Although I don’t use alcohol myself, I have nothing against those who do as long as they do so responsibly. Therefore, I have no personal axe to grind here. But over the years, I have found it rather quaint that when confronted with the fact that in His first miracle Jesus changed water into wine, our fundamentalist-prohibitionists brethren claim this was not alcoholic wine at all, but unfermented grape juice — a sort of sacramental Kool-Aid, I suppose. Not only inaccurate, this is disingenuous. The word used in John’s Gospel and 32 other places in the New Testament is the Greek “oinos,” or wine, fermented grape juice and nothing but. There was no refrigeration in Biblical days, and grape juice begins to ferment almost immediately after it is pressed. A non-alcoholic grape libation would have been difficult to come by. In English, “unfermented wine” is oxymoronic, a contradiction in terms. Both the Greek “oinos” and the English “wine” imply fermentation.
The Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments warn against overindulgence and drunkenness, but temperance, not abstinence, is prescribed. When some people fail in taking people who shouldn’t drink away from alcohol, they want to take alcohol away from everybody.
Some prohibitionists use Proverbs 23:31-32 as proof text. Here we are admonished to “look not upon the wine when it is red,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Plain grape juice is just as red as the fermented stuff (actually, both are purple), and white wine will get one just as drunk as the red if too much is consumed. It’s the alcohol content of the wine and the amount imbibed; the color is inconsequential.
There are certain ethnic groups and cultures in which alcohol abuse is a major problem; the Russians, Irish and Native Americans readily come to mind; or maybe the French, who have the world’s highest rate of alcoholism. But there are others such as the Chinese, Jews and Italians who have an extremely low incidence of problem drinking. In these cultures, children are introduced to alcoholic beverages in a family or religious setting and are taught early on that over-indulgence is never to be tolerated. But statistics also reveal that individuals who began drinking before the age of 15 are more likely to develop drinking problems than those who began after age 21. On balance, one’s attitude toward alcohol and drinking seems to be the major factor in determining one’s later drinking behavior.
When the 18th Amendment, the “Noble Experiment,” was ratified in 1919, more than half of the states already had prohibition laws in force. Almost 80 years after Prohibition’s repeal, no state has such laws, a clear indication of Prohibition’s failure. It was successful only in that it gave bootleggers and mobsters the opportunity to thrive. And anyone who claims that alcohol usage either increased or decreased during Prohibition is misinformed. Bootleggers and speakeasies kept no production, sales or tax records.
Is America’s alcohol consumption too high? Do we drink too much? That’s a judgment call. If consumption itself is causative, the U.S. has the lowest alcohol consumption rate of any developed country. But contrary to what many prohibitionists believe, alcohol consumption and problem drinking do not always positively correlate.
They used to say that in order to vote a district dry, one needs only to organize a coalition of preachers and bootleggers. I wouldn’t go so far as to — or would I?
George B. Reed, Jr. is retired from AT&T and a former history teacher in the Hamilton County school system. He lives in Fort Oglethorpe and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-858-3501.