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An Argument for the Consumption of Cyanide

Here’s the scenario: You visit your family doctor for a regular checkup. After careful examination, the doctor begins to ask you about your eating habits.

“Well,” you answer, “I don’t eat anything out of the ordinary; just your typical American meals. The only abnormality may be that I always make sure to take a healthy dose of cyanide as a dietary supplement with every meal.”

“Cyanide?!” your doctor exclaims. “You’ve got to stop that! Consumption of cyanide is lethal!”

You respond. “Oh, come now, doctor! Cyanide is readily accessible to me and actually helps to curb my appetite. I observe no harmful side effects, and the benefits are great. I’m not going to stop taking cyanide unless you prove to me that cyanide is poisonous.”

“Well, that’s simple,” the doctor replies. “Cyanide affects virtually all body tissues, attaching itself to ubiquitous metalloenzymes and rendering them inactive. Its principal toxicity probably results from inactivation of cytochrome oxidase and, thus, cellular respiration, even in the presence of adequate oxygen stores. Consequently, the tissues with the highest oxygen requirements (like the brain, heart, and liver) are the most profoundly affected by acute cyanide poisoning.

“Chronic consumption of cyanide-containing foods results in ataxia and optic neuropathy. Defective cyanide metabolism causes Leber optic atrophy, leading to blindness.”

“Doctor, doctor,” you interrupt, “this is all over my head. I’m not going to believe all of this scientific jargon unless I can understand it.”

“But I’m an expert in my field,” your doctor retorts. “I’ve spent many years studying the human body and medicine. Surely you see the need to listen to experts in areas in which you have no extensive knowledge!”

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“I suppose. But I am a born again believer! In fact, I’m a Fundamentalist, and I believe that the Bible is all I need for my Christian life. Sola Scriptura is my battle cry! If you can’t show me in the Bible why I shouldn’t consume cyanide, then I’m afraid I’m going to continue doing what I like. I believe in the normative principle, you know.”

Your doctor is beside himself. “But don’t you think that you should apply your reason and the knowledge of experts in given areas to biblical principles? I mean, the Bible says you should take care of your body, doesn’t it? I’m telling you, from an expert in the field of medicine, that you will disobey that command if you keep ingesting cyanide!”

“But the Bible doesn’t specifically address consumption of cyanide. That must mean that God isn’t concerned one way or another. If fact, the Bible says that all things are lawful! This is just a simple issue of Christian liberty.”

In one last desperate attempt, your doctor insists, “Well, what if I can show you evidence; studies that prove that cyanide poisoning has killed people. Will you take my advice, then?”

“Well, first of all, I haven’t observed it for myself, and I’m not inclined to just believe what some scientist says. Besides, even if I did observe it for myself, it’s probably just a cultural phenomenon anyway. I’m strong enough to handle it. You can draw your lines on safety where you want to, but don’t judge me!”

*****

A silly story for sure. But these same kinds of arguments are used in many areas of Christian decision-making, most of all with music philosophy.

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We must realize that Sola Scriptura does not mean anti-intellectualism. It does not mean that we cannot trust experts and use their conclusions to help us make biblical applications. And it does not mean that we have liberty to do anything the Bible does not explicitly address. There is certainly room for discussion and debate about what certain musical styles communicate and whether it is compatable with Christianity, but biblical wisdom at least demands that we engage in such discussions.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

7 Responses to An Argument for the Consumption of Cyanide

  1. Scott,

    Let me play "devil's advocate" and raise what may be some additional objections to this position:

    1) "I've met with another doctor–just as learned as you–who claims that cyanide doesn't exist."

    2) "I've met with another doctor–just as learned as you–who claims that cyanide is neutral–it can't hurt me."

    3) "I don't believe that a doctor's opinion is any more or less valid than anybody else's–maybe we should make you the 'pope' of dietary law!"

    4) "What about the Africans? They eat cyanide all the time!"

    BTW, thanks for your ministry–your work is very edifying to those of us young people who give a rip about standards in church music.

    God bless,
    Kurt

  2. Hi, Kurt. OK, I'm game:

    1. I would point him to (a) countless medical reports that assert that it does exists (i.e., he is in the minority) and (b) the stuff itself!

    2. Again, I would point him to countless studies and to observable evidence.

    3. I know you're playing devil's advocate, but this is a silly position. That's the whole point of the illustration. People who think like this die! :)

    4. Examine the wordview, religion, and value system from which that practice stems – it leads them to enjoy physical pain and early death; ingestion of cyanide is a perfect tool for such religious goals (of course, this is all within this silly scenario!).

    Thanks for your kind comments!

  3. Thanks for giving a good illustration on challenges that we face in decision making through out the christian denominations. Being a doctor and musician i can easily grasp your point :)

  4. Scott, 
    I am really struggling with your analogy. I'm just not seeing the corollary between cyanide and music.
    Also where do soul liberty and the priesthood of the believer fit in here? They seem to have been left out of the discussion? 

  5. There are certainly breakdowns in the comparison, as with any analogy. But the  comparison is between cyanide and harmful music specifically, although the harm of the music is to the spirit while the harm of the cyanide is to the body. The harmful effects of certain music are observable and easily explained by someone who knows how music communicates, just as the harmful effects of cyanide are observable and easily explained by someone who knows scientifically what it does to the body.

    As far as soul liberty, people have every right to ingest cyanide. There is no explicit biblical  prohibition of this practice. But since I don't view the Bible as an encyclopedia of commands and prohibitions, I recognize the wisdom in listening to people who know what they're talking about as I seek to obey the biblical mandate to care for my body.

    Likewise, people have "soul liberty" in areas of music to be sure. But this doesn't mean that they always make good choices (It doesn't mean that I always make good choices, either!). Since the Bible doesn't give us explicit instructions for absolutely every issue we face, we sometimes need the help of others to successfully apply the authoritative, sufficient principles in Scripture.

    I completely reject the sentiment that says that priesthood of the believer means that every individual can make all the right choices for his life completely on his own. Because we are fallible, we need others to help us understand how to make right applications of Scripture in areas where we have little experience or expertise. This has nothing to do with the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture is sufficient because there is no issue we face to which the Bible is not applicable.

    I think it is actually a limiting of the sufficiency of Scripture to say that there are some issues we face that the Bible does not address.

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