Theology and Pipe Smoking: Meditations on the Queen of Sciences and the Noble Weed, in Three Parts.

james

Part I: Part II Part III Appendix

 

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Back before fundamentalism caused much of American Christianity to go off the moral deep end and get caught in up in a fevered attempt to demonize a whole series of behaviors that are morally neutral, pipe smoking was seen as a very decent and proper thing for a theologian (& anyone else) to do. In many Christian communities which successfully fought off the tendency to condemn everything, pipe smoking has always and continues to be appreciated for the benefits it brings to moments of relaxation, conversation, and mental clarity.

In this post I will not attempt to systematize the benefits of pipe smoking. That has been done elsewhere (see below), nor will I systematically attempt to justify or defend the moderate use of tobacco against any who may criticize it either with (and wouldn’t this be cute) a biblical argument, or a health argument. I will say at this juncture that most of the research done on the negative side affects of tobacco concern cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The handful of studies which have been done on pipes and cigars suggest that moderate use (defined in one study as 10 bowls a day) increases your chance of lung cancer less than 3% (mouth cancer may be a different story, however).

Nonetheless, the primary purposes of these posts are: a) to examine the intersection between that nearly mystical ritual of lighting a bowl of good tobacco, and practicing (in my case practicing amateurly) the discipline of Christian theology; and, b) to provide the gentle reader with a few resources which may help to integrate theology and pipe smoking.

The present post will include, besides this introduction, a brief, inconclusive, and hardly researched historical sketch of Christianity’s relationship with pipe smoking (and smoking in general to some degree), and also modest list of (relatively) famous Christian pipe smokers. My second post will attempt to “pair” pipes and especially tobacco blends to the contemplation of certain theological ideas, and the reading of certain theological books, together with some other tobacco infused theological shenanigans. And my final post will list resources, both on-line and off, for the pipe smoking follower of Jesus.

It needs to be said that these posts owe much to the seminal work on the subject: Toward a Theology of Pipe Smoking by Arthur D. Yunker (see my upcoming third post [or just google it]), and I personally owe much to the man who introduced me to the quaint, curious and comforting world of pipes—a man who has travelled and is travelling that familiar path from idealistic young fundamentalist, to disgruntled bible college student, to rebellious pipe-smoker, to well-adjusted and moderate pipe-smoker, to well-adjusted and sincere Christian that many of us recognize as our own spiritual journey.

A Brief Historical Sketch

J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien

Pipe smoking and Christianity (if not Christian theology) go way back. A little over a century after Europe was introduced to that glorious weed, tobacco, one of the church’s most brilliant liturgists, and one of the world’s most brilliant musicians began to smoke enthusiastically. I am of course talking about Johann Sebastian Bach. Besides such masterpieces as “Chaconne,” and “The ‘Little’ Fugue,” Bach is responsible for what is probably the first written artifact describing the intersection of Christian faith and practice with pipe smoking—a poem in which Bach meditates on how certain aspects of smoking a pipe remind him of the transitory nature of human life, and of the sorrow of an eternity spent in hell. From a literary standpoint the poem or at least the English translation of the poem is no Paradise Lost (I’m sure the original German was better), but, like meerschaum which hasn’t been smoked too fast or too slow, it ends well because the last two lines of the poem are easily the best quote concerning Christianity and pipe smoking I’ve ever come across: On sea, on land, at home, abroad/ I smoke my pipe and worship God. What a classic (and rhythmically pleasing) statement of a truth today’s church needs badly: Our entire lives should be lived as worship to God, and anything we do, whether it be attending the Cathedral, riding our bike, drinking a beer, or smoking our pipe—if done with a heart full of thanksgiving and humility—can be an act of worship.

After Bach, the history of pipe smoking and Christianity gets hazy (much like a room when too many people are smoking without proper ventilation). Since the Church thought nothing strange about smoking a pipe for most of its history, there was very little controversy, and thus very little record of the history in question.

Then in the late 19th and early 20th century we come to the rise of fundamentalism in response to developments in biblical criticism, the so-called social gospel, and other changes in Christendom. Fundamentalists felt that what was needed to combat the forces of liberalism was a “return” to holiness and piety. As a result, campaigns against popular entertainment (movies, cards, dominoes), drinking, and smoking were launched by many early fundamentalists, and of course, the banner has been picked up by several subsequent generations on into the present day. Though, not directly about pipe smoking, a story involving Billy Sunday one of the fathers of fundamentalism will do much to illustrate, the fact however, that even within the early evangelical/fundamentalist movement there was not total consensus.

