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Beer’s Spiritual Problem?

Apparently liquor and wine are divine, beer … not so much. That’s the apparent take of Wisconsin columnist Joe Orso who in a recent column, concludes that issues with people drinking beer in his local community are a “spiritual problem,” whatever that even means.

Admittedly, his community does appear to have had a spate of bad luck recently, as he relates.

In the past two weeks, a 19-year-old woman has died after drinking alcohol and falling off Grandad Bluff, Miss America has been to the area to speak to high school and college students about underage drinking and drunken driving, and a concert was held at Viterbo University to raise awareness about responsible drinking habits.

That’s a tragic event to be sure, but Grandad Bluff (pictured here) doesn’t look like the sort of place one should go to while drinking. I don’t want to sound cold, but not only did she show poor judgment but so did her friends. How that’s a spiritual problem or the fault of the beer I find somewhat baffling. As for Miss America, her cause celebre is children. I’m sure she’s on a tour of colleges making the same speech, she wasn’t targeting one community. The concert was a benefit for “Safe La Crosse” promoting responsible drinking behavior at the start of the new term. I’m willing to bet almost every campus has an organization like this one. So what?

My point is you can find or make connections wherever you want to find them. There doesn’t appear to be anything remarkable about these three events that would cause a reasonable person to conclude that the youth of today are in spiritual crisis and beer is the bogeyman responsible for it. But our amateur spiritualist isn’t finished. In his own personal life, he once lived with an alcoholic and he recently visited a friend who’s in detox. Oh my god! Two people he’s known throughout his life have problems with alcohol! Alert the media. Oh, wait he is the media. Why not focus on the maybe hundreds of people he knows or has known who aren’t alcoholics? Why try to connect dots that simply may not be there?

He’s heard anecdotally that young people are drinking simply because “there’s nothing else to do,” claiming to hear this excuse over and over again across the country. I have a hard time understanding why both his own lack of imagination and the similar dullness of the people he’s talking to leads to a conclusion that spirituality has anything to do with this. It sounds more like his community may have a problem. But instead his thinking goes like this. “When you look at a society and see so many of us spending weekends between 15 and 22 years old getting drunk, and then saying we do it because there’s nothing else to do, this becomes a spiritual problem.” Huh? When Orso asks “[h]ow are we treating our young people to make them feel like this?” you’d think the answer would be obvious, but apparently it isn’t.

Why say things like “[s]omething seems to be going on here with beer.” The author says he enjoys beer and has a favorite — Busch (ugh) — and he “look[s] forward to drinking it around a backyard fire every Christmas when [his] brothers and neighbors return home and [they] all catch up on each other’s lives.” In other words, he enjoys it in a social setting that creates conversation and a sense of togetherness. Does he not realize that’s precisely what goes on at teenage parties, too. Kids get together, drink, talk and bond as they struggle to figure out how to become adults. Teenagers struggle with all kinds of adult and quasi-adult behaviors and fumble their way through most of them. They’re supposed to, it’s through their failures and mistakes that they learn. But with our present taboos and draconian alcohol laws they have no positive role models for responsible drinking and many kids’ first experiences with beer may indeed be negative. They don’t have to be, but adults have created an environment that all but guarantees such a result. There will always be people who can’t handle certain things, be they alcohol, drugs, food, cigarettes or what have you. With alcohol the problem is exacerbated because of a criminal lack of education and misinformation, which in many places even forbids parents from teaching their own children about alcohol in the home. Such places presuppose that the state should be the ones to teach kids about alcohol but then they do absolutely nothing by way of educating them.

Orso concludes his column by suggesting that “we might shift the message a bit from ‘Drinking can hurt you, maybe kill you’ to ‘Why are you drinking so much?'” Well, for me such simplistic nonsense is what’s making me drink so much. He’s looking for easy answers to complex questions. But if you think the path to spiritual enlightenment is not paved with beer bottles, then I suppose no amount of logic will convince you otherwise. But could we please stop blaming beer for everything that’s wrong with the world? There are undoubtedly numerous reasons for drinking by teenagers (or anyone for that matter), but I seriously doubt that chief among them is a lack of spirituality. Frankly, I’d be shocked if it made the top hundred. But let’s ask all of the Orders of Monks who have been making truly inspired beers for centuries if they believe beer has caused them to be spiritually parched.


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