Gospel Disproof #46: On the proper use of beer and religion

In the book of Proverbs, chapter 31, we are instructed as to the proper use of beer and wine.

Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

Part of the attraction of alcoholic beverages is that alcohol physically deadens the brain, starting with the parts that allow you to perceive and reason clearly. If life is good, you don’t necessarily want that, because it diminishes your ability to experience and appreciate the good things available to you. But if life basically sucks, then maybe you are better off being too drunk to know it, just like the Bible says. On the other hand, some of us might suggest you’d be better off improving your life instead of just stupifying yourself to the point that you can no longer see how bad it really is.

What’s interesting is that you sometimes hear Christians arguing that their faith plays a similar role to beer and wine. What harm is there in faith, they ask, if it makes people feel better about their lives? Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the people, but I think it’s more biblical to make the analogy to beer and wine. Alcohol is a more social intoxicant. People get together for a beer and a laugh, in a way that opium addicts do not. Plus there’s a broader range of intoxication with beer (though I must confess I don’t have much of a basis for assessing the experience of opium addiction). Beer is more socially acceptable.

But does beer really improve your life? If you’re having a beer or two at a party, that might be a plus, but if your drinking starts to assume biblical proportions, and if the whole point of your drinking is to forget how bad your life is, then most people would call that negative and even harmful. Beer becomes a bad thing when it gets to the point that it’s rendering you incapable of seeing and thinking clearly. It’s a form of giving up, of resigning yourself to a life that will never get any better, and that is more a thing to be escaped from than a thing to improve.

When people are talking about religion, and when you show them all the reasons for why their faith is unlikely to be true, and when they come back with the argument that religion is nevertheless a good thing because it makes people feel good, that’s the “bad beer” role of religion. That’s people resigning themselves to life as it is, without hope of improvement, under the soothing intoxicant of pleasurable fantasies. What beer does via chemical action on the physical brain cells, religion does by short circuiting the programming by which you make sense of your perceptions. You can look at the truth, but can no longer see it, because the religion has deadened your mind as effectively as a six-pack. Drink and forget your poverty, and remember your misery no more.

Suffering is a bad thing, and reduced suffering is a good thing. But the best way to reduce suffering is to eliminate the cause, not to just ignore it. Just like beer, too much religion is not just an escape from suffering, but a cause of it as well. There’s nothing you can achieve by stupifying your own mind that you could not do better at with a clear head. When you face reality on its own terms, without drug- or religion-induced hallucinations getting in the way, you’ve got your best shot at making it better for yourselves and those around you.


  1. Thorne says

    Nice! I am often asked, when I note that I don’t drink alcohol, which religion I belong to. It’s surprising how many people find it hard to accept that I’m atheist and not religious. They assume that some kind of religious dogma is the only thing that can keep someone from getting drunk.

    Personally, I just don’t like having my head messed up. I far prefer seeing things as they are, rather than as alcohol (or religion) change them.

    • mikespeir says

      You’re not alone. I couldn’t even tell you what beer tastes like. Sure, I was raised religious and was taught that drinking alcohol is sinful. But I don’t buy that anymore, of course. I just don’t see that I’m missing anything except a lot of grief.

      • busterggi says

        Usually people refuse to believe it when I tell them I’ve never been drunk. Having grown up in a family loaded with raging alcoholics (literally) I was afraid to touch the stuff for most of my life.

        I do find a half a glass of wine nice every six months or so. Beer on the other hand is nothing but recycled cat piss imo.

        The best way to see that religion is another intoxicant is to observe how 12 step programs promote religion as a substitute for various chemicals. And just like other religions in them a newcomer has to give up control over their life to the ‘higher power’ of the authoritarian organization & its Christian (though rarely publically admitted) deity.

      • mikespeir says

        “The best way to see that religion is another intoxicant is to observe how 12 step programs promote religion as a substitute for various chemicals.”

        That’s a good point. I mentioned the other day that our basal impulse is to survive, so it’s all about security. Or, rather, an escape from our feelings of insecurity. We’ve needed that skittishness to keep us vigilant–and extant. But it’s uncomfortable, so we’re always looking for an out. We follow two broad tracks in this effort. We, 1, try to make ourselves more secure (power-seeking, really) and 2, we anesthetize ourselves to our insecurities. In the latter pursuit we use everything from drugs and alcohol to inducing more positive, masking emotions by means of things like sex and music. But if we really can convince ourselves there’s some Big Guy up in the sky looking out for us, that can work, too. So, contrary to what religionists (Pascal, prominently) teach, that elusive thing we’re all seeking isn’t God, but security. Belief in God is just a means to that end. It is, like you suggest, basically a kind of metaphysical drug.

  2. ancienttechie says

    As a teetotaler in the bible belt, I find that most people don’t even ask about my religion when I’m offered a drink and politely refuse the booze. The tacit assumption, hereabouts, is that every non-drinker is a conservative Christian and, possibly, a recovering alcoholic.

  3. movablebooklady says

    You know, it is possible to have a drink or two without automatically becoming a drunk lying in a gutter. It has to do with knowing one’s limitations. And I’m not willing to take my life instructions from the bible.

  4. rikitiki says

    Nice disproof. This has a personal significance to me as a recovered alcoholic. Got into it through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the whole “higher power”/god/12-steps routine and that worked initially. But, in trying to figure out what my “higher power” was, I started reading a lot on religion, spirituality, etc. And that eventually led me to “The God Delusion”. Yeah, AA says you need a “higher power”/god to stay sober. But in their “How It Works” bit that gets read at every meeting I’ve ever been to, it says those who don’t recover are those who cannot or will not be rigorously honest with themselves. And, being rigorously honest with myself, poof there went any god, religion, or woo-woo for me. And I’m still sober and much, much happier and free.

  5. Brian M says

    All these darn teetotalers out there. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I like (some) beer and love (good) wine. But then…it’s purely social for me and I have no raging need to drink anything.

    • StevoR says

      Yeah, well Ihave an alcohol problem – my beer is empty.

      (Walks to the fridge, gets another.)

      Problem solved! 😉

      • Brian M says


        And I am ROF because I had too much wine!

        (Note…I am not ignoring the fact that alcohol cna be a serious problem for many people. I am severely addicted to sugar myself, so…)

  6. Just Visiting says

    I’m with you Brian, although for me it’s some wine but better a good beer. I can think of several right at hand that will be a perfect match for grilled asparagus. Mmmmmm.

  7. Stevarious says

    I drink but only very rarely, and always socially.

    Mostly rum, as a good friend of mine is a rum fanatic, has a VERY well stocked bar, and is always inviting me to try whatever new variety of rum or rum-based drink he obtained/found/thought up. So even though I don’t own much booze and only drink rarely, I’ve tried many many varieties of rum and mixed drinks that involve rum. (There is only one variety of rum that I can drink ‘straight’ and actually enjoy – it’s called Kraken and I don’t know where he gets it which is too bad, it has the coolest picture on the label.)

    I’ve only ever actually been ‘drunk’ once. I was incredibly foolish the whole time in a manner that is extremely embarrassing to remember – I doubt I’ll ever do it again on purpose.

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