Thoughts on Leisure, Smoke, and Beautiful Living

Brothers,

This Christmas break I was blessed to be wed, and so did not write anything. So a re-introduction may be required–The fine folks at The Catholic Dormitory have graciously accepted my request to write occasional thoughts on the website. And, since I am a tobacconist (as well as a student), naturally I thought that smoking would be an excellent starting point.

The war on smoking today in the media and the general culture constitutes a war not only on a scapegoat, but also a war on the art of leisure. Oscar Wilde (a troubled but sincere deathbed convert to Roman Catholicism, by the way, so we may be sure to hear his delicate and flowing prose among the chorus of angels) once quipped, in his introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray that “All Art is Completely Useless.”
Smoking is an art. It is also completely useless. There are, of course, benefits, just as there are benefits to friendship. But just as in friendship, if you smoke only for the rush of nicotine, you are missing the point. If you were to approach some person and say “I would like to be your friend because there would be discreet benefits to such an arrangement,” you would be missing the point of friendship. If you approached a beer and said to the beer “I shall drink you not because you taste delicious, but rather because I shall be drunk having consumed you,” you are missing the point.

There are benefits to living beautifully, but the beauty mysteriously disappears before the stomp of the ugly tennis shoes of utilitarianism. Rather, beauty must be sought, consumed, inhaled, for its own sake.

This view of beauty undercuts the utilitarianism of our society. Even our half-hearted ecstasies are “escape valves” or “therapy.” Drinking has become “self-medication with alcohol.” Smoking has become “tobacco use.” The Wilde view of beauty countermands this vocabulary and asks us to accept God’s gifts for their own sake, because they shiver with his grace, because they are given and not traded, because they are Beautiful.
Perhaps this is a Catholic view of art. Perhaps this is a Catholic view of life! Our every word becomes an act of worship. Useful things transform themselves, and glimmer with new gravitas. And the smoke exhaled from our parted lips becomes a prayer without words, basking in an utterly useless activity whose sole purpose is to fill time beautifully.

Leisure is not an art, Leisure is art.

Look at the time that goes into creating a pipe. After allowing Erica arborea to grow on rocky windy cliffs on the Mediterranean for fifty to a hundred years, Briar is harvested, cut into pipe-shaped blocks called ebauchons, which are then allowed to age for another four to fifty years before being carved by master carvers, have stems cut drilled and fitted to each pipe, and finished in various ways to make them beautiful only to ship them out to all corners of the world for the sole purpose of stuffing dried leaves in them to be set on fire.
This does not make sense for any utilitarian.
But it makes perfect sense to those who appreciate art–who delight continuously, as all humans do, in witnessing a pointless activity completed with incredible skill. How else are we to explain our great love of sport, or hunting, or kite-flying?

The defense of smoking must always, however, be completely threatening to our modern American culture, especially if one defends not only smoking but the entire philosophy of leisure that supports its continued enjoyment. Rather than enjoyed, our culture believes, tobacco is merely consumed, thus implicating “users” of tobacco in the “throw-away culture” that Pope Francis rightly admonishes. To truly fight this argument, to truly defend the Smoke, we must also defend leisure. Sport, hunting, art, literature, and the vast catalogue of useless activities in which humans naturally participate (stamp-collecting, cross-stitching, board games) become invested with a vast philosophical importance.
Religion itself is a useless activity. Its benefits, of course, are nigh uncountable, but again, if one worships and confesses and prays and goes to choir practice only to reap the benefits of religious life, the point has been missed. The useless expense of leisure time mirrors our desire to worship in that we smoke not only to reap the benefits of smoking, but we smoke for no other reason than smoking itself. We worship God for no other reason than that He Is.

And, with that thought, I’m off to enjoy a pipe. Castello hawkbill, McClelland’s Christmas Cheer. Match made in heaven.

3 comments

  1. Will De Bord · · Reply

    Interesting how you define leisure as time worshiping God. I believe that it can be time spent worshiping God, but not necessarily all the time. Smoking, in my opinion can be dangerously addictive, and can lead to health issues.

    Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call this view as being utilitarian, however, many loved ones can be hurt physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually by one’s impairment, suffering, and in some cases addiction from smoking and drinking. Second hand smoke is now known to be worse than actually smoking yourself.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way shape or form trying to tell other people that the casual drink and smoke will kill them, and I understand smoking and drinking are in many ways embedded in our culture, but aren’t other means of worship more beneficial and less detrimental than smoking? Please take this from a Catholic that is striving to learn more and not as a personal attack.

    I am interested in learning more about your thoughts on leisure as a form of worship, and enjoyed reading your article.

    God Bless,

    W.D.

    1. Mr. De Bord,
      Thank you for your reply, and for your tact. Let me clarify and emphasize a few points before addressing your main question, which is important and touches on the rim of many larger questions. First, Leisure in my definition is not simply lazing about or time “spent”. When we say we “spend time” we use this strange word ‘spend,’ which means that it is gone. I think the time filled by leisure–and in the case of smoking, eating, drinking, reading, watching, listening, or generally enjoying God’s creation with our blessed senses–is analogous to worship, or can be a kind of worship, but is not complete worship. We find complete worship when we participate in the liturgy and the mission of the Church–which is to say, participating in salvation history. On the other hand, I believe that Leisure ‘spent,’ leisure wasted on idleness or sloth, is not godly, nor is it actually leisure. Time wasted playing Candy Crush is not time with God. But enjoying his creation by fumigation is close to a type of worship. That is my point.
      Second, on smoking. Smoking pipes and cigars are not nearly as addictive as smoking cigarettes. I scarcely go a day without a pipe, but during Lent, when I abstain from smoking, I do not have any type of nicotine craving. Additionally, second-hand smoke is most emphatically not worse than smoking first-hand. That is bogus science, politically motivated and sketchily conceived. Unless one works in a closed environment with many smokers, second hand smoke is no more dangerous than smelling a campfire or cooking smoke. There is nothing especially dangerous about tobacco smoke that distinguishes it from other types of smoke, except that it is pleasant and contains nicotine, a medically beneficial chemical that is regrettably addictive. So, if you smoke the correct things (that is, pipes, cigars, and cigarettes that aren’t laden with chemicals and additional nicotine to ‘hook’ you), the practice is not an ‘impairment,’ but is rather something to be enjoyed and cherished. It is a hobby, not a habit. Addiction is, however, a sin of gluttony, and you rightly condemn it. Addiction to alcohol can be especially painful–but that is a problem of excess, not a problem of consumption. When we drink and smoke in moderation, with the intention of enjoyment and appreciation rather than consumption, we can be as enthralled as Eve in the Garden. But when we let the Creation take away from the majesty of the Creator, all is lost.
      So, in short, re-consider your thoughts on smoking, but thank you for noting the temptation of sloth that comes with leisure. It’s a very important point. Thank you for commenting!

      In Christ
      R

  2. Will De Bord · · Reply

    Horsarex,

    You are a very intricate and tactful writer yourself. Thank you for sharing more about your thoughts on leisure.

    In regards to sloth: I think there is a fine line where one may deem a leisure-type activity sloth versus worship. Alluding to your response, where you say that leisure isn’t necessarily completely (analogous to) worship, I would have to say that I agree. However, I do believe that whenever we put God first as the meaning/worship to any activity it is hard to go wrong, and we can almost certainly grow in our faith and spend time with Him.

    This also refers back to when you say: ” The useless expense of leisure time mirrors our desire to worship in that we smoke not only to reap the benefits of smoking, but we smoke for no other reason than smoking itself. We worship God for no other reason than that He Is.”

    At least, what I take away from this is that smoking is like worship, but if we use it so that we are putting God first, any leisure-type activity can be considered time spent with God. I may in fact take up the pipe sometime and use it to reflect on God as a form of worship, though I cannot say it would be my first choice.

    Thanks again for your time and for your quick and well-written response. I thoroughly enjoy reading your thoughts on the matter! Though I do not consider myself to be completely utilitarian, I find myself gravitating towards “What’s the point?,” even when I absolutely love activities that you listed such as hunting, reading, and playing sports (I actually play division I lacrosse, which may explain the trouble with smoking). Therefore, I am VERY curious about how I can learn more about leisure as a form of worship, and any more thoughts you can share would benefit me greatly.

    Again, thank you so much for your time and consideration in this matter, and for your willingness to discuss it!

    God Bless,

    W.D.

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