Sunday, September 02, 2007

On drinking: a public service report

Drinking is no sin, as Catholics clearly understand and Evangelical Protestants and Fundamentalists sometimes seem to forget. It is also true, of course, that drunkenness is a sin, as Evangelical Protestants and Fundamentalists clearly understand and Catholics sometimes seem to forget.

There are more than enough verses in Scripture against drunkenness to miss the point. Some might even strike the casual reader as rather severe, as when St. Paul says not to associate or even to eat with anyone who is a drunkard, placing the drunkard in the same category as those guilty of immorality, idolatry or theft (1 Cor. 5:11). So, okay, we get it.

On the other hand, St. Paul advises Timothy, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach ..." (1 Tim. 5:23), and the Psalmist gives thanks for the gift of wine "to gladden the heart of man" (Ps. 104:15). Would anyone be so tiresome as to request the Hebrew meaning of "gladden" in order to see that we're talking about mild inebriation here?

But the text I would dearly love to see a teetotaling Fundamentalist preach a sermon on is Prov. 31:6-7, which reads: "Give [note the imperative mood of the verb] strong drink to him who is perishing and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more." My hunch is that Fundamentalists preach on this passage about as frequently as Catholic AmChurch pastors preach on contraception.

To see what a hold this Prohibitionist-era tee-totaling Fundamentalist view has had on American Evangelicalism, all you need to do is note that back in the nineteen-fifties, Kenneth N. Taylor, author of the celebrated Living Bible paraphrase, authored an otherwise excellent book of children's Bible stories entitled The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes (Chicago: Moody Press, 1956), in which the guests at the wedding feast at Cana are described as running out of "grape juice" -- calling forth Jesus' miracle of turning water into Welch's. Or you may eximine the prodigious theological justifications produced by those American Evangelicals who have cautiously ventured into the pleasures of wine and beer (see, e.g., Bob Hayton, "'Wine to Gladden the Heart of Man': Thoughts on God’s Good Gift of Wine," Fundamentally Reformed, March 20, 2006). This is not at all atypical.

By contrast, how refreshingly uninhibited and like the Psalmist in outlook is Hilaire Belloc's little rhyme:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There's always laughter and good red wine.
At least I've always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!
St. Thomas Aquinas is on record as even declaring: "Anyone who refrained from wine to such an extent that he severely tried nature would in some measure incur guilt" (ST II-II, 150, ad 1).

Although Ben Franklin was not a Catholic, there probably was never a soul so Catholic in outlook and temper as he when he declared: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Okay, so his hyperbole occasionally got the best of him:
When we drink, we get drunk.
When we get drunk, we fall asleep.
When we fall asleep, we commit no sin.
When we commit no sin, we go to heaven.
Sooooo, let's all get drunk and go to heaven!
Then, again, I just received word that Ben Franklin also reputedly said: "In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria." Relevant to this, I have also read that in a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have demonstrated that if we drink 1 liter of water each day, at the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo of Escherichia coli, (E. coli) -- bacteria found in feces. In other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop. However, we do NOT run that risk when drinking wine & beer (or tequila, rum, whiskey or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through a purification process of boiling, filtering and/or fermenting. Remember: Water = Poop, Wine = Health. Therefore, it's better to drink wine and talk stupid, than to drink water and be full of ... well, you know what. No need to thank me for this valuable information: consider it a public service. Have a happy Labor Day -- and remember: don't drink and drive.

No comments: