Thursday, 24 April 2014

Christianity and wine

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As the great 'Mere Christian' of the twentieth century, one of the few inter-denominational disagreements among Christians on which CS Lewis had vehement opinions was the matter of alcoholic drinks.

Lewis regarded it as wrong for Christians to make a big thing about prohibiting alcohol on Christian grounds. Lewis himself enjoyed drinking beer and wine (although tea was his main beverage - in enormous quantities - as it was for Charles Williams).

This point put him at odds with some of the Nonconformist Protestant churches such as Methodists, and created a significant point of disagreement with his supporters in the United States.

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Lewis was, of course, correct that it would be absurd to regard Christianity as being intrinsically anti-wine-drinking, since wine is built-into the world of the Bible - but on the other hand, there is a scriptural (and logical) basis for stating that Christianity is intrinsically anti drunkenness, anti-intoxication.

(For many reasons: intoxication reduces functionality and encourages accidents, violence, promiscuity - especially among women, drug-taking, and disease.)

In the real world the question of alcohol often hinges on whether - in actual practice and the actual circumstances - it is easy/ possible to drink alcohol moderately, without intoxication.

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This varies between societies; and is substantially a 'given' factor.

For example, in Britain today, it is difficult to be a moderate drinker because the norm is drinking to the point of intoxication, and it is regarded as acceptable/ admirable/ polite/ hospitable to offer/ encourage/ push/ trick people into drinking more alcohol than they want.

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(Tales of one's own extreme intoxication are a daily staple for young people and also very common among the middle ages/elderly in Britain - most of the snatches of conversations I overhear between young women students in social situations are about the previous night's heavy drinking to the point of incapacity, memory loss etc. This really is mainstream behaviour - not to get drunk/ very drunk regularly is regarded as strange.)

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So, on grounds of expediency - to avoid intoxication, it may in some situations be reasonable/ necessary to prohibit alcohol among Christians in many or most situations - and this places some denominations at-odds with a heavy drinking society, and this in turn leads to an excessive emphasis on what is actually a point of expediency.

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So, in mainstream culture, and indeed among some denominations (Roman Catholics, particularly) alcohol related behaviour tends to be pushed to extremes.

On the one hand there is advocacy of drinking, massive advertising positive media and artistic depictions, a cult of connoisseurship of beer/ wine and spirits, a set-up of social drinking as the main friendly interaction, and a positive evaluation of intoxication; versus, on the other hand, a very strict and negative attitude toward alcohol.

However, the situation of extreme polarization - while simplistic and lacking in nuance - seems in practice unavoidable or even necessary. On the one hand, wine is built-into Christianity; but on the other hand alcohol is among the most dangerous and damaging of all drugs.

And alcohol is the only drug for which (here and now) excessive consumption is pushed so hard, at so many levels, and by so many different groups.

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Declaration of Interest: I drank alcohol for most of my adult life - being particularly fond of beer - in amounts which were normal for my circumstances, but excessive by world historical standards and for my own physiology (which was more-than-usually sensitive to alcohol - and especially the 'hang-over' after effects). I stopped drinking alcohol altogether about 20 years ago, long before I became a Christian; for health/ well-being reasons, when my migraines became severe and were exacerbated by drinking. However, I am not 'teetotal' because I take wine at Holy Communion.
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