flagellant www

The three Abrahamic faiths, with the exception of subsects, do not seem to have explicit bans on drinking alcohol. Some of the subsects restrict – or even ban – alcohol altogether. When I was a Methodist in my youth, alcohol was taboo.

It is interesting to note that alcohol and drugs nevertheless have their place in a wide range of religious rituals. For example, wine is used in Christian communion and in several Jewish.ceremonies. (Mind you, kosher wine is quite revolting. I am also told that people are expected to get drunk at one particular Jewish festival.) The Rastafari movement – notionally Christian – specifies the use of Ganja (Cannabis) but this substance is currently illegal in both the UK and the US.

However, Islam seems to have an opposition to alcohol that is not justified by the Koran’s text. While I’ve been able to find the bit about not eating pork, I can’t find anything forbidding alcohol. The strongest thing it says on the subject is effectively ‘Do not go drunk to your prayers.’ This particular verse (Chapter 4 verse 43 ) implicitly seems to permit the drinking of alcohol.

Most societies go through periods of antagonism towards alcohol and drug use. In the US, between 1920 and 1933, the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution proscribed the sale, manufacture and transport of alcohol for consumption. Prohibition didn’t last for a variety of reasons. Hard drugs continue to be illegal but I find this strange for a country that has the inalienable constitutional right to ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’

Busybodies of all stripes – the religiosi in particular – seek to curtail enjoyment. Your question is a complex one and, while I’d castigate virtually all religions for their interference in people’s private lives, we mustn’t forget that drugs, including alcohol, can be harmful. In addition, societies that are notionally secular do their bit of unjustifiably trying to kill joy, too.

Posted: August 15th 2010

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Eric_PK

I can think of a few possible explanations:

1) Some religions are anti-pleasure.
2) Some religions are concerned with the sanctity of the body (in the followers, though often not in the leaders)
3) Controlling behavior of followers like this is a) something visible that can be used to foster the us vs. them dynamic and b) something that you can use to ostracise those who won’t do what you say.

I also would not discount political factors – there are very often power struggles about who is leading a religion, and “he can’t be a good leader because he does “ could easily be used as a tool there, and then become engrained.

Posted: August 12th 2010

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brian thomson www

In the most general sense, alcohol abuse and alcoholism are never welcome, and in theocratic societies (where the religion is the government), the standard way to enforce a rule is to make it an aspect of the religion as interpreted by the theocracy. This was true throughout most of the history of Christianity, and all of the history of Islam. (Judaism? It’s complex .)

The immediate question I then have is whether such restrictions are actually prescribed by the original religion (through its scriptures etc.), or whether they are coming from religious “authorities” for other (secular) reasons. In the Bible, for example, positive or neutral references to alcohol far outweigh negative references, according to this page that analyses such references. The page is worth reading, and the author concludes that while there are some warnings in the Bible about alcohol abuse, there’s nothing in there that preaches against a moderate drink with meals.

Considering the partly Abrahamic origins of Islam, I find the Islamic position on alcohol especially puzzling. I’ve tried to find references, and they all seem to point back to the Qu’ran. In other words, alcohol is banned because Muhammed said so. These rules have been expanded and enforced by later authorities, since the Qu’ran can be vague and needs to be interpreted in the light of the wishes of the rulers, who hand down fatwahs (rulings) based on their interpretations. This has (in my opinion) led to a mindset that refuses to acknowledge the possibility of sensible, moderate drinking – that any drinking leads to drunkenness and stupidity such as drunk driving e.g. this .

On the other hand, there is anecdotal testimony of drinking in Muslim cultures, and varying degrees of strictness in alcohol avoidance. In the UK there have been cases of Muslim medical workers refusing to use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, while I have personally seen a Muslim friend order Steak Diane in a restaurant, after I told him that “most of the alcohol in the brandy will cook out”. 8-)

Posted: August 11th 2010

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