Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 40, Let Us at Least Agree to Drink Moderately

Having dealt with the proper amount of food in Chapter 39, in Chapter 40 of The Rule of St. Benedict Benedict turns to the issue of "The Proper Amount of Drink."

Benedict wants the monks to refrain from wine. This was, apparently, the ideal of the earliest monastic communities. But Benedict recognizes he's fighting a losing battle. The monks want their wine. And so he accommodates them in a charming passage:
6We read that monks should not drink wine at all, but since the monks of our day cannot be convinced of this, let us at least agree to drink moderately, and not to the point of excess.
Given the contentious nature of alcohol consumption in Protestant Christianity in America Benedict's advice seems very wise. We aren't all going to agree on this issue, so "let us at least agree to drink moderately, and not to the point of excess."

Incidentally, this is one of the great failures of Protestant Christianity, a failure to teach young people how to drink moderately. Young Christian people, growing up in conservative homes, are exposed to only two models of alcohol consumption: teetotaling (the church model) versus binge drinking (the cultural model). Christian teens just aren't exposed to models of responsible drinking, where you get a pint or share a bottle of wine and have a nice long conversation with friends. Where do Christian teens see that model in church or on TV/movies? It's a model Europeans know very well, but is all but unknown to conservative Christian youth in the USA.

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9 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 40, Let Us at Least Agree to Drink Moderately”

  1. I grew up in a very conservative Southern Baptist where hard drink was one of the only things preached against, right along with long hair on men and pants on women. When I was 15 my parents along with a friends parents bought us all a bottle of Boone's Farm apple wine. It blew my mind but has made a lasting impression. My parents never made the deal out of it that the church did. I don't drink at all now. I'm still in Southern Baptist churches, although its been a long time since I've heard a sermon on the evils of drink.

  2. I so agree, my parents never had any alcohol in the house and I never saw them take a drink. I vowed to teach my sons a more moderate view of drinking. At ages 19 and 21 they seem to have a good perspective and my son didn't even go out and get drunk on his 21'st birthday.

  3. My dad wasn't always a role model for me, but he definitely was in the area of drinking. He would have a beer with dinner every night, almost without fail, and I don't think I've ever seen him drunk. Following his example of responsible drinking as an adult is natural for me (only I prefer cider, not beer). So I agree that just letting people see a different model for drinking, for sufficiently long, can make a difference.

  4. "Incidentally, this is one of the great failures of Protestant Christianity, a failure to teach young people how to drink moderately." Yes, I think you're right to call it a failure. Maybe it's worth a minute to pick up that thread.

    Seeing alcohol consumption as inherently "sinful" misses the point of wine as a primary christian symbol. Used wisely a little alcohol facilitates socializing by lowering inhibitions to it. If welcoming others in a spirit of love is central to christian faith, then offering a chalice of wine communicates precisely the right message: we want you to feel welcome.

    Of course, there's a rapidly approaching point of diminishing returns, followed by the setting in of stupefaction. What's lost on conservative christians, I think, is that the danger of going over the line means that there is an opportunity to demonstrate self control by handling the danger properly. It's a mark of maturity to be able to use alcohol wisely, and we miss part of what the gospels are telling us about Jesus, I think, if that's not read into the passages where he drinks wine with "sinners." (Similar point to that made relative to Socrates in the Symposium.)

    (A paradox: since welcoming others in a spirit of love is central to our faith, losing our inhibitions--about that--enhances self control.)

    So I think that a fear of failure leads to a failure of faith.

    Of course, this is a difficult question, it's just that I don't think most conservative christians understand that it's difficult, so I thought I'd put in a few words to counterbalance...

  5. I think this is quite different in the California Bay Area. Both my wife and I grew up with parents who enjoyed alcohol very frequently, but did not binge drink or intend to drink to excess. It provided a healthy model for us.

  6. According a recent (2011) study giving children moderate amounts of alcohol might actually increase the risks of binge drinking later on. That said from a personal perspective I know that the fact my parents let me drink at home significantly reduced the "they'll be so pissed if they knew I was doing this" aspect of drinking with friends as a teenager. Now I mostly drink with friends or when I need to code or write (one glass of wine or beer turns down the internal filter that tells me what I am thinking is stupid before it gets on the screen)

  7. Though teetotaling can be an unhealthy model in many homes, the greater problem I see is the hypocrisy that is rampant in conservative churches. What exists is the double life of many, one in which they in the presence of their children or fellow church members, insist that the consumption of alcohol to any degree is sin, while the other life is finding opportunities to use in order to relax, to self medicate, to let go of tension and pressure.

    The use, if it is moderate, is not the problem as far as I am concerned. It is the attitude that permeates conservative Christianity that says, "Even if I do it from time to time to relax, just to let go for a moment, just as long as I, with a penitent spirit, believe that its actually wrong to do it, that makes me more moral than those who see nothing wrong with its constant use".

    This is the Jekyll and Hyde existence that growls at the world to behave; so the world goes elsewhere to find a reason to live and love.

  8. Benedict's leaning toward moderation is wise. Moderation is the key to many things. You may not drink, but you get drunk on twinkies if you know what I mean. Anything in excess is most likely an attempt to "drown" "dull" or "numb" something.

  9. I think we should just smoke a little too. And gamble just a little.

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