Thursday, July 19, 2012

Religion and Alcohol Find Common Ground

How do you like your religion, neat or on the rocks?

That’s the question behind a growing number of religious gatherings taking place in various bars around the country.  They are increasing popular, suggesting that the earnest folks setting up these programs may be on to something by twisting the traditional enmity between religion and alcohol. 

Women took on Demon Rum in the 1800s.
The movement to end the scourge of excessive drinking in this country began in the mid-1800s as a religious movement.  Women tired of drunken husbands banded together, initially in Ohio, to insist that the sale of alcohol end.   Powered by religious zeal, they ignored the reality that people drank alcohol in part because fresh, potable water was not readily available.  Our rivers and streams were used to carry industrial and human waste, among other pollutants, and were so befouled that it was healthier to drink fermented apple juice, beer and hard liquor.

Nevertheless, the devout souls under the banner of the Women’s Temperance Union, managed to foment Prohibition, the ban of the sale of alcoholic beverages in this country.  That approach didn’t work, of course.  People like to drink.  The Nobel Experiment, as it was called, died in 1933 after about 14 years of societal havoc. 

Since then, religion and alcohol have kept a wary eye on each other at a distance until now.
Rev. McDaniel
"There really is not a focus on drinking,” the Rev. Roger McDaniel, who runs a bar-religion program in Wyoming, told USA Today.  "But at the same time, it is a much more relaxed atmosphere than in a church basement. If I put this on in my church, I don't think we would have five or six people."

He’s got that right.  Church attendance nationwide has steadily slumped since the 1970s, according to a 2011 study by the American Sociological Association.  The research found that while 51 percent of college-educated whites attended religious services monthly or more in the 1970s, the number dropped to 46 percent in the 2000s and is still falling. 

The decline is much more precipitous for less-educated white males in the same time period: from 38 percent to 23 percent.

“Our study suggests that the less educated are dropping out of the American religious sector similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” reported W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, in an online Huffington Post article.

And where do these less-educated folks drop into?  Of course, bars. 

While the proportion of college freshmen who get blasted has dropped from 62 percent to 38 percent between 2006 to 2010, according to a State University of New York study of alcoholic beverage consumption in the U.S., about 60 percent of lower-class males drink.

The bar-religion approach may have a secondary benefit.  Members of various religions as well as atheists are actually talking convivially rather than fighting each other either verbally or physically.

In Raleigh, N.C., a young couple put together such a gathering.  “We have people who were born with a Bible in their hands and people who want nothing to do with church," organizer A.J. Viola (left) said in an on-line story.

“Regular attendees include a non-practicing Muslim and a self-described atheist who comes to support his churchgoing wife,” the article noted.

Ed Glaser, a retired telephone company employee and atheist, said that he does not come for the beer but to understand how religion affects politics. "This group of people, I think, are looking at trying to have understanding and have common ground," he said in the USA Today story. "I think this group of people is very tolerant of different perspectives."

The groups also include Muslims.

"I strongly believe in interfaith dialogue, and discussion and conversation is how we are going to come together as Americans and people of different faiths," said Mohamed Salih, who likes to draw parallels between the Bible and the Muslim holy text, the Quran, at programs he attends.

That’s a sea change from what’s happening in Nashville (left) where residents continue to fight a mosque on procedural grounds to disguise their anti-Islamic sentiments.  There’s a better chance there an arsonist will torch the place than congregants will be welcomed to the local watering hole to share a drink and a religious discussion.

As for people who argue that religion is not a good mixer for alcohol, the Rev. McDaniel has an answer: "Jesus didn't change wine into water."

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus, who does not drink, regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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