artilleryman which the narrator meets late in the novel preaches to us that salvation comes from science, not novels and poetry. It is once the scientific endeavor is absolutized, pursued in factories ran by a genetically and psychological purified humanity that real life is found. Once this is embraced:

Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It’s a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race. And they can’t be happy. Moreover, dying’s not so dreadful; it’s the funking that makes it bad.[16]

It is chilling words such as these by Wells that legitimize the gas chamber and the gulag archipelago.[17]

Once the divorce of morality from Being is established through the distinction between the world of feeling and the world of fact is made, Nature becomes tyrant. Interpreting objective reality as strictly the world of facts without reference to value and teleology, while being reduced to quantity is what Lewis is referring to by “Nature”.[18]  Being is reduced to mere Nature to be manipulated.[19]

This Naturalization of man and Being transforms man into raw material for mere appetite without any rational ordering.[20] Nature itself is the ratio for moral thinking. Traditional morality which is grounded in Being is deemed subjective and unscientific, irrelevant because it cannot be quantized. Man becomes dehumanized:

It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us.[21]

It is precisely this process of Naturalization that gives the theoretical foundation for various diverse movements such as the fascists, communists, Nazis, and any movement which endorses recreational drug usage, abortion, euthanasia, and terrorism. These different movements and ideas all share the same heritage of a scientism that reduces the world to Natural facts and eliminates the essential connection between morality and Being, Naturalizing moral thinking to mere subjective opinion or emotive feeling.[22]

The prophet of modernity, Dostoevsky, properly identified the promoters of this movement as Demons or The Possessed and titled his novel such. The book itself is a prophetical critique of Naturalized communism and atheism. Dostoevsky’s reply to this world view is that “beauty will conquer the world” which is repeated several times in his novel The Idiot. It is beauty, Dostoevsky claims, that is the antidote. In Demons the character Stepan Trofimovitch gives the following magnificent monologue.

I maintain that Shakespeare and Raphael are more precious than the emancipation of serfs, more precious than Nationalism, more precious than Socialism, more precious than the young generation, more precious than chemistry, more precious than almost all humanity because they are the fruit, the real fruit of all humanity and perhaps the highest fruit that can be. A form of beauty, already attained, but for the attaining of which I would not perhaps consent to live… Oh, heavens!” he cried, clasping his hands, “ten years ago I said the same thing from the platform in Petersburg, exactly the same thing, in the same words, and in just the same way they did not understand it, they laughed and hissed as now; shallow people, what is lacking in you that you cannot understand? But let me tell you, let me tell you, without the English, life is still possible for humanity, without Germany, life is possible, with the Russians it is only too possible, without science, without bread, life is possible — only without beauty it is impossible, for there will be nothing left in the world. That’s the secret at the bottom of everything, that’s what history teaches! Even science would not exist for a moment without beauty — do you know that, you who laugh? — it will sink into bondage, you won’t invent a nail even![23]


At the heart of this movement of Naturalization is an atheism. The Naturalization of the world separates religion from Being, grounding it within man as subjective. As such, religion has nothing to offer to the realm of Being reduced to mere facts. Religion becomes irrelevant. The consequences have already been mentioned but it is worth repeating, such Naturalization is a glorification of despair. Despair becomes the proper order of business because man enters into disrelationship with himself and God and so faces Kierkegaardian despair whether he is conscious of it or not. As Kierkegaard argues, man does not need to be conscious of the fact that he is in despair in order to be in despair. Despair can be an unconscious existential state of the human subject.

Drugs, terrorism, abortion and euthanasia are the products and agents of despair. They are products of a society in despair and become the agents of despair for the individual who turns to them for consolation against the world’s cruel, naked facticity. As the character Trofimovitch states later in The Possessed,

The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to look down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great they will not go on living and die of despair. The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.[24]

It is the beauty of God and a life in Christ that saves. Drugs, terrorism, abortion and euthanasia are the agents of despair, and will only deepen one’s despairing abyss. The cure as Ratzinger argues is a return to the primordial intuition of morality as grounded in Being. This reversal naturally reorientates oneself towards God and opens the way for his or her conversion. Ultimately, it is only when man and society ground themselves in the ultimate Ground that the agents of despair will appear in their fullest hideousness as an unmasked demon, and that man will recognize most clearly that it is the love of God that will fill the spiritual void and render any need of drugs useless.


[1] Cf. A Turning Point for Europe? 25.

[2] Ibid, 26.

[3] Ibid, 26.

[4] Ibid, 26.

[5] There is a strong parallel between Ratzinger’s analysis of drugs and some of the forms of despair in Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death. Kierkegaard’s core thesis of the work is that despair results in a disrelationship between man, himself, the world, and God. The source of these disrelationships is the truth that man is a finite creature whose rationality makes him in some respect infinite. Man is an embodied being yet immortal.       These different elements of man, finitude, infinitude, corporeality, rationality, possibility, necessity, and the vocation to be a person are all possible sources of disrelationship of man with himself, the world, and ultimately God. Each of these sources must be synthesized in the self and his relationship to God. The world of facts represents a world of necessity which man desires to escape. He becomes fatalistic and despairs over this facticity which the abuse of drugs is a symptom of. He despairs over escaping the world’s facticity and the possibility of obtaining a better situation working within the world and so chooses to leave the world in the flight of drugs. Drugs hence becomes a cheap, readily accessible solution to escaping the determinism of the world of facts and existential surrendering of self of the possibility of improving the world. Instead, a fictitious world of drug induced psychosis, hallucination, and delusion replaces reality. Drug usage is symptomatic of the disrelationship between the world as facts and man’s freedom such that the drug abuser suffers a form of Kierkegaardian despair.

[6] “Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” St. Augustine, Confessions, 1,1. (Oxford Classics, trans. Henry Chadwick, 3).

[7] A Turning Point for Europe?, 26.

[8] Ibid, 26.

[9] Ibid, 26.

[10] Ibid, 133.

[11] Ibid, 28.

[12] Cf. Ibid, 29.

[13] This overemphasis of the future at the denigration of the past and present is another form of despair Kierkegaard outlined.

[14] Ibid, 34.

[15] Ibid, 37.

[16] War of the Worlds, Book 2, Ch. 7, 198. Platt and Munk, 1963.

[17] The term “gulag archipelago” was coined by Solzhenitsyn and is the title of his multivolume narration The Gulag Archipelago of the Soviet gulag system and its systemic terror.

[18] The Abolition of Man, 69.

[19] “We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them. We are always conquering Nature, because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain.” Ibid, 71.

[20] “The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined himself, but by mere appetite…” Ibid, 72.

[21] Ibid, 72.

[22] “I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, of those who are our public enemies at the moment. The process, which if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many a amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.” Ibid, 73-74. Cf. Ratzinger, A Turning Point for Europe?, 40.

[23] The Possessed, Book 3, Ch 1. Barnes and Noble, trans. Constance Garnett, 485-486.

[24] The Possessed, Book 3, Ch 7. Barnes and Noble, trans. Constance Garnett, 663.

Marijuana Articles

On Marijuana Part I: The Church's Teachings on Drugs and Marijuana

On Marijuana Part II: The Health Effects of Marijuana

On Marijuana Part III: The Catholic Understanding of Marijuana and Alcohol

On Marijuana Part IV: Joseph Ratzinger's Theology of Drugs

On Marijuana Part V: Drugs and Mystical Experience

YouTube Playlist

Book: The Opium of Happiness

The Course of Empire - Destruction by Thomas Cole

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