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Vol. 59: 45-47, July, 1971
DRINKING PROBLEM AND THE CHURCHES
by Louise Parnell
the recent death of William Griffith Wilson, a former Wall
Street securities analyst, came the disclosure that he was
the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Claiming 475,000 members,
distributed in 15,000 groups in 89 countries, the A.A. had
a good record of success.
joint efforts of Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, an Akron, Ohio,
surgeon and alcoholic and William Griffith Wilson, established,
1935, a movement that has gained global significance.
the achievement of the two men in full focus, one might
ask: What has been the contribution of the various religions
churches toward solving the very real drinking problem?
has been called an "affirmative" religion. It
that God, in his creation of the world, made it a good world.
as part of creation, is good in itself. But the abuse of
was sternly denounced in Judaism. One reads in Proverbs
is a luxurious thing, and drunkenness riotous: whosoever
is delighted therewith shall not be wise."
questions are asked in Proverbs 23:29:
hath woe? Who falls into pits?"
reply is given:
they that pass their time in wine, and study to drink
off their cups. Look not upon the wine when it is yellow,
color thereof shineth in the glass. It goeth in pleasantly.
the end, it will bite like a snake, and will spread abroad
like a basilisk."
Judaism, there were two groups who abstained completely.
These were the Nazarites and the Rechabites.
Christianity, with its roots in Judaism, espoused the
Jewish attitude toward alcohol. St. Augustine relates that
heathens hesitated to become Christians because they feared
would be forced to renounce drinking on their pagan feast
were assured they would be permitted to drink on the days
to commemorate the martyrs.
Augustine himself, although he referred to wine as "a
of God," did his utmost to discontinue excessive drinking
diocese in Northern Africa.
Middle Ages saw the continuation of the same views toward
alcohol. Monasticism came into prominence as a protest against
corruption of secular and even ecclesiastical society. The
adhered to a rigorous schedule, with mortification of the
fasting and abstinence. Wine, however, was permitted in
is recalled that the Benedictines and the Carthusians even
became famous for the wines produced from their vineyards,
were permitted at table on festive occasions. Nevertheless,
preachers continued to thunder against the abuse of alcohol.
drunkenness was always regarded as a serious sin.
Protestant Reformation at first brought about no change
attitude toward alcohol. Martin Luther himself did not
hesitate to drink, but never to the point he could be called
drunkard. It is recorded that when he was burdened with
would fast for days without food and drink.
the 16th century, the code of the Anabaptist sect was more
demanding than Lutheranism, since it excluded from membership
who were unworthy in their moral habits. Moderation in food
drink was a requisite. Excesses of no kind were permitted.
Methodist strict attitude toward alcohol stems from this
code, as does that of the Quakers. In its extreme form,
attitude forbids the drinking of alcohol in any shape or
Calvinism, on the other hand, demanded strict discipline,
wine was permitted in moderation.
Gets Under Way
was the Methodists and the Quakers who took initial steps
toward a formal temperance movement with the Calvinists
later. They were motivated by the sociological aspects of
drinking rather than by pious aspirations. With drink responsible
for the ruin of families, it was felt something drastic
had to be
religious forces combined with the medical in
the temperance movement. It was Benjamin Rush, a Quaker
living in Philadelphia, who inaugurated the American movement.
to the horrible things occasioned by excessive
drinking, the reformers felt they had to strike at the root.
banned hard liquor altogether. Beer and ale were at first
but when people refused to take them in moderation, these
New England, the Congregationalists, in 1810, joined the
movement, and in 1827, the Presbyterians joined the Temperance
Crusade, advocating total abstinence. The Baptists were
advocates from the beginning. The Women's Christian Temperance
was a strong religious force in this struggle.
the larger denominations, Catholic, Lutheran and
Episcopalian, did not condemn alcohol in itself, each did
hesitate to encourage a policy of total abstinence. Pope
praised the total abstainers in a special message. Thousands
Catholics rallied to the cause of temperance and their impact
the movement was notable.
1838, Father Theobald Mathew, in Ireland, began his
memorable work against alcohol. According to his biographers,
respectable Protestant," a member of the Society of
inspired him in this labor of love.
little more than a year, his endeavors gained momentum.
great did his fame become, that his speeches on the evils
drew huge crowds all over Ireland. Receving over 200,000
abstinence from drink, his influence was colossal.
said to them that when casting off the yoke of
intemperance, they should also abandon every other vice,
rioting, faction, fighting, private combinations, illegal
firearms, serving threatening notices, and so on. He exhorted
to forget religious animosities, to live in peace with all,
observe the laws of God and man, and to respect the powers
not from fear but for conscience's sake. He spoke with great
and fluency, and his addresses were remarkable for their
Mathew visited the United States in 1849, where his fame
had preceded him. People flocked to hear him, happy to be
his principles. The groups he established here became the
for the Roman Catholic Total Abstinence Union of some years
fight against drinking spanned a period of 10 years.
is believed Father Mathew was instrumental in shaping the
thinking of Bishop John Ireland. It was to Bishop Ireland
Leo XIII, in 1887, wrote in praise of temperance.
Cardinal Gibbons, a strong believer in the crusade, also
was influenced by the work of Father Mathew.
the years, has the problem of drinking lessened?
remains one of major global proportion. Though the various
churches have done their utmost to discourage the use of
its excessive use remains the scourge of mankind, surpassed
modern man's use of narcotics.
one can find no set rule for temperance in the Bible.
Only the guiding lines are there. However, it is the individual
the will to abstain who will be influenced by these, even
as it is
the individual with the will to abstain who will make his
in the A.A. a fruitful and rewarding experience.