Some caricatures of Puritans depict them as strict, severe, and stolid. H.L. Mencken’s famous definition of a Puritan is an example of this: “A Puritan is someone who is desperately afraid that, somewhere, someone might be having a good time.”
This stereotype carries over into various areas of life that are often considered “fun,” including the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Indeed, Christians have historically been at the forefront of efforts at prohibition of various drugs, most notably perhaps in the case of The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The United Methodist Church notably opposes alcohol use, stating, “We affirm our long-standing conviction and recommendation that abstinence from alcoholic beverages is a faithful witness to God’s liberating and redeeming love.” Baptists are so famous for their traditional teetotalling that “the Baptist minister” has become a figure appearing in jokes and humorous stories (see “The Wedding Reception”).
The position in favor of complete abstinence from alcohol is far from ubiquitous in Christian circles, however. This issue, as most others, receives a variety of responses from faithful Christians. Martin Luther’s love for beer has been variously exploited slanderously by opponents and celebrated by his followers. My own denomination takes a middle-ground position on the issue, “Though abstinence from alcohol is a morally creditable choice, those who, in their freedom in Christ, choose to use alcohol moderately are not to be condemned.”
Christians of course agree on the impropriety of drunkenness, following the biblical injunctions, but seem to split over whether there is any legitimate popular use of alcohol in moderation. Certainly some of the Christian oppposition to alcohol stems from the linkage of drunkenness with pagan practices. In this sense, alcohol use is understood as characteristic of sinful behavior.
An interesting editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal argues that there are empirical data that suggest otherwise, at least in our contemporary situation. Arthur C. Brooks, an associate professor of public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, in “Drink More, Earn More (& Give More),” writes,
moderate drinkers tend to be more charitable than nondrinkers. For example, 54% of nondrinkers contribute to charity each year, giving away an average of $1,100. In contrast, 62% of those who take one to two drinks per day have an average annual giving level of $1,200. The alcohol effect has diminishing returns, however: Just 40% of people drinking five or more drinks per day are donors, and they give only $230 per year on average. (So once you get past two or three, you have to stop claiming you’re “doing it for a good cause.”)
He sums up the matter this way, “Compare two people who are the same in terms of income, education and even religion, but where one drinks moderately and the other doesn’t: The drinker will give between $50 and $100 more to charity each year.”