Friday, August 30, 2013

bullets and booze

My attitude towards alcohol has invited its share of light-hearted mocking over the years. It was the subject of an early post. This is still the post which has provoked the most comments. Some thought that once I joined a UK-based organisation (where attitudes tend to be more spacious), I might change my ways slowly and quietly.

But alas, I am here to tell you that not much has changed. I still have the same convictions. In holding them, I am not suggesting that authentic Christian faith is determined by the outcomes of a breathaliser test. Far from it. Nor do I think less of people who consume, or have difficulty being in the company of those who consume. These are not the issues for me.

I've been thinking about this again. I wonder if alcohol in New Zealand is a bit like guns in America. There is nothing inherently wrong with either, but the damage done by their abuse is incalculable. Furthermore neither society seems to have the will, or the wisdom, to know how to curb the excessive use of either booze or bullets. If David Hackett Fischer is right, then the USA is likely to keep indulging itself in freedom and NZ will keep pigging itself out on fairness - and nothing much will change.

Take the USA. The rest of the world looks on in disbelief at the way the 'right to bear arms' has been ripped out of its historical context and believed with such biblical fervour. The question that comes to mind is, 'Are there any exegetes in the House (of Representatives)'? Because it is an issue of hermeneutics. It is about asking how an ancient text ('the right to bear arms') conveys a contemporary meaning. There are those who argue that such meaning is conveyed through the interplay of the author ('look behind the text at what the author intended'), the text ('look within the text at what the words mean') and the reader, or the community of readers ('look in front of the text at how the reader responds'). In this interplay - where each restrains the excesses of the others - a contemporary meaning can be found. It would make for an interesting discussion with this issue, particularly if participants - while they are discussing 'the right to bear arms' - also own the responsibility to bare their pre-understandings. This might lead to a clearer wisdom and a stronger will in the legitimate use of these weapons that kill.

Similarly (but not exactly), consider New Zealand. This time there is no ancient text to consider. The consumption of alcohol is not enshrined in any constitution - well, not in a formal one anyway. However while there may be no explicit text to engage, there are some implicit assumptions to surface. This is where Kiwi culture gets ugly. The assumption that it is not possible to have a good time without the lubricant which is alcohol. Or, the assumption that nothing levitates laughter quite like the sights and sounds associated with intoxicated behaviour. I try and I try - but I fail to see anything humorous in drunkenness, the very behaviour that leads to catastrophic levels of self-harm and violence towards others. To me, it is one of the most humour-less subjects going around. [NB: this post was provoked by some humour on facebook when a church created a cross up the front out of empty beer crates]. Maybe it is this very humour which muddies the mind and anaesthetises the will, making it difficult for people to see the extent to which alcohol abuse is the common denominator in tragedy after tragedy, headline after headline, story after story.

Bullets and booze.
Ancient texts and implicit assumptions.
Better exegesis and better humour.
USA and New Zealand.
Freedom and fairness.

There are some massive blindspots at work here. And as I mentioned eight years ago, I remain surprised that more Christians do not make different choices with their lives in light of what happens when booze and bullets are abused. Where is the freedom and the fairness for the victims and the grief-stricken? You know and I know that a small galaxy of statistics, could be brought near at this point to support this argument. During the smacking-debate a prominent Christian NZer pleaded with smackers to cease and to vote for new legal restrictions - out of a solidarity with children who are victims of violence. I find a similar logic, a similar solidarity, to be convincing when the subject turns to booze and bullets.

nice chatting

Paul




6 comments:

Greg. said...

I have long pondered the question, "If Jesus was in New Zealand today, would He drink alcohol?"
Now, I know one of the first answers those who enjoy a tipple throw out to anyone who might be looking like they disapprove of the demon-drink is, "Well, Jesus drank."
And, of that there is no doubt (I read about it somewhere).
But knowing the culture of New Zealand today, and knowing the damage that alcohol is causing in our Kiwi society, if Jesus had come to New Zealand in 2013, rather than to the Middle East back in the distant past, would He have adopted the same attitude to drinking, or would He have promoted some degree of abstinence?
I don't know the answer, but the question does cross my mind on occasion.

Fred said...

The problem is obvious. Dump Doris!

fred said...

And if you don't get the encryption right first time, you've probably drunk too much! And a PS - hit the speaker icon to listen to the encryption read out... he or she has certainly drunk too much!!

Tim Bulkeley said...

Greg, "some degree of abstinence"? Surely abstinence either is or isn't?

My question about Paul's argument is if there is any evidence that there would be less alcohol abuse if more moderate drinkers became abstainers. I just don't know, I can see the value of gun control, but if our rabbit problem gets any worse I might get a license...

Paul said...

Thanks for these comments, friends.

Tim's question aside, I think about your question quite a bit, Greg. Methinks that grace and truth would still be fully to the fore. Deep compassion for the victim and the grieving - and a few harsh words for his followers who can't see their blindspots - so nothing much has changed in two millennia.

And Tim, I take your point - but my concern is a little different in this post. What if all moderate drinkers called a moratorium on humour related to intoxication, interjecting with "I don't find that funny" when it arises and see what happens? What if all moderate drinkers worked so hard at their social skills that transparency and emotion, warmth and passion could be expressed without the boost provided by this lubricant? Those are more the questions on my mind here. And I could add a few more 'what if's if I thought more about it - all on the way towards advocating for a life that subverts the pain and profile associated with alcohol in our country.

But as for abstinence and abstainers, I cannot see how having more of them in social situations can be anything other than a good thing for this society - constantly reminding people that consumption is a choice (that doesn't need to be taken), quietly strengthening those for whom it is a problem ... and warmly commending a life filled with the Spirit as sufficient :).

enuf - i am meant to be packing, not unpacking.

paul

Craig said...

Thanks Paul for an interesting post covering two topics that I've thought quite a bit about, and two cultures in which I've lived. I have been observing a lot about the US culture first hand since the Sandy Hook shootings. I've learned that as a foreigner, my view is not welcomed (just ask Piers Morgan how it worked out for him.) But what struck me most is that society seems completely incapable of having a reasoned discussion about this. Piers Morgan tried to make this a public issue and the public called for him to be deported. Any politician who tries to make it a matter of public debate draws fire from the NRA which is essentially political suicide. No one wants to exegete the ancient text. No one wants to consider how a civilised society should respond to these issues. There is no collective sense of responsibility - just an individual claim to rights.

What Paul's post has done is make me wonder whether NZ has a similar response to alcohol. In my entire life, I can count on one hand how many people have asked me why I don't drink alcohol. Actually, I can count on one finger. I have what to me is a very sound explanation, which I've thought through and tucked away in a corner of my mind for decades, waiting for someone to ask. But only one person ever has. No-one is interested in having a genuine discussion about it.

Like Paul, I struggle to see any positive reason for drinking alcohol. The best argument I can think of for Christians is "well, the Bible doesn't say I can't." It is a factor in so much that is bad in our society - why don't we talk about that? The financial cost to the country enormous - why don't we talk about that? Prohibition didn't work in the US - why don't we talk about that?

When John Key first become Prime Minister, he impressed me by talking to all the parties. My understanding (or maybe my dream) was that he went to them all and said "I may not agree with you, but I want to hear you." That honeymoon period might have been short-lived, but we need much more of that in both countries. Public discussions need to be open, honest and respectful. We need to 'seek first to understand.'

I was going to say that we need our leaders to set the example, but perhaps its unfair to shift the blame. Maybe its our responsibility to start conversations about real issues in society, whether it be at work, at church, in our homes, maybe even in the pub.