William “Billy” Sunday was a famous baseball player in the 1880s until he was converted to Christianity. He heard the call to ministry and became an evangelist. He was a charismatic preacher, a fund raising genius, and reportedly told more individuals his version of what the gospel was than any other person up to that time. By the 1910s and 20s he was America’s most famous evangelical Christian. He was outspoken about social issues of the day, and was an especially voracious supporter of prohibition.

At some point just before the turn of the 20th century, Billy Sunday was invited to visit Charles Spurgeon’s church in London. During the course of his sermon, Billy began to preach against the “evils” of drinking and smoking, and how Christians could not do it, and expect admission into heaven. It is reported that though he was polite all the way through the sermon, Spurgeon went to the pulpit at the end, looked at Billy and said, “Be that as it may, sir. I will go home to tonight and smoke a cigar to the greater glory of God!”

An Annotated List of Christian Pipe Smokers (or
A Fundamentalist’s Field Guide to Pipe Smoking Heretics, And Why They’re Going to Hell)

And Charles Spurgeon was only one of the many evangelical “traitors.” What proceeds is an annotated list of some theologians, pastors, evangelists, Christian authors, and other personalities in some way connected to Christendom who smoke or have smoked (both Pipe and Cigar smokers are included). One caveat is that inclusion on this list does not constitute an endorsement of an individual’s theology or teachings, as some of these guys are total whack jobs, while others are modern day Fathers (if you’ll indulge me to throw that term around). And, what an edifying and uplifting theophiliac endeavour it would be to expand this list for the benefit of posterity!

Bach, Johann Sebastian- the aforementioned genius.
Barth, Karl- Do you really think he couldn’t have written all 98 volumes (I approximate, of course) of Church Dogmatics without the help of Lady Tobacco?
Chesterton, G.K.- One of my favorite Christian authors. Not only did he smoke pipes and cigars, but could also allegedly write one thing with his pen sitting at a desk, while simultaneously dictating an entirely different piece of writing to his secretary. I know Tony has mentioned his Orthodoxy in one of his posts.
Colson, Chuck- owns one of C.S. Lewis’ pipes.
Erskine, Ralph- Scottish Presbyterian, what else is there to say?

Frassati,The Blessed Pier Giorgio– Italian Catholic social justice advocate and anti-fascist.  Called the Man of the Eight Beatitudes by JP II (who beatified him in 1990); don’t think he was a pipe smoker?  Commenter Peter gives us definitive proof: proof
Hewitt, Hugh- conservative political commentator, claims to be Christian, I suppose we’ll take him on his word; wouldn’t want to be judgmental or anything, but can a Republican be a Christian?
Lewis, C. S.- probably the guy on the list with the most evangelical clout (despite being Anglican); another great piece of ammunition to use against stuffy fundies is that Lewis’ Narnia books took shape in a pub o’er many a pint. More on C.S. Lewis’ pipe smoking later.
Moltmann, Jurgen- Don’t have too much evidence for this just some off hand comment I think he made one time, and a general sense gotten by looking at the man that a pipe seems natural and fitting on him.
Ogden, Schubert- Methodist minister. Author of “May a Christian smoke?” {The Log 9, no.14 (1959): 2}, and I believe his answer (and mine) was “yes.”
Scott, Gene- (www.genescott.com) – this dude is (was?) crazy. He charged admission into his church. He had a Bible study TV show, on which he was fond of smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of wine. Favorite Bible study passage: you guessed it, the Wedding Feast of Cana.
Spurgeon, Charles- the aforementioned Cigar aficionado—speaking of which, I once saw Chuck Norris (conspicuously missing from this list of Christians, most of whom are Christians and thinkers) on the cover of the magazine Cigar Aficionado, why not have Charles Spurgeon on there?
Tolkien, J.R.R.- Catholic, as we all know.
Williams, Charles- probably the least known, and arguably the most talented (Lewis certainly thought so) of the “Inklings,” writer of speculative theological fiction; wonderful stuff, really. He was Anglican, and in fact wrote a fascinating church history called the Descent of the Dove. I did a research paper on it one time for Amos Yong’s theology class; totally B.S.ed it, but…if only I had been allowed to smoke my pipe (not that I didn’t anyway)…how much smarter I would have been!

