This came to me via Rick Sellers at his Pacific Brew News concerning another poll by ChristiaNet concerning Christian’s attitudes towards beer drinking. I meant to write about this earlier, but it got away from me. The story is about a poll ChristiaNet conducted with their readership, which they state involves twelve million monthly page loads, and they further claim to be the “world’s largest Christian portal.” The question they asked was “[i]s it wrong for a Christian to consume beer?” Now why they singled out beer is still a mystery to me. To justify the question, Bill Cooper, the president of ChristiaNet, says “Christ warns of the results of drunkenness.” But, of course, the question wasn’t “is it wrong for a Christian to consume beer to the point of drunkenness” or to be drunk, it was simply whether it was acceptable to consume any amount of beer. That’s a vastly different question and one which does nothing to examine the “results of drunkenness.” They did a similar poll last year, too, which I wrote about on Christmas Eve, but more about that later.
According to their press release, 5,200 completed the online poll and beer drinking got the thumbs up by a very slim margin, about 51%. A little over a third (38%) did, however, respond that they believed that having a beer was “wrong.” Here is some of their rationale.
They felt that one beer almost always leads to more and then can also lead to alcoholism, “I don’t know anyone that only drinks one beer, they usually drink more to get a buzz and that is wrong. Sometimes they even turn into alcoholics.” Others in this group quoted Proverbs 20:1 which states, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Most felt that all alcohol consumption was wrong, “There just isn’t any good reason to drink alcohol, and it is not like it tastes good.”
Wow, I don’t want to hang out with the person who doesn’t know even one person who can stop at a single beer. Being someone who visits the ChristiaNet website, I would think most — or at least some — of his friends were likely Christians like him. And not one of them could resist the temptation to have a second drink of beer? This guy needs to start hanging out with a new crowd. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve enjoyed one beer at a bar or with my dinner without being unable to stop there and even without turning into an alcoholic. I can’t help but picture that process as a bit like the gentlemanly Dr. Jekyll turning into the unsavory Mr. Hyde. Without trying to make light of alcoholism, is that really how it happens? And why on occasion is getting a buzz so wrong? Or is drinking “beer” to get that buzz what’s wrong here? Having the sacred wine makes it acceptable, does it? I guess I just don’t understand how these people think.
Just over ten percent wondered “about whether or not beer, in particular, was wrong” and at least one respondent was confused “because the Bible only talks about drunkenness with wine and strong drink, not about having only one beer.” What I assume many do not realize is that when the Bible was translated into Greek that there was no exact match for the Hebrew word and “wine” was simply substituted as being the closest word available. There are a number of serious scholars who believe that it is possible that it was actually beer (apparently the Greeks at that time had no word for beer) that Jesus turned the water into and that it may even have been beer that was served at the last supper. How different our world might be today if beer had early on achieved the exalted place in religion that wine did, possibly as the result of a mis-translation.
Last year about this same time, ChristiaNet asked this same question but got very different results. Only 339 people filled out the previous survey, of which 192 — or 57% — thought drinking beer was wrong. Armed with those staggeringly small and unscientific statistics, ChristiaNet proceeded to tell the world that Christians think drinking beer is wrong. I wrote about it a few days after their press release in a post I called Beer & Christianity. I thought it was nonsense then, and I’m not convinced it’s any less so this year, despite the fact that 5,200 people took the poll this year. When you look at how random sampling for polling data is usually done, this type of online poll has none of the features that make it a statistically accurate sample of the general population. Instead, as Rick also points out, the people responding are all people who regularly visit ChristiaNet’s website, most likely evangelical Christians — fanatics, possibly. That already greatly skews any data they collect on this or any subject they might ask their visitors’ opinions about. Of course, you may say, isn’t that obvious? Well, maybe it is, but then why bother with a press release unless you’re trying to convince somebody of something as a result of this poll? I scratched my head over this before and I’m afraid it’s still itchy.
Anyway, in his post, Rick called me a fanatic — which is true, of course — with regard to the agenda of neo-prohibitionists though he has tended to feel that “there’s no way we, as Americans, have anything to worry about with our beer related rights. Now, if there are this many ‘Christians’ in our country who think my beer consumption is flat wrong, it would seem appropriate to assume they wouldn’t mind seeing some form of control on my consumption.” I think that’s correct, and I think it’s also why there is a lot that we should be worried about. That’s precisely why I’m fanatical, because I believe apathy and complacency will ultimately spell doom. And while there are millions of self-avowed Christians who think drinking beer is no mortal sin, those that do seem to be more vocal and shrill about imposing that belief on everybody else.
Many neo-prohibitionist groups are religiously based, and often claim that Christian morals are at odds with alcohol, which suggests to me that fundamentalist Christians have more in common with fundamentalist Muslims than either group might be willing to admit. Both seem to argue that their belief leads them to prohibiting alcohol and both likewise believe that whatever their religion teaches should apply to non-believers and believers alike. Muslims have been more successful in building sovereign nations that use religious law as the law of the land, regardless of an individual’s religion, and under such rule religious freedom is not tolerated. But Christian evangelicals want exactly the same thing: to replace our secular nation — founded on the principle of church and state being separate — with a Christian United States, whose laws are all based on their literal interpretation of the Bible. And whether or not beer would be permitted under such an intolerant society would depend largely on whose interpretation holds sway.
So I see these polls as dangerous, because even though they are based on poor science, most people probably won’t examine that too closely and will accept them at face value. That seems to happen a lot with polling data. You see inaccurate statistics quoted over and over again, oftentimes even after they’ve been discredited. For reasons I can’t explain (perhaps because people trust the media or because in school we’re not taught how to think, only what to think) polls tend to be believed more often than not. In my experience, human nature causes people to want to side with the majority or the winner so polls which report that a majority feel one way or another often have the effect of bringing about that result, especially if it’s close. This is why I hate political election polling and exit polls on election day, because I think they have the effect of swaying voter’s opinions to vote for the leader. And therein lies the danger. Tell people that enough other folks just like them think drinking beer is wrong and they’ll start to believe it, too. One thing you can safely say about all religions is that they don’t encourage independent thought: the whole point of faith is to believe without questioning so it seems to me religiously-based agendas are particularly susceptible to manipulation.
Rick is quite right to question that statistic claiming 38% of Christians “feel that drinking beer [is] wrong.” As he correctly concludes, “it is likely only those with strong enough opinions took the survey. But that too scares me, because it isn’t just the church goers in our country who are more than slightly apathetic — its seems to be the American way these days.” But if ChristiaNet and others with a neo-prohibitionist agenda keep sowing these anti-alcohol seeds with their questionable statistics they may win over enough of the “more than slightly apathetic” to make their proclamation a self-fulfilling prophecy. And trying to play my small part in making sure that doesn’t happen, keeping the neo-prohibitionist wolves at the door so to speak, is what makes me a fanatic. Because allowing an extreme minority to dictate morality and tell you and me we can’t enjoy a beer is not the way a free society should operate. Those with the loudest voices are not supposed to be who wins. So in the hopes of keeping that from happening, I’ll keep shouting in the wilderness until they pry the glass of beer from my cold, dead hand. But let’s try not to let it come to that, shall we? Let’s take this threat seriously. I really don’t want the Pyrrhic victory that forces me to say “I told you so.”