It boils downs to a simple equation. In light of the potential dangers of alcohol use, do the benefits of use justify the risk?
For the rest of my son’s life, the nuances of this simple statement will be examined and tested. What is a drug? Does the list of drugs include alcohol? What about caffeine, nicotine or sugar? What if you just use and do not abuse?
As someone who lives with the nuances of drug use everyday, the path I chose to take with my own child was instructive to me. Instinctively I chose a cautious, even conservative, approach. Seeking a core belief out of a complex issue, I found that I operated out of a respect for the addictive potential of alcohol, and a theology of abstinence.
Alcohol use has been wrapped with layers of sophistication, but alcohol remains a psychoactive drug proven to be extremely addictive and dangerous to millions of people. Separating alcohol from other drugs only conceals the potential danger. Therefore, the drug-alcohol message to my son had to be clear and unambiguous in word and deed.
My theology of abstinence rests on two significant biblical tenets. However, it is tempered by the Bible’s silence on addiction, and tacit approval of the moderate use of alcohol.
Tenet one: The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It stands to reason that one should refrain from putting harmful substances in this temple. Further, where God dwells, there is no room for other gods and no need for artificial mood enhancement. Treating the “temple” with proper respect creates both physical and spiritual health.
Tenet two: All Christians have a responsibility to set a positive example to the whole community. Although I am not responsible for choices other people make, I am responsible for my own example and the message my actions send to the community.
These are powerful principles when put alongside what we know about alcohol use. Just because I can maintain moderate use is no guarantee that my child or my neighbor will be able to do so.
The power of these principles to motivate decisive action is tempered by the Bible’s general position on alcohol. Although drunkenness is universally condemned, the Bible reveals alcohol’s role in worship, festivals and many holy traditions. Christ created an alcoholic beverage in his first miracle, and he even equated his blood to the wine used in the Passover meal.
However, one must ask how important the chemical content of the beverages used in the Bible is to the meaning we should derive. We simply know more about the dangers associated with alcohol use now. We should no more be swayed to their cultural view of alcohol than we should to biblical notions of slavery or stoning.
Many thoughtful people advocate that teaching the temperate use of alcohol is sound drug abuse prevention methodology. Reasoning that moderate use of any addictive drug can be taught, however, hopes that choice will always be rational. This premise cannot withstand either the test of scientific inquiry or the statistics of use and relapse.
It boils downs to a simple equation. In light of the potential dangers of alcohol use, do the benefits of use justify the risk? Everyone continually formulates such equations. Is it worth the risk to get into a car or plane, to eat a French fry, or jump from a bridge with a bungee cord? The greater the risk the better the reward must be.
Even if drinking alcohol poses only a slight threat, what justifies the risk? Science supplies most of my information about the potential danger, and theology mainly informs the reward side of the equation. Taken together, abstinence makes the most sense.
Perhaps the simplest answer is not the most prudent. However, Christ taught us the value of seeing through the eyes of our children. When I see drugs through the eyes of my son, the situation is clear.
Good people disagree, but for me and my house, using drugs is stupid.
Steve Sumerel is director of the department of family life and substance abuse, of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina‘s council on Christian life and public affairs.