Monday, March 06, 2006

Smoking Cigars and Drinking Wine

It seems to me as if smoking cigars and drinking wine seem to go with Chesterton.

And I used to think (about the cigars, not the wine) that we *know* better than to smoke these days.

However, cigar smokers are such nice people, sensible people, such Chestertonian people, I had to think a bit. And I forgave them their cigars, especially since I knew it was not a regular habit, just an irregular habit.

Then, this past weekend, I was reading an old essay of Father Richard John Neuhaus's.
It's on-line here. And here is an excerpt:

"In his best-selling book, How We Die, Sherwin Nuland says we all die from the same cause: lack of oxygen to the brain. A thousand circumstances can contribute to that end, and innumerable, and often unknown, factors can contribute to each of those thousand circumstances. But the fact remains that-with or without cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs-the mortality rate is and will continue to be 100 percent. Understandably, people have a hard time accepting that. This is not a brief for adopting habits that are injurious to one's health and general well-being. There is a moral obligation to be a good steward of the physical self. But we should stop invoking statistics in a way that suggests we would naturally live forever unless "killed" by one bad habit or another."

Which I found interesting.
What is also interesting is that Father Neuhaus enjoys cigars and Dewar's (not wine, but in the same food group). He's obviously a Chestertonian.


  1. Ah, Nancy, in all charity, you've got to get over this puricanical attitude toward tobacco, and judging by your reaction to Fr. Neuhaus's wise words, you are on the right track.

    Tobacco is a thing, which can be used or abused just like any other thing, and like any other thing is not in iteslf good or evil. Chesterton himself used to get exasperated by anti-tobacco folks in his own day. He vehemently denied the spurious charge that smoking is a vice.

    Smoke, or don't smoke, it's up to you. But remember that there is a danger here that is far more hazardous to your soul than the health hazards associated with tobacco. I am speaking of the sin of pride, manifested in the turning up of one's nose at legitimate pleasures that are signs of God's goodness. Pride is the main motivation of prohibitionists everywhere.

  2. Great quote from Fr. Neuhaus. Smoking is one of the "secular sins" and I keep thinking I need to take it up (at least irregularly) since we are supposed to be "counter-cultural!" Although, are pipe smokers as sensible as cigar smokers?!?

    It is common sense that too much of anything can kill. Heck, too much water can kill, even though we are made up of 70% water, or whatever it is. Everyone is worried about this and that as a carcinogen, yet the same common sense should apply.

    Btw, I don't think Fr. Neuhaus is totally Chestertonian as can be seen in the following article, unless he has changed his stripes. Sorry, I don't know how to post a link.

  3. "too much water can kill"

    This is called drowning.

    For more details on this very dangerous substance, see: Dihydrogen Monoxide.

  4. Being an enthusiast of the pipe and pipe weed, to the extent of actually belonging to a pipe club (Conclave of Richmond Pipe Smokers), I can state without hesitation that pipe smokers tend to be just like everyone else-- some are sensible, some are not.

    Think, though -- picture all users of smoke. Cigarette smokers can get wound up and puff like a chimney. Many of us are familiar with Jack Nickelson (sp?) puffing furiously on his cigar in A FEW GOOD MEN. But you just don't see a furiously smoking pipe lover. Practically speaking, it heats up the tobac and burns your tongue.

    It is meant to be slowly enjoyed, relaxation is a part of the habit, and contemplation is almost unavoidable. Those that know better than I do how I should live my life still dislike it, however, and want to stop me from doing it. Watch out -- they'll be coming for your Twinkies next!

  5. Not to necessarily be contrarian, but some food for thought:

    I was reading a little book about Chesterton today, and they were contrasting the habits of Chesterton and his good friend Shaw. Shaw, as we know, was a teetotaler, non-smoker, and I believe a vegetarian.

    Chesterton, God bless him, partook of quite a bit of all three of these things; ultimately, though, Chesterton lived into his early sixties, while Shaw went clear into his early 90's. I sure would have loved an extra three decades of Chesterton, especially to see what he would have thought of C.S. Lewis.

    Of course, we can't really know whether he would have lived another thirty years, but it is food for thought.

  6. Yeah, but Belloc lived like Chesterton and lived clear into his 80s. Also, they both really lived, while "George Bernard Shaw drinks temperance beverages in the suburbs". An extra ten years of being that dried up little Puritan? No thanks, give me a short life but a merry one over him any day of the week.

