Living in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st century, it would be easy to think that the majority of Christians have always opposed the use of alcohol, especially in this country. Actually, history tells a different story.
When the Puritans set sail on the Mayflower, they brought with them more beer than water. Alcohol was consumed on a regular basis, being safer to drink than oft-polluted water. It was seen as a gift from God, serving as an analgesic, an “energy drink,” an enhancer of food, and a tool of socialization. The Puritans, however, were strongly opposed to the abuse of alcohol. As famed Puritan preacher Increase Mather worded it, “Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan, the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil.” Those who abstained from drinking alcohol were considered to be less healthy and less spiritual, since they rejected part of what God had created for man.
The community provided strong social controls, both informal and formal. Though their rate of consumption of alcohol was much higher than what is typically found today (they averaged about three and a half gallons of alcohol per year per person), their overall sobriety was legendary.
All of this began to break down as people became more mobile and the culture moved from a rural society to an urban one. Social controls began to disappear as people moved away from their communities and stepped into the relative anonymity of city life. Drinking, which had been done in a family situation crossing gender and age barriers, began to be primarily an activity of men away from their homes. In addition, while it was difficult to produce wine on the frontier, whiskey and other distilled drinks were easily made and were relatively inexpensive.
The temperance movement grew up to combat the abuses. At first, the movement sought to bring back moderation, but eventually moved to a push for prohibition. Many religious leaders, seeing the effects of alcohol abuse, joined the fight. Eventually, the theme of the church’s message on alcohol changed, from extolling its virtues and condemning its abuse, to condemning even the production of alcohol. Giving up on re-establishing the social controls that had once controlled the abuse of alcohol, Christians sought to eradicate this evil from the land. Their motto was taken straight from Scripture: “Touch not; taste not; handle not.”
[I’m largely refraining from commenting on comments, trying to present my thoughts bit by bit. Toward the end of the series, I’ll try and be more interactive.]
Previous posts in this series:
The Christian and Alcohol (Alcohol Abuse)
Some Additional Readings:
“National Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S.”
“The Rejection of Wine”
“Christianity and Alcohol” — This Wikipedia article contains MANY additional resources for investigation
“Protestants and Catholics: Drunken Barbarians and Mellow Romans?“