Continue to Part II

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57 Comments

  1. I’m an ordained Pentecostal minister who was saved in a Baptist church and spent four years in a Catholic monastery. I, too, have been known to enjoy a pipe, usually votes Republican, lived in Southern California, drives a Toyota and a GMC truck, and isn’t sure the mark of the beast is a literal number. Can I join your group? There has to be a place for me somewhere. PLEEEESE?!?

    Reply

  2. Tony,

    Actually its the newb, not Reed, with whom Jesus is consternated. I was hoping someone would show me how to do all of the fancy-smancy formatting.

    Reply

  3. All,

    I began my exodus out of fundamentalism, pipe firmly in hand, in the great bastion of the A/G guilt machine – Springfield, Mo.

    Follow this link:

    http://justforhim.com/catalog/index.php?main_page=page&id=4&zenid=8ae8306f227bd7935cde3f58d60a53a5

    You will find yourself at the web site of what became a home away from home as I endured my indoctrination at CBC. Of particular interest is the article on the proper packing of a pipe. It is the tried and true method that I passed on to your contributor, James. Now, I bequeath it to you. Go and commit pipe packing sins no more.

    -Shawn

    Reply

  4. I saw afterwards. Reed had said that he was going to do some posts on this so I just assumed. And that just makes an ass out of you and me.

    Reed is the one who makes the fancy name tags. And I just find pictures on google images. I am probably going to get sued or something.

    Reply

  5. James, I prettied this post up a bit (for the sake of your eternal soul, apparently). I’ll make fancy signature images for you and Alan this week at some point.

    Great opener, by the way. I look forward to the day when all the theophiliacs can sit together in a grand library with books four stories to the ceiling with our briar pipes in one hand and a brandy snifter in the other. We’ll chat theology over the fire as our springer spaniel “Dietrich” chases the rabbits in his dreams on the bear skin rug.

    (Also, you should probably upload a profile picture and get that ugly, orange, spin-art nonsense off our sidebar.)

    Reply

  6. Alas, I have tried to upload a post several times, and I am rejected. Moderator, is my post lost in a filter somewhere?

    Reply

  7. As a pipe smoker and cig smoker alike I’d just like to mention that hand rolling one’s own cigarette can be just as meditative as packing a pipe. There was a time when cigarettes weren’t looked on as evil incarnate either. It was an enjoyable ceremony, much like smoking pipe. Granted, however, a pipe is far more relaxing and requires that one makes time for the pipe and its deliciousness. All I know is that California keeps claiming that cigarettes while kill me young. They have yet to make good on this claim. If I don’t start feeling negative health effects soon I’m going to have to quit! Since when do we care what Cali thinks?

    Reply

  8. I’m sorry Shawn.

    For some reason your posts got caught in the filter and when I try to approve them, they’re not showing up. Perhaps it’s because it didn’t like the link you were including? I’m not sure, this is odd.

    Reply

  9. Alan

    While pipes are most certainly proof that God loves us, cigarettes are grounds for immediate, eternal, damnation. I believe there is a special place in hell for those who roll their own cigarettes—a section called “We Thought We Could Get Away With It.” You’ll be sharing that particular Circle with the “beer snobs” who drink Budweiser Select, and the “coffee snobs” who think dark roasted (read: burnt to an ashy pulp) coffee is a legitimate preference.

    NOTE: This is especially poignant coming from me, as I do not even believe in hell and normally consider myself to be pretty open minded about things. However there are a few non-negotiables out there that I simply refuse to be moved on. I wouldn’t be doing anyone a favor by sugar-coating the truth of hell!

    So please my friends—stay away from cigs, let alone the mega-breweries that create the bubbly yellow stuff they would have us call beer, and for your soul’s sake drink a decent cup of single-origin black coffee for once.

    It’s a true act of worship.

    Reply

  10. If I had known so many conservatives smoked pipes I would have done it years ago! Can someone be a republican, smoke a pipe and be a christian? Wow, Pipe smoking is strike enough, much less throwing a bad voting record on top of it all; I’m gonna go with “no”.

    I think we might want to make a ‘special dispensation’ to Jim Thornber as long as he has performed a miracle and didn’t go to an A/G university (institution).

    ps. which number jim? 666? 616? 8675309?

    Reply

  11. Love the post. First time I’ve visited here before. Are any of you familiar with the Christian Pipe Smoker Forum? I’ve linked this site and the article mentioned in the post there.

