Wednesday, August 22, 2007


It is one of those subjects that seems to come up on a regular basis: the tenuous relationship between Christians and alcohol. For years as a young person I was given the impression, if not told outright, that the Bible forbids consumption of alcohol. This worked out fine for me, I had no taste for the stuff, and my total abstinence made a positive impression on my non-believing High School friends. I was invited to all the parties, and while I was there the alcohol wasn't. I'd like to think that I may have saved a few lives just by showing up at parties. I'll never know.

The problem is, the Bible does not forbid alcohol; so as I grew into adulthood and began my career as a student and teacher of the Bible, I was forced to come to terms with this fact. There were a few years of struggle - the "badness" of alcohol was firmly entrenched. Then, for a couple of months I had a job as a waiter, and I found that when I worked late I would have trouble unwinding from the stress. During those days I found that a little alcohol helped me to fall asleep more quickly. I never developed a taste for strong stuff, and to this day I prefer a wine that tastes like KoolAid. But I will drink when in a group, and even occasionally on my own. If anyone is still reading my blog, this probably shocks you.

It shouldn't, at least not because I am a Christian. There are plenty of reasons not to consume alcohol, and I have seen many studies linking alcohol to a wide range of negative results. Just today, I came across another: in her book Unhooked, Laura Sessions Stepp takes a look at the "hook-up" culture of casual sex that is prevalent among those in their late teens and early twenties. She covers a lot of ground, and backs her work with a lot of interviews. One of her conclusions is that alcohol is used by young people as a means of greasing the skids towards casual sex. Now, I do not know enough to take issue with this relationship; certainly it looks plausible on the surface. However, I came across an article by a Rev. Mark Creech in which he takes this relationship and draws an equivalence between casual sex and alcohol.

To begin with, there is a logical fallacy here - just because alcohol is used to facilitate casual sexual behavior does not mean that alcohol is the cause of that behavior. In fact, the work by Ms. Sessions indicates rather that the intent to have sex clearly predates the use of alcohol, the alcohol is simply an available tool. One assumes that were it not available, the young people would find another aid to suppressing their consciences. To argue from this relationship that Christians should totally abstain from alcohol is to draw too broad a conclusion. Nearly every activity in life contains some element of risk; wisdom comes not from eliminating risk, but rather in managing it. The Reverend Creech contends that there are no redeeming qualities in either drinking or sex outside of marriage; this is patently untrue. To be fair, he actually states that there are no redeeming qualities that are not countered by risks - but to say this is just to say that there are risks. I think Rev. Creech means that he wants these acts to have no benefits. But even sin has benefits, otherwise it wouldn't appeal to us. As in all areas, we must be clearheaded in our thinking if we are to make wise choices and decisions.

But all of this comes to a head when Rev. Creech states that, while the Bible does not explicitly condemn consumption of alcohol, it
treats alcohol somewhat like it does slavery: it doesn't universally condemn the practice, but it clearly undermines and ultimately dooms the custom by the lofty moral standards set forth throughout its many pages.
The only way to see this analogy is to bring it into Scripture with you. The Bible, as always, has an exceedingly practical approach to alcohol. It warns about and condemns excessive use; but recognizes and encourages careful partaking. There is no similar perspective on slavery, which is redeemed in the law by raising the status of slaves, and is ennobled in the New Testament by being adopted by Paul as the image of the Christian life. The situation with alcohol is totally different. There is nowhere where the Bible encourages the offering of slaves as part of the sacrificial system (Exodus 29:40 and Leviticus 23:13). Jesus did not turn water into a slave (John 2), nor did Paul recommend that Timothy take along a slave to further his ministry (1 Timothy 5:23). But mostly, I am fairly certain that we do not celebrate the Lord's Supper with bread and a slave.

Does consumption of alcohol bring along certain risks? Absolutely. Should young people abstain until they are adults? Without a doubt. Are there people who should avoid consumption of alcohol at all costs. Indeed (some are my friends). But let's not have any of this adjusting what the Bible says in order to "protect" us from the evils of the vine. God was apparently not afraid of His people enjoying alcohol. We shouldn't be either.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I am in the process of fixing a conceptual problem in the software that I work on. As I began to delve into the code to change it, it occurred to me that the problem has resisted early attempts to resolve it because some of the key pieces of the program have misleading names.

This seems a trivial issue at first glance. Why get all hung up on the names of pieces of the code? Just fix the problems and move on. After all, we have a major release coming up in just a couple of weeks. But truly, names are not trivial. It is a basic human trait to name things. I believe that the significance of naming is reflected in the fact that the story of Adam naming the animals is one of the stories retained in the creation narrative. I honestly can say that I do not remember taking any great note of this fact in the past. The presence of this tale in the creation story should give us an indication of the importance of naming to humans.

Upon further reflection, this becomes obvious. We name everything, mostly because names give us short handles for the complexities of the universe. So much of many advanced courses studies comes down to learning the names of things; consider the examples of medicine and law. By learning the names of the things around us, we simplify the complexity and make the difficult manageable. Imagine if every time you wanted to talk about your child, you needed to go all the way back in your family tree to describe their lineage - their name eliminates all of that.

But names do more than just label things - they bring connotations and emotional content as well. This is why, in modern political discourse, it is so important that you get to pick the names used in the discussion - the term "pro-choice" has many fewer negative connotations than does "pro-abortion." The correctness of either term is not the point; the point is that the power to choose names often dictates the course of the ensuing debate.

But we use names internally as well. For years, I struggled against the internal name "useless" that I applied to myself. I didn't really recognize it, but that name informed everything I did and all of my thoughts about myself. As I learn to abandon that name and recognize the truth, I learn to apply more accurate names to myself.

There is a lot more to this; but I would do well to think more intentionally about the names that I apply to myself and to those around me. After all, they define the world for me, whether accurate or not.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Clear thinking

A new paper argues that democracy is doomed to be non-optimal (that is, to rarely take the best course of action) because most people in a democracy will not bother to understand an issue before acting on their preconceived notions about that issue. As a result, democracies tend reflect the unfounded beliefs of their population, and only very slowly make changes.

At the same time, Walter Williams' most recent article on notes separately that people do not typically have an accurate understanding of the costs of their actions. They tend to value maintaining the status quo without considering whether the current course will accomplish the goals they have in mind.

You put these two together, and I doubt most of us are really in any position to act, or even speak intelligently, on any issue of great importance.

I would really enjoy discussing these issues with people who disagree with me; but of course, rational discourse is no longer in vogue. It is easier to call names than to allow for the possibility that you might have to re-think your position.

If all this doesn't make you pessimistic about our future, I'm not sure what will.