Saturday, May 28, 2005

"Demon" Alchohol?


A little morality post, just to stretch the ol' muscles a bit.

The drinking of alchohol seems to get varied treatment, depending on which religion you adhere to. The Mormons consider it absolutely forbidden. Most Baptist churches at least discourage, if not forbid, its imbibing, as do Pentecostals and other Calvinist sects. Most other Protestant sects are neutral to lukewarm about it. The Catholic Church not only has no problem with it, but produces (and has invented) multiple forms of it

Absolutely considered (ie, considered alone, all other factors notwithstanding) there is simply nothing wrong with drinking alchohol. We see people using it in the Bible all the time. Probably the most common justification used is Jesus' turning the water into wine at Cana in John 2. That being said, there are circumstances where consuming alchohol would be immoral. 1) If it causes another to sin, either by creating a confusion about the moral law or creating a temptation to drink excessively; 2) if it leads to drunkeness; and 3) if it is against the law of the land

When scandal occurs, it means that through an action, a person causes a confusion in another person about the moral law which may cause them to sin later on or goes against their morality to such an extent that belief becomes difficult for them. When the latter happens, it usually means that a person says "well if this is how Christians behave, then I don't see how I can be a Christian." Mentioned several times in the New Testament, the two best examples as it on this would be when Christ says in Matthew 18:6 "He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea." (A footnote to the Douay-Rheims translation reads: "Shall scandalize"... That is, shall put a stumbling block in their way, and cause them to fall into sin.) and when St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans "It is good not to eat flesh, and not to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother is offended, or scandalized, or made weak." (14:21) A note on moral offense: if you can excersize some self-restraint and not complain, then by all means do. If the sight of another person drinking does offend you greatly for one reason or another, by all means let them know, but do it kindly, not out of moral superiority. For those who recieve such a request, please be considerate and honor this as best you can

That leads pretty well into the second part of it, when by drinking you create an unnecessary temptation for another to sin by observing you drinking. Let's say, for example, that me and my pal Slim want to get together for dinner. I would like to drink wine with my meal. Slim is a recovering alcoholic, and I know this. When he sees me drink my wine, he really, really, really wants some. He's tempted something awful at the moment. If the temptation becomes so great that he gives in and drinks the wine (and later "crawls into the bottle", as the expression goes), that would most definitely be my fault. I should have been more considerate of Slim's needs as a person with a chemical dependancy and simply not had the wine.

To drink to excess is sinful because it goes against the virtue of temperance, and is condemned by St. Paul as he says "Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness" (Rm. 13:13) According to St. Thomas, when you drink excessively without knowing that you will become intoxicated, the sin is venial, but when you know that you are consuming more of a beverage than you ought and you know that the drink is intoxicating, then it is a mortal sin. The reasoning being that because a thing is evil because it deprives natural goods (the demonstration of which is a post unto itself), and reason being a great good whereby we discern the avoidance of sin and commitance of virtue, its deprivation from the human is a grave matter.

Now the law. If it is against the civil law for me to consume liquor, then it is also against the moral law for me to do so. This is commanded by Paul when he says to Titus "Admonish them to be subject to princes and powers" (3:1) and by Peter when he writes "Be ye subject therefore to every human creature for God's sake: whether it be to the king as excelling; Or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of the good." (1 Pt. 2:13-14) Because a government needs to work towards the common good of its charges, which means among other things maintaining peace, the Christian is bound to obey the government for this sake. When people act against the laws arbitrarily or immorally, they sow discord and unrest by undermining an agent necessary for the unity and peaceful co-existance of a society. Since causing discord and unrest are contrary to peace and the general welfare, such actions are to be avoided.

There's four objections that can be raised against this last principle:

The first problem that anyone would have with this is that this makes morality seem somewhat arbitrary. Let's say that Slim (no longer an alcoholic) is in Germany and I am here in Texas. We want to drink "together" by consuming some beer at the same time as one another. We are both 18, and both performing the same act. Yet it is magically sinful in Texas? Or is it that Texas is somehow obeying the natural law by forbiding drinking below 21, while Germany doesn't, meaning that we are both sinning by the act?

The answer is that we are in fact not performing the exact same actions. In addition to all the other actions that Slim is going through, I am also breaking the law. That's the hitch right there. The moral law doesn't require that those of a certain age abstain from drinking, but it does requires that just laws be obeyed. (In an interesting application, this would actually mean that when you break the speed limit, also a law, it is a venial sin. I'll bet $100 that that doesn't even begin occur to most people. I didn't realize it until that fact was pointed out to me back in March.)

The second problem is that laws about drinking may vary (at least in the U.S.) from state to state, or even town to town. A person should not be expected to be versed in every single law of an area just so that they don't break any laws. The time and effort that it would take to aquire such knowledge is too great to be imposed upon the average person.

While it is very cumbersome to memorize evey last detail of every law, finding out certain ones such as "what is the drinking age?" or "is shooting fireworks on the Fourth banned?", particularly if you think it may come up, is not too unreasonable. Asking a friend or making a phone call to the local police station about the matter shouldn't take more than a few minutes. If all else fails, you could always play it safe and not drink.

The third problem is that in certain circumstances, the prevailing culture either requires, encourages, or considers normal drinking at a certain age/position, such as proposing a toast, which would mandate wine or the like be imbibed (mostly you'll hear this one from college students, though.)

The response is threefold. First is that in this argument, what is called the naturalistic fallacy (that 'is' equals 'ought to be') is committed. Simply because an action is normally done, it by no means follows that it should be done. Heck, if the Old Testament is any indicator, if the majority of the people are doing it, the odds are better that an act shouldn't be performed. If it happens that you need to propose a toast, there is nothing in the rules of etiquette that prevent water from being used as a substitute for wine or champagne. If its informal enough that one of these two drinks isn't being used, then any liquid should suffice for making a toast. If all else fails and the incredibly unlikely scenario occurs that you (a legal minor) are asked to give a toast which must involve champagne, simply point out that it is illegal for you to do so under such conditions and politely decline.

The fourth problem is that this would mean that anyone who is under the drinking age sins when they drink the wine at communion.

Two solutions: 1) most, if not all, places have special laws exempting religious services from the drinking age. 2) Its not wine they're drinking, its blood. Don't take my word for it, just ask Jesus.

There is a fifth argument, but it is not particularly aimed at the principle itself, but more towards modification of the laws, though it can be used as an excuse to drink as a minor. The argument is the "military argument", and basically runs as follows: "at the age of 18, people can fight for their country, so they should be able to drink too."

The answer: if the government sees fit to change the drinking laws so that the draft age and the drinking age coincide, then that is its perogative. For whatever reason, it has decided to maintain the ages as they are. Perhaps the risks of military service are more obvious than those of immoderate drinking, and so greater caution and judgement is used on the whole. At any rate, brining about change of this law by breaking it is not a valid option. St. Paul points out in Romans 3:8 that it is wrong to use immoral methods to justify a moral end, and warns of the fate of those who do. The issue of what laws passed by government (if any) do warrant disobediance, not unlike what was seen in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s is a topic all its own. And so I sow the seeds of future posts, both here and in other places. Let's see what I can reap.

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloram+

"The wine urges me on, the bewitching wine, which sets even a wise man to singing and to laughing gently and rouses him up to dance and brings forth words which were better unspoken."
-Homer, The Odyssey


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