Will mankind find a lasting solution to the age-old problem of alcoholism?
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Onlookers watched with despair as giant cases of beer were hauled from supply trucks and thrown onto a curb in New York City. Determined men with hammers and axes attacked beer bottles and kegs as if they contained bubonic plague. Amber liquid spilled into a sewer as a large crowd started to form.
It was January 16, 1920. America’s prohibition of alcohol had just become law.
After years of lobbying, political jockeying, and heated debate, the ratified 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution had banned “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” The fifth largest industry in the country had been deemed illegal.
At the time, The New York Times reported, “One minute after midnight tomorrow night the United States becomes flesh and bone dry under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Assistant Commissioner [H.M.] Gaylord of the Internal Revenue Department has stated that it would require six years to make the country absolutely ‘dry,’ but to all intents and purposes the Government’s organization for the enforcement of national prohibition is already so well organized that there will be no alcoholic refreshment available for the ordinary wayfarer…after Jan. 16.”
Despite having one year to prepare (the law was ratified a year before taking effect), many Americans were shocked when Prohibition actually happened. Others greeted the change with joy.
Amid continuing debate, one certainty existed: one of the grandest moral and social experiments had begun. Its results revealed how deeply ingrained alcohol is in the fabric of society—and the true extent of the curse of alcohol abuse.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, alcohol’s harmful effects finally spurred action. A temperance (meaning moderation or self-control) movement began, which was comprised of Protestant evangelists, women and recovering alcoholics, among others. But this initial, much more practical, movement was soon hijacked by those advocating the complete prohibition of alcohol.
The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in the late 1800s, was considered the “moral watchdog” of the nation. Yet it should have more accurately been called, “The Women’s Prohibition” or “Abolition” Movement. Those who were part of it considered intoxicating spirits the root cause of society’s problems and believed that human beings had proven they could not just have “one drink.” Alcohol must be banned completely, they argued. Saloons should be shut down.
This group, known as teetotalers, blamed any use of alcohol instead of its abuse. For instance, John Bartholomew Gough, a Prohibition advocate, prodded followers, “Snap your burning chains, ye denizens of the pit, and come up sheeted in the fire, dripping with the flames of hell, and with your trumpet tongues testify against the damnation of drink!” (Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition).
When the ban took effect, well-known preacher Billy Sunday told a crowd of 10,000 people gathered to celebrate alcohol’s demise: “The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent” (ibid.).
While many had high hopes, Prohibition fell far short of its proponents’ dreams.
The more booze was legislated, the more human nature ran wild. The cure was worse than the ailment itself. A Chicago Tribune article that looked back on this time stated: “Even as [the law] went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on this date, only the naive really thought Prohibition would do away with alcohol consumption.
“Chicago’s gangsters, crooked cops, corrupt politicians and the booze-consuming public all conspired to keep the drinks coming. The combination of flamboyant characters and flagrant law breaking would make the Prohibition era the most notorious in Chicago’s history and leave the city’s reputation with a whopping hangover for decades.”
The article continues, “By 1924, there were 15 breweries in the city going full steam and an estimated 20,000 saloons.” In addition, around 60 percent of Chicago police were reported to be in the business of bootlegging.
In New York, the effect was the same. Some residents drank more alcohol when it was banned than when it was legal.
Attempting to control widespread drunkenness through legislation only made matters worse. What was seen as a “noble experiment” had unintended consequences. Good intentions of prohibitionists were upended. Smugglers and bootleggers brought loads of illegal alcohol across lakes, up rivers, or concealed on trucks to bypass the authorities. Often, this “moonshine” contained ingredients that were more harmful than pre-Prohibition liquors.
Washington, D.C., eventually realized that the public’s unquenchable thirst for alcohol made it impossible to ban it. By the early 1930s, legislators admitted something had to be done.
The 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933—which put an end to the nearly 14-year experiment.
Consider the implications: man’s most aggressive attempt to solve alcoholism failed. The United States, one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on Earth, could not erase its uncontrollable appetite for alcohol through legislation.
In the end, Prohibition’s greatest lesson was that government cannot legislate morality. In the documentary Prohibition, award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns observed this about the disappointing end result of the 18th Amendment: “Prohibition did cut alcohol consumption for a time, but alcoholism, the disease that had inspired it, has never gone away. It destroyed lives in 1820 and 1920, and it destroys them still. No government, anywhere, has found a way to prevent it.”
Other nations tried Prohibition with similar results to those of the United States: “…Historians have shown, Americans were not alone during the first quarter of the 20th century in adopting prohibition on a large scale: other jurisdictions enacting similar measures included Iceland, Finland, Norway, both czarist Russia and the Soviet Union, Canadian provinces, and Canada’s federal government,” The American Journal of Public Health stated. “A majority of New Zealand voters twice approved national prohibition but never got it.”
Prohibition’s widespread failure meant that few solutions remained to cure alcoholism. Today it serves as a constant reminder to governments around the world that regulating, taxing or banning alcohol altogether does not work.
Part 1 revealed that modern trends in alcohol consumption are worsening. As world conditions grow more dire, millions of people are using it as an escape—with more lives being lost and families destroyed. Educational institutions have not solved the problem. Advertising and awareness campaigns have done little. Alcoholics Anonymous programs have also not been successful on a grand scale.
A clue to the real solution of alcoholism is found in the history of temperance movements in the United States. Such groups recognized alcohol’s bad effects but did not preach its abolition.
Notice what Abraham Lincoln said in an 1842 address to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society: “[Historically] none seemed to think the injury arose from the use of a bad thing, but from the abuse of a very good thing.” Alcohol was not viewed as inherently bad.
These early temperance advocates recognized what was also seen by wise King Solomon of ancient Israel, who described the familiar picture of a drunkard stumbling and injuring himself, always in search of “another drink”:
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying: ‘They have struck me, but I was not hurt; they have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?’” (Prov. 23:29-35, New King James Version).
Such terrible effects of alcoholism—poverty, divorce, murder, domestic abuse, and sexual assaults—led many in the temperance movement to eventually believe intoxicating drinks should be banned outright. Before the 18th Amendment, the only choices seemed to be widespread alcohol abuse or an absolute ban. In an instance of human nature being prone to extremes, the quiet voices of moderation were drowned out by the hubbub of “Prohibition!”
Today, as with decades ago, these moderate voices have been forgotten. In this anything-goes society, self-control has been tossed aside. And with Prohibition having failed, mankind’s collective mindset now seems to be one of diving ever deeper into the abyss of alcohol abuse.
Anti-alcohol proponents of the past used the ultimate source to back up their beliefs—the Bible. Certain denominations of Christendom still do this. For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention’s “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” states, “Alcohol is treated in the Bible somewhat like slavery and polygamy, which, though not universally condemned, were undermined and ultimately doomed by the high moral principles set forth in the Scriptures. Similarly, while total abstinence from wine with its relatively low alcohol content was not demanded in Bible times, both general Bible principles and specific Bible teachings encourage today’s Christians to abstain from this dangerous drug…Additionally, the Bible encourages Christians, as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), to deliver society from alcohol’s devastating personal and social effects.”
Yet is this what the Bible really says? Is drinking beer, wine and liquor just a sinful pleasure—or can it be healthful and life-improving?
God’s Word does discuss alcohol throughout the Old and New testaments, but as with many subjects in this Book, most have preconceived ideas about its teachings. Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn drinking wine—as long as it is not abused. He encourages the modest and responsible consumption of alcohol. It was designed by Him to be a blessing—not a curse. Here are just a few examples:
Deuteronomy 7:12-13: “…if you hearken to these judgments [God’s Law], and keep, and do them…the Lord your God shall keep unto you the covenant…and He will love you, and bless you…He will also bless the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your land, your corn, and your wine, and your oil…”
Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honor the Lord with your substance…so shall your barns be filled with plenty, and your presses shall burst out with new wine.”
During the observance of God’s commanded seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, His people are instructed to use “money for whatsoever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink…and you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household” (Deut. 14:26).
While King Solomon described alcohol’s negative effects, he also said that in moderation it could be beneficial. He wrote in Ecclesiastes, “A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes merry…” (10:19).
In Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek, King of Salem, served wine to Abraham. Hebrews 7:2-3 states that Melchizedek was “King of peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abides a priest continually.” This person was none other than Jesus Christ! He brought Abraham wine because God approves of the modest use of alcohol.
