From the flustering Prohibition - the only Constitutional amendment ever to be repealed - to the everyday complexities of liquor laws, American society has argued and agonized over alcohol for several centuries. The issue has often served as a sort of therapeutic punching bag for the ills of society, as it tends to naturally elicit an emotional response.
Christianity is, as usual, caught in the middle of the argument: affirming God's creation as good while at the same time denouncing man's abuse as evil. (Contrary to popular belief, the Truth often sits on the fence - which is harder than it looks. It is a most uncomfortable position to maintain, mostly due to the narrow center of balance, but also because of the disconcerting predicament of being stoned from both sides.)
I am indebted to a rather thorough article from Wikipedia on Christianity and Alcohol for the three main categories of Christian "Alcohology": moderationism, abstentionism, and prohibitionism. Moderationism remains on the fence; abstentionism and prohibitionism have fallen off. The latter two are reasonable enough, but there is one more authority we must reckon with, for we have yet to ask what God thinks.
To us fussy conservatives, the Bible is alarmingly casual about alcohol. We may quote the warnings readily enough, but tend to skip over the prescriptions, or the injunctions to just have a good old time.
Truth be told, the Bible is overwhelmingly positive about wine, as it is about most other good things. It is merely another wholesome ingredient - like sunshine, or song - in the joyful, healthy, God-centered life. (As Chesterton writes in Heretics: "'Wine,' says the Scripture, 'maketh glad the heart of man,' but only of the man who has a heart. The thing called high spirits is possible only to the spiritual.")
Abstinence may certainly be a virtue, only in the sense that fasting is a virtue. Few people advocate fasting as a way of life - or perhaps the doctrine has been a victim of natural selection.
A friend recently shared with me an article exploring the proper observance of Communion in connection with the issue of alcohol. While I am not at all convinced that observing the sacrament with grape juice is "sinful practice," I found the article enlightening and the argument for wine unexpectedly persuasive. It's worth considering.
A day will come when all our silly scruples will fall from our eyes like scales. When we will make the earth tremble with our dances and the hills echo with our shouts. When creation will be restored to a glory more dazzling than her first, and the Kingdom will begin with a banquet that never ends.
Shall we drink to it?
"Don't teach me about moderation and liberty / I prefer a shot of grape juice..." - Derek Webb
Image courtesy of sethryan.com