The Virtue of Fortitude with Fortified Drink -- (De Bibendo, Secunda Pars)

[Forgive me for the lateness of my post--I had technical difficulties over the weekend. I will make this post brief--I owe you guys a shorter one anyway after the mammoth reflection I wrote last time. Here's to a wonderful New Year! - Bo]

Make your way in by the narrow gate. It is a broad and a wide road that leads on to perdition, and those who go in that way are many indeed; but how small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life, and how few there are that find it! - Matthew 7:13

Fortitude, the virtue better known as courage in modern parlance, is rightly associated with fear. The only problem with this association is that most folks think of it as the opposite of fear. Instead, as I will repeat often anytime I bring up virtue, courage is a mean between an extreme and a deficiency, therefore courage cannot simply be the opposite of fear, although the two terms are correctly intertwined in our imagination.

We can clear this up by thinking about the opposite of the brave person, and for most people, that of course would be the coward. Why is a coward someone we rightly say is lacking in courage? The temptation would be to say, because they feel afraid, implying that the brave person lacks all fear. But the better answer is that the coward reacts to fear too strongly--which strangely implies that there are those who do not feel fear enough! And these people very much exist--Aristotle calls them the foolhardy, and if we stop to think about it, we know plenty of people who fall into this category, especially when it comes to drinking. Foolhardy people come to vicious ends precisely because they do not fear what they should--for instance, the Grand Canyon.

What this means for fortitude is that to obtain it, one does not avoid, ignore, or repress fear. Bizzarely enough, it tells us that to have courage, one must come to a good relationship with fear. This may sound alien to Christians, who are told in the Scriptures that "perfect love drives out fear" (John is very insistent on this point!). Is not the one who fears lacking in trust and faith? Yet, the Scriptures tell us as well that fear is the root of wisdom, and that we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Does the Bible contradict itself in this regard?

One way people side step this issue is to say we are commanded to fear only God, and nothing else. Others try to claim that fear is the basis of the Old Testament way of spirituality, but the New Testament eradicates this attitude. St. Paul, however, throws out both possibilities. St. Paul's letters make up a great portion of the New Testament, and all the while, he points out the importance of fear (and not only of God) throughout his letters. Suffice it to say, we cannot easily dismiss this calling to fear.

How do we solve this impasse? I contend that a distinction is to be made when speaking about fear. It is surely the case that courage has to do with how we react to the raw feelings of fear--but in what way do we react to the fear that we feel?

On one hand, someone who is afraid could be considered anxious or worried, and they are usually anxious or worried for or about someone or something else. In this regard, they allow the fear to eat away at them, agitated at those things they wish they could control, wasting their energy feeling afraid, but doing little about it. On the other hand, one can feel fear as awe. Awe (or even terror) is what occurs when some has a fear of something, and that something is usually greater than the one in fear--God, Salvation, our significant other, etc. Fear that is encountered as awe takes the stunning reality of that which is other than one's self seriously, realizing the beholden nature of our relationship toward the thing we are holding in awe.

In order to be courageous, the brave person feels awe at whatever creates the feeling of fear (be it a battle or trying to ask someone out on a date) and responds accordingly, with the proper respect of that thing in mind. The coward feels anxiety over the thing they face, and flees out of worry, or is paralyzed out of dread. The foolhardy person ignores or is insensitive to both awe and anxiety, and proceeds irrationally, lacking a proper respect for what they encounter. In this way, we can rightly say we should fear particular things, but fear them in the proper way.

Hopefully, the application for drinking well is obvious. For people who binge drink and the like, foolhardy lack of respect for alcohol drives them to abuse that which they should fear. In terms of anxious fear, this usually drives people to drink to avoid or escape that which they are worried about. For we who would drink virtuously, let us drink out of awe, respecting the great and dangerous good that is all wonderful things God has made, but particular the creature that is fortified drink.

By doing so, we will attain the narrow road. Unlike the foolhardy, who attempt the narrow road without fear, we will not underestimate our need for help along the way. Unlike the anxious and worried, we will not settle for the wide road because it is easy. Instead, we will hold all the goods that God gives us in awe, and use them gratefully as we walk toward the narrow gate.

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Like I said, I had technical difficulties this week, and did not have time to research for a beer recommendation. But there is a place called Courage Brewery, so I think that is recommendation enough to give their beers a try. Enjoy!