Additional scriptures could be cited to show God’s servants using alcohol in a responsible way and with God’s approval. In fact, moderate use has numerous physical and social benefits. The apostle Paul wrote, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your often infirmities” (I Tim. 5:23). Studies have shown that wine does aid digestion as well as lowers the risk of heart disease. Both wine and beer can be rich in minerals and antioxidants.
While alcohol’s physical benefits continue to be discovered, the emotional and social benefits have been known for millennia, including stress reduction and increased happiness.
What about the teachings of Jesus Christ? Did He instruct His followers to cast off the chains of alcohol and embrace a purer, chaste lifestyle? Did Jesus drink alcohol?
Consider that the first recorded miracle by Jesus was to change water into wine (John 2:1-12). Anti-alcohol advocates should note that this miracle was not the other way around! Jesus obviously approved of drinking wine since this miracle provided alcohol for wedding attendees. The “governor” at the wedding even commented that it was “good wine” (vs. 10). Also realize that if this had merely been grape juice, as some claim, he would not have said, “but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Better wine would normally be consumed at the start of a feast, with inferior drinks saved for later when the taste was not as important. This principle would not apply to grape juice.
Jesus Christ also drank wine with His disciples during the Passover meal before He was crucified. Notice: “He said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer…And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: for I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine [wine], until the kingdom of God shall come” (Luke 22:15, 17-18).
If wine were intrinsically wrong, why would Christ not have taken this opportunity to condemn it instead of drinking it with His disciples? God wants people to enjoy alcohol, but to do it wisely. Drinking is not wrong or sinful—but abusing it is! The bottle is not the problem—it is the person holding the bottle!
As with food, money or anything that has the potential for misuse, moderation is the Bible standard for all true Christians. Paul wrote, “Everyone that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things” (I Cor. 9:25), and “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (Phil. 4:5).
The Bible is plain about how true Christians are to approach alcohol. God prescribes neither abstinence nor overuse of it.
But will humanity as a whole ever learn to use alcohol the right way?
A clue to the coming worldwide solution to alcoholism is in the account of Christ’s final Passover. Recall He said, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine [wine], until the kingdom of God shall come.” This “kingdom of God” is not on Earth today as so many mistakenly believe. Neither is it “in the hearts of men.” In fact, it is a world-ruling supergovernment soon to be established over all nations. Upon Christ’s Second Coming, He will reign supreme over all peoples, and God’s Way of peace, happiness, joy and abundance will be ushered in for all.
Numerous scriptures detail this future divine world government. Here is just one from the prophet Isaiah: “It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house [another term for kingdom of God] shall be established in the top of the mountains [representing other nations], and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (2:2-3). One aspect of God’s way of life that will be taught to all nations is the proper use of alcohol.
Return to an earlier quote from Mr. Burns: “…alcoholism…has never gone away. It destroyed lives in 1820 and 1920, and it destroys them still. No government, anywhere, has found a way to prevent it.”
God’s Word shows that a new, divine supergovernment is coming that will prevent and abolish for all time the curse of alcoholism!
First, a wonderful environment will be created for all. The pain, hardship and sorrow that so many millions use alcohol to escape from will no longer be a reality. The world will be a peaceful and productive place. (To learn more about God’s coming kingdom, and the dramatic changes that will occur once it is in place, read David C. Pack’s inspiring and exciting book Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View!)
In this new world, people will be given the tools to change their behavior along with the strength to say no to a second, third or fourth drink. This will happen once God’s Spirit, which will help people have self-control, is given. Notice Acts 2:17: “It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh…” One of the fruits of this Spirit is “temperance” or self-control (Gal. 5:23).
God’s Spirit is also described as the spirit of “power…love, and of a sound mind.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines “sound mind” as “self-control” and “moderation.”
This “power” will help people to use alcohol in the right way. Proper habits will be taught in every nation to all peoples, beginning from early childhood.
No more will drunken husbands beat their wives and children after a long night of drinking. No more date rape due to binge drinking. No more young women’s lives being cut short from alcohol poisoning. Driving drunk will be a thing of the past.
Human beings will finally be able to control themselves and not overdrink. They will be able to build character to do what is right—not what is wrong. All will be taught the proper use of alcohol—in moderation.
A real, global temperance movement will be implemented—and this time it will work!