  7. Tory--I think that was Nancy's point (or Fr. Neuhaus's point) that even with all the overt concern for one's health, the mortality rate is still 100%. And Tom in AZ has it right on, better to live a life fully than to not live at all. And in living a full life, the time element doesn't really matter. Only God knows how long each of us have to live on this earth. And this earthly life is only a spec of dust in a desert compared to the eternity that awaits. I would rather worry about how I will spend my eternity than worry how long I can stretch my earthy life.

  8. The danger in touting a longer life as a sound reason for abstaining from booze or smoke is that it can lead to idolatry: worshipping the life rather than the Creator of life.

    As Dumbledore said to Voldemort, there are things far worse than dying.

  9. Or as Dracula put it, "There are worse things in life than death." And he would know, being one of them.

  10. "We should thank God for beer by not drinking too much of it."

    I have somewhat differing attitudes towards smoking and drinking, perhaps the result of my professional background. Drinking in moderation, particularly red wine, has been shown to have some healthy effects. The same certainly cannot be said of smoking.

    When I try to encourage people to quit smoking, I do so not out of a puritanical need to deny pleasure, but because of the serious health risks of smoking as a regular habit and the knowledge that nicotine is extraordinarily addictive.

    I often hear the response, "Well, I am going to die sometime." While certainly true, this nonetheless baffles me and I usually reply with something like, "That doesn't mean you should play in traffic."

    Further, there are the known deleterious effects of second hand smoke on those who live with you.

    While I certainly subscribe to the Chesterton view that, in worshipping health, we become unhealthy, I do think that God expects responsible stewardship of the life He has given us.

    "I am speaking of the sin of pride, manifested in the turning up of one's nose at legitimate pleasures that are signs of God's goodness. Pride is the main motivation of prohibitionists everywhere."

    I love that quote. Perhaps there is a balance of virtues to be achieved here, much the same way our Church delicately balances the virtues to keep them from running unchecked as has happened with Prohibition for example.

    If you see it as a sign of God's goodness, smoke occasionally and enjoy it. I would ask that you recognize how frightfully easy it is to become addicted, which would be to the detriment of your health and those around you. Your smoking could then become an act of desperation and pride, just like prohibition.

    I guess I won't be getting that Four Man Feast invitation anytime soon!

  11. M,

    To a certain extent I surely see your and Chesteronian's point. Life can be made into an idol, absolutely. But, then, so might cigars be made into an idol--I mean, I think we should recognize that we can live a "good life" even without tobacco.

    It reminds me a little of the part in "The Flying Inn" where Lord Ivywood is delivering a priggish panegyric on vegetarianism inside his mansion while Dalroy and Pump are practicing "practical" vegetarianism just outside. You can abstain from something because you're a prig and a methusalite, surely--but so can you abstain from something out of practical concerns.

    Mind you, I smoke a cigar about once a week, so I'm not necessarily condemning tobacco--I just mean to point out that neither "life" nor "the 'good' life" ought to become sacrosanct and beyond question.

  12. Why is it that a anti-smoking person is on one side of the pendulam and a smoker on the other side? I mean isn't that what Tom meant when he wrote that the Church is in the middle? Smoking isn't harmful unless you do it too much or too often. But so is practically everything else!

    Tom -- I am just curious about this whole notion of second-hand smoke. I wonder about the science behind it. For years they said saccarin was bad for your health until they revealed the studies on how they tested it and bammo, it is back on the shelves. Is the second hand smoke scare really legit or could it be tainted science? I have my doubts about the scare, considering the politicized nature about it.

  13. Theology is far more practical than science; unlike religious dogmas, scientific dogmas are subject to change.

    That being said, the evidence for second hand smoke is quite compelling. Here is a link to the American Lung Association bullet points:

    At the bottom of this list, you will find links to the peer reviewed articles that generated the data. I would especially encourage you to pay attention to the effects of second hand smoke on children, particularly those with asthma.

    I used to find the whole "smokers' rights" movement somewhat amusing. If people insisted on being low level radioactive in public, I doubt there would be serious discussions about their right to do so. Yet, for truly low levels of radiation, the overall public health hazard would be less.

    In their worship of health, people can take the campaign against smoking too far. It sometimes seems to be more motivated from arrogance and political correctness than a genuine concern for people's health. I wouldn't let the known hazards of smoking keep you from an occasional stogie at a Four Man Feast; just choose your company carefully!

  14. Great blog.


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