    Nice!

    Reply

  12. Thanks,

    I have not heard of it, but I would look into it if you gave us a link.

    p.s. – check out our beer posts as well

    Reply

  13. I love the Christian Pipe Smoker’s Forum, although I haven’t been on there in a while. There is a limit to how many blog/forums/arguements with George Wood I can keep track of at once. Anyway, thanks Rich!

    I promise to post the second in the pipe smoking series soon.

    James

    Reply

  14. When I smoke I love a good joke I love to have fun and laugh I love to raid my friends stash.
    When I smoke I eat all day and let my cares drift away my days often happen this way.
    When I smoke I think about things for a while and my friends and how they make me smile.
    When I smoke everything is ok though I don’t go out much during the day, but all night I will play when I smoke

    The smoking pipe has a long and rich tradition. I see pipe smoking as an ongoing evolving ritualistic experience that historically creates spaces for people throughout the world to come together for a common enjoyable experience. How many rituals evolve around the pipe? How many occasions for discussion or laughter evolved around the smoking ritual? Throughout time the smoking pipe has held a crucial role in the leisure time of humanity. Smoking has a rich history from the ancient Japanese Kisuru pipe or the Eastern hookah to new devices like the inside out glass pipe and color changing glass water pipes . At SunflowerPipes.com we explore smoking history in depth in our section titled “Pipe School”. There is a lot to learn and a lot of smoking products out there that can add to your personal smoking ritual, At Pipe School you can learn about flavored rolling papers, what to look for when buying a pipe, how to clean and maintain your pipe, glass blowing, and about other smoking accessories including pollinators, dugouts, glass fifkas and much more! Happy Smoking 🙂

    Reply

  15. Sunflower,

    Wrong kind of pipes buddy!

    But it does bring me back to a theophiliacs gathering where a newcomer thought that we had been smoking weed for like two hours and her surprise was great to realize it was the true king of weeds, tobacco.

    Reply

  16. Super blog! Hopefully you lads don’t mind a 60-something Yank “in exile” in England lurking about. I’m a longtime pipe collector (esp. antiques), smoker (in moderation), an Evangelical working in London mentoring pastors and missionaries in what…?… “spiritual cardiology”? Something like that. See my website:
    http://grace4life.org
    THANKS for the insights. So, Colson has one of Lewis’s pipes? Dadgum. Have you got his address? (I’m considering a break-in.)
    Johnnny
    Pipe Club of London PCoL UK603F
    Webmaster, Pipe Club of London

    Reply

  17. Huh? Great help YOU are. I mean… how am I supposed to get this Lewis pipe for my collection when you provide no address.
    Yeah. Right. Some Christian YOU are!
    🙂
    Johnny

    Reply

  18. Thanks Eric! Please don’t take my comments about whether or not Republicans can be Christians seriously. It was of course meant as a joke.

    Reply

  19. Thanks Nathaniel! I give you guys a shout out in part three of this series. Your’s is a great site.

    James

    Reply

  20. I like my new 2009 DeMarini Doublewall Pitch White CF3 composite baseball bat is designed like the original DXCFB but includes a carbon material that is 22% stronger than competitors’ composite materials.

    Reply

  21. Baseball,

    I think you meant: “I, like my new 2009 blah, blah, blah, AM designed like the original blah, blah, blah. Sheesh, spammers have no regard for the English language.

    Reply

  22. […] but we've had a lot of new folks join us in the past few months so I thought I'd repost here. Theology and Pipe Smoking: Meditations on the Queen of Sciences and the Noble Weed, in Three Parts. … __________________ "You might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows […]

    Reply

  23. You seem to have overlooked the following Christian pipe smokers.
    Karol Józef Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) – I have no affirmative assertion that he was a pipe smoker. However, there is a photograph floating around on the Internet showing him receiving a custom made briar calumet pipe from Salvatore (Toto) Amorelli. The pontiff appeared to be quite excited by the gift.

    Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm (C.F.W.) Walther – first president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Rev. Dr. Walther smoked so heavily that the parrot that lived in his study eventually gave up the ghost from second hand smoke. One of the librarians at my seminary complained that after more than a century since Dr. Walther’s departure to the Church Triumphant the manuscripts kept in his study still smelled of pipe and cigar smoke.

    Matthias Loy – president of Ohio Joint Synod (now part of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and president of Capitol Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. Don’t know if he smoked a pipe, but from his own writing he smoked cigars from his teens.

