Sunday, March 04, 2007

Catholics, drinking, and gambling

Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters often ask "why do Catholics do those things." Usually, I get those questions from people who wonder things like "why do you pray to saints" or "why do you have those beads." In light of my recent public comments regarding casino gambling and my known aversion to dry laws, I am getting the question "why are Catholics okay with that."

Specifically, why is it that the Church does not view drinking and gambling as sins in and of themselves?

Jesus did not view drinking as a sin, and we know this because he did plenty of it. Not only did he turn a massive amount of water into a massive amount of wine, but one of the many accusations the Pharisees made against Our Lord was that he was a winebibber (Luke 7:34)-and of course he drank wine as part of the Paschal Feast at the Last Supper. Note that while many people try and say it wasn't really wine he was drinking, or it didn't have alcohol in it, we know that the wine Our Lord drank did in fact have its natural alcohol content. We know this because the pasteurization process to prevent the natural fermentation of grapes was not invented until 1869 by prohibitionist Thomas Bramwell Welch.

How does the Bible view drinking? The Apostle Paul warns Christians against overindulging in drink throughout his Epistles. Many Christians who favor the notion that drinking is a sin often quote Ephesians 5:18 "be ye not drunk with wine," but often leave out the next three words "wherein is excess (but be filled with the Spirit)." In listing past sins of converts, one that Peter lists is "excess of wine." (I Peter 4:3) The moral lesson to be learned is not "drinking is bad" but "drinking in excess is sinful." So is gluttony, yet the scriptures do not forbid us to eat. Paul even tells Timothy to drink wine to settle his stomach in I Timothy 5:23.

Does this mean that all Christians should run out and drink to their hearts' content? No. Some people have a weakness where alcohol is concerned, and the scriptures admonish us to respect that. In Romans 14, Paul speaks of Christian liberty. He warns believers that what is fine for one Christian (and not sinful) may cause weakness in another, and we do not need to make our brothers stumble (Romans 14:21). Neither, however, is something made sinful or unclean merely because someone thinks it so. (Romans 14:13-14).

The same can be said to be true with gambling. If you have a few dollars to spare, have you sinned by putting it on a football wager or going to the bingo game? Certainly not. If you are wagering your entire paycheck, you have certainly sinned. The sin was not in the thing itself, but in the abuse of the thing.

Because self-control is a virtue in our faith, Catholics see no sin in drinking or gambling, but in the abuse of those things. This is why Catholics tend to be a bit more tolerant about whisky and wagering.



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