Governed by addiction

[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.]

Even in a fallen world there is great joy in living. God has created a wonderful world in which his pleasures seem prodigal in their distribution. At every turn there are more things to enjoy. While sin mars and distorts our joys, it does not seem to overcome them.

Amongst the pleasures of this world are eating and drinking. For God has created all foods “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:3-4). While endless TV cooking shows exhibit our sinful preoccupation with what we eat and what we drink (Matt 6:25ff.), there is nothing wrong with finding joy in preparing food nor pleasure in eating it. Indeed, food generously and thoughtfully prepared for others’ enjoyment can be one of the great ways of expressing our loving service.

Food and drink are more than simply fuelling the body; they are a means of feasting and fellowship. With food and drink we celebrate the joys of life and mourn its sorrows. When the prodigal returned, his father gathered friends to share in eating the fatted calf. At a wedding Jesus created the best wine. For food and drink affect and change our moods as well as fill our stomachs.

The Psalmist says God made wine “to gladden the heart of man” (Ps 104:15). Alcohol not only changes our mood to merriment but also anesthetizes us from the pain and suffering of life. So King Lemuel is told to “give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress. Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov 31:6-7.).

However, in our sinfulness we abuse this wonderful gift of God. Recent increases in alcohol related problems have raised serious questions about controlling the excesses. There have always been sad stories about prominent people affected by their addiction to alcohol and the terrible consequences of drunk drivers on the roads. Not only do we now have the media beat-ups about the misdemeanours of some professional footballers, but also the Police Commissioner’s concern about alcohol fuelled violence on our streets, the Northern Territory’s concern about communities overwhelmed by the destructive forces of alcohol addiction and parliamentarians imbibing too much at work. Parliamentarians are apparently one group who are allowed alcohol at work. King Lemuel was warned against this kind of governing: “It’s not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Prov 31:4-5).

Of recent times some highly respected medical officers (Professors Fiona Stanley and Mike Daube) have quite rightly attacked the connection between alcohol advertising and sport. This is a good place to start and could gain wide community support. Years ago, tobacco advertising was censored from sport and last month, under the pressure of public outcry, the Government threatened to censor the promotion of gambling from football broadcasts. Currently, sporting organizations are more addicted to alcohol’s money than the players are to the substance. The alcohol industry, television stations and sports administrators will protest against any censorship of alcohol, claiming restrictions will destroy their sport, but both players and the sporting codes need to be freed from this dependency.

The governments of Australia are in a difficult position. They will have to take on not only the power of the combined alcohol, hotels, clubs and gambling lobby groups, but also the national culture in which themselves indulge and share with the community. Their singular failure to deal with poker machines shows their impotence in the face of such vested interests. Social problems that ruin the life and health of individuals, families and society, appear to be beyond democratic government’s ability to solve. Conventional wisdom tells us that prohibition doesn’t work. Certainly the war against drugs and attempts to prohibit God created substances, like heroin, has no victory in sight.

Furthermore alcohol is the ‘drug of choice’ for most Australians and its legal status makes its public promotion and astonishing profits inviolable. It is unlikely anybody thinks prohibiting alcohol is a way forward. However, nobody can agree how to minimize the harm it creates. And harm minimization is as far as our governments can go—for the government of a godless and materialistic society has no agreed “good life” to contend for, other than freedom: freedom of speech for those who can afford it, freedom of the individual to sin as they wish and freedom of trade as the preferred means of relating—the very ingredients that are feeding the problem. No doubt somebody will insist on alcohol awareness classes for the already over-packed curriculum of our schools, as if teaching children has made a difference in any other social problem.

Alcohol is not the problem; like all God’s creations, alcohol is good. Alcohol abuse is not the real problem either; it’s just the presenting problem of a sick culture. The advertisers and public media are not the problem; they are simply false prophets preaching for profit. It is our culture that is at fault—it is us—we are at fault. Without God, we medicalize our problems and wonder why our young turn to drugs; we make individualism sacred and wonder why people don’t care for others; we relativize morality and wonder why people are selfish and we commercialize our relationships and wonder why greed controls our society.

Governments need to take the alcohol problem seriously with strong actions. However, without the society turning back to God there is little hope for improvement in the problems of abuse. Society needs Christians to call us all back to God who creates not only alcohol but also the good life.

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