"et vinum lætificet cor hominis:
ut exhilaret faciem in oleo,
et panis cor hominis confirmet." - Psalm 104
Greetings in the name of Christ Jesus!
My name is Bo Bonner, and I am the new guy. I am probably a bit too proud when I find myself the oddball (for example: a Philosophy major as a husband and father of four is hilarious on many levels, but on the financial one alone, it's a laugh riot). This website is not any different. What does some dude who has only drank alcohol for under a decade (didn't touch the stuff until grad school) have to share with so many established drinkers?
Perhaps its just conjecture, but my guess is that many folks finding their way to this website are quite capable of drinking from long years of practice, but hold a desire to mold their habits to a higher cause. I came from a different angle: I was a beer snob hiding in a teetotaler's body, who did not drink out of principle for years but, in God's whimsical Providence, now drinks specifically because of the principle of the matter. This may not, in the end, add as much perspective to the conversation as I would like, but it may at least be a source of some unintended fun.
I feel compelled to speak and write about the virtues of drinking (and drinking virtuously!) for various reasons. One is that my Oklahoma roots are littered with the Alcoholism all too common in that social milieu. Another is because a central thing that kept me from drinking all those years was bad beer--I was only offered the wretched domestic affair that is spotlighted at typical instances of high school buffoonery, and was never interested in drinking it. It turns out the world is full of wonderful beer, and I feel a bit robbed to be quite honest. I don't want anyone to experience such a similar unintended lack in their lives. But most importantly, I want to defend how two things that to outsiders look inseparably similar are indeed actions so distinct, one is fully laudable, while the other similar action is entirely base. I promise this will make sense in a moment, but anyone who reads or listens to me will have to come to terms with digressions, so I may as well launch into one now.
So a confession (pun intended--you'll see): early in my life, I thought Catholics went to confession to tell Priests the sins they planned to commit later that week. This might sounds insane to cradle Catholics, but it isn't so hard to imagine if you were raised an old-timey Evangelical (i.e. pre-Fundamentalist) Okie like I was. I guess my idea was that Catholics were looking to sneak a free pass from their feelings of guilt, and though I thought them heathens for doing so, I guess I understood the underlying economy of my misunderstanding. This was obviously before I picked up the stereotype that Catholics are never on time to anything (as it turns out, that is only true of Catholics I am related to and am responsible for getting to Mass on time. The Priests seems to always start Mass on the dot in Kansas....Germans...)
Now, I have since became one of those confession-going Catholics myself, but unfortunately I think there is something to my youthful confusion. You see, I was wrong about the order most Catholics engage the sin-confession ritual. However, I may have been on the money as to what most Catholics actually think the object of which Confession consists. Do we approach the Sacrament out of earnest contrition, or is it something we do to feel better about ourselves? Either way, whether you were going to the Priest to reconcile yourself to God or in order to give your conscience a get-out-of-jail-free card, your actions would look rather similar, would they not? And how would an outsider, like a pre-conversion me, be able to tell the difference?
You may be tempted to say the difference is between the intent of the penitents, but here is the thing about intent: it is incredibly hard to know someone's true intent. Furthermore, the person's intent most difficult to decipher is often yourself. Am I absolutely sure I have a pure intention in going to Confession? Are not our intentions always a little bit mixed? If one were to follow this anxiety down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, you would easily end up with the spiritual vertigo that prompted someone like a Luther to invent his radical solutions to this non-existent problem. So if we are not to distinguish the penitents from their intent, how can we tell them apart? How can we do this without falling into the trap of ourselves?
The solution will seem too simple. We do not distinguish acts best by the intent of the actor, but the end or goal (or what Aristotle calls the telos) of the action. This is especially true when evaluating our own actions. I may not know what I "truly intend" when I go to confession, but if I am firmly convinced that the end or goal of confession is reconciliation with God, my doubts about myself largely fall away. However, if I truly believe that the goal of confession is just to feel better about myself, then its obvious the entire act is devoid of anything resembling grace.
What does this have to do with drinking? To someone who hears their teetotaling parents' worries about their drinking, a lot. I have repeatedly told my parents that I have, in fact, never been drunk in my life (and I promise to you I am not lying). Their response is very difficult to rejoin: "that's what every drunk has told us our entire life." How do you respond to that? In terms of my parents, its going to mean a life time of demonstrating this fact, that after repeated demonstrations of drinking without getting plowed, they might get into the habit of associating my drinking not with drunkenness (which has been ingrained deeply within them through experience) but as something done well. However, the true difficulty of that statement involves me: how do I know that I am not the drunk (or drunk-in-the-making...or proto-drunk if you want it to sound like a 90's movie) they are worried I am becoming? How do I know what my "true intent" is when I drink? The fact of the matter is that it is not nearly as important as the telos for which I drink.
So here I am (finally!) getting down to brass tasks. Why do we drink? How will a Catholic Beer Club be different from any other beer club? The answer is in the end for which we drink. And while we can say that we drink for the Glory of God (St. Paul told us to do all things for this reason), that may not be definitive enough to guide us in a concrete way.
My simple argument is this: the end or goal of our drinking should be to enjoy creation rather than to escape it. Keep this in mind, and I think how we drink, what we drink, and who we drink with will change for the better. When we drink for intoxication, we are checking out of the glorious Cosmos God has set us in. When we allow our Wine to "gladden our hearts" as the Psalmist says, we are not attempting to forget the world, but enjoy it in all its splendor. To become plastered is to injure our capacity to enjoy what is before us. To enjoy beer in and of itself is to know the world in one of the innumerable delightful ways our Loving Father intended for us.
This is all grounded in a simple fact. As Aristotle (you are going to get a good amount of Aristotle with me) famously says, all human beings desire to know, and the proof of this is the enjoyment we get out of our senses. If we only sought knowledge for purely Utilitarian reasons, then you would shut down like a robot when you weren't consciously gathering data. But you enjoy knowing the world, and the proof is that you will see things just to see them, smell things just to smell them, and taste things just to taste them. To drink beer for its own sake is to delight in knowing the mysterious world before us. To drink beer to get hammered is to do the exact opposite.
So here I will bring my sprawling point around full circle. To those on the outside, or those who only know the "utilitarian" reason for drinking, drinking to escape creation and drinking to enjoy creation may look inseparable. But in fact, these two actions are completely different, no matter their similarities. We will not begin to change people's hearts toward the drinking, much less creation itself, if we focus on intentions. Instead, let us proclaim the glories of drinking for the right end, and make perfect sense of the Psalmists words.
Beer suggestion: So I am going to try and recommend a beer to you each time I write a post. Today is the Feast of St. Andrew, and as he is the Patron Saint of Scotland, I thought I would suggest a Scottish Beer. TRAQUAIR House Ale is as noble and splendid a beer as the House from which it comes from. Brewed at Scotland's Oldest Inhabited House, there is glorious Catholic history behind every bottle. The taste is as gloriously Romantic as Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, and will ease your nerves as you try to observe Advent in the midst of the "holiday" shopping season.