    Rudolf Karl Bultmann – nominally a Lutheran theologian but I consider him a heretic because of his form criticism. Wikipedia has a photo of him with a briar in hand.

    Martin Niemöller – Lutheran pastor who, with Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, established the anti-Nazi Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church). Niemöller, son of a Lutheran pastor, was awarded the Iron Cross as a World War I submarine captain. As a pastor he protested Nazi attempts to control Christianity. From 1938 to 1945 he was imprisoned without trial.

    Reply

  24. Here are other famous pipe smoking Christians I inexcusably forgot to mention:

    Georg Friedrich Handel – Lutheran (like Johann Sebastian, Johann Ambrosius, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, but not Johann Christian, who went R.C.; Detriech Buxdehude, Johann Matteson, G. P. Telemann, Michael Praetorius, Samuel Scheidt, Johann Hermann Schein, Johann Friedrich Fasch, Heinrich Schuetz and Felix Mendelssohn). Why is it that you Protestants habitually omit mentioning when someone famous is Lutheran? In London, Handel smoked his pipe over coffee.

    Healey Willan – Anglo-Catholic organist and composer, received the Lambeth doctorate from the Archbishop of Canterbury. I have a picture of him with what appears to be a briar lumberman in his mouth.

    Additionally:

    William Eugene Scott – “was” He died in 2005

    Regarding Charles Haddon Spurgeon, according to the Petersburg Gospel Center website, Spurgeon was criticized because he smoked cigars. When another preacher (John Piper’s “Desiring God” website says the critic was a Methodist) asked him if he didn’t think his smoking would hurt his testimony. Spurgeon replied, “If I ever smoke to excess.” “And what would that be?” The preacher asked. “If I smoked two cigars at the same time,” Spurgeon replied. The Neo-Evangelical Chuck Swindoll recounted this incident, albeit with slightly different details.

    Reply

  25. Simply enlightening and uplifting in a world of fundamentalist drivel. Started with the blessed briar in Seminary some 14 years ago now. We just had an event for our church, “Burnt Offerings” by name, for men to some sit around discuss theology, or minutia as we puffed various forms of tobacco and sampled a cacophony of brews. The home brew Chocolate stout was especially delicious.

    Reply

  26. Add beer drinking to my personal list of pleasures. Smoking a pipeful of tobacco during contemplation or quaffing a beer during discussion with others may not make me more “spiritual” but does make me a better person (at least in my mind). I’ve have some interesting home brews, but am not sure I’d enjoy “chocolate” stout.

    Reply

  27. You know, I’m very iffy about beer. I know that it is a character flaw. I had two good beer experiences…one in Holland and one in Ecuador. That doesn’t help me, as I live in the U.S.

    I’m on another “microbrew” trip…vintage and boutique soda pops.

    But I do love the pipe, and would love “Burnt Offerings”…if they allow a soda guy in.

    Reply

  28. -Bonhoeffer also smoked a pipe, though he was more into roll-your-owns, I think…
    -Albert Schweitzer also smoked a pipe, though I’m not sure where it fit under that mustache of his.
    -Hilaire Belloc was also a pipe smoker, though certainly less well known than his close friend G.K. Chesterton.

    Also, I am very glad to hear Moltmann is a pipe smoker, even if only very quietly. I remember sitting outside reading Theology of Hope and smoking my meerschaum in college.

    Reply

  29. Thanks for the list of famous Christian pipe smokers. You lads check out our Pipe Club of London website of which I’m the designer & webmaster. http://www.pipecluboflondon.com. Be sure to check out the Flg Counter at the bottom of our HOME page. I do a Famous Pipe Smoker of the month, and like to sprinkle notable believers into the mix… have used Lewis & Tolkien thus far. What I must have is “picture proof” – I.e. a photo of the man (or women) pipe-in-hand – or mouth. Your research/help will be most appreciated! – Johnny

    Reply

    1. Bonhoeffer smoked cigarettes and cigars, but, as far a I can determine from his writings, the writings about him, and photographs of him, there are no pipes on his desk or in his hand, much less in his mouth. I WISH that were not the case, especially given my esteem for this brother and martyr, but let him who disagrees come forth with evidence to the contgrary.

      Reply

  30. I smoke cigars and pipes. I am studying for my M-Div currently nice read brother. I am not ashamed, I love my pipe…

    Reply

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