Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dialogue on and Apologia for Church-Sponsored Alcohol and Gambling (For Fundraising Purposes, Etc.)

This comes from an exchange with a woman on the CHNI board who is a Protestaht strongly considering returning to the Catholic Church, but who struggles with a few issues, such as this one. It was very thought-provoking and stimulating to me, and I seem to have convinced her, at least in part. Her words will be in blue.

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My fellow moderator on the board, David W. Emery, presented the Church's basic teaching:

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.

2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

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2413 Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.

With these things in mind, one can point out that it has been medically proved that small amounts of alcohol, especially wine, can be beneficial to human health and certain drugs can be used to advantage in medically alleviating severe pain or other serious reactions of the human body. As scripture states: “Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, And there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the nether world on earth, For justice is undying.” (Wisdom 1:13–15 NAB) In other words, there is use and there is abuse.

It falls, therefore, to the virtue of temperance, as the Catechism states above, to provide the proper insight and strength of character to resist excess and impropriety. Many times we see a lack of this virtue in church-sponsored gatherings.

For those who are not familiar with the classical enumeration of the Cardinal Virtues (as they are called), they are as follows (again from the Catechism):

1805 Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called “cardinal”; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. “If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom’s] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage.” These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.

The following paragraphs of the Catechism (1806–1807) explain the meaning of these terms.

How does the church justify selling beer and offering drinks at their church picnics, or gatherings, or gambling night , like Monte Carlo night, KNOWING there will be people there, who have a major issue with this sort of thing: addiction. Then will place them in sin.

The problem here is that excess and corruption are always problems. We can't just eliminate things if there is the slightest chance that they may be abused and used excessively. People make their own choices of whether to do that and to sin. The source can't be blamed, because oftentimes it is morally neutral itself.

I had a similar discussion recently on my blog about crucifixes (having cited Calvinist Charles Spurgeon's opposition to them). A certain legalistic (usually Calvinist) strain of thought holds that a crucifix is always an idol, or else that it is so likely to occur that we ought to get rid of all of them, so as to avoid anyone turning them into idols.

That was the Protestant solution when it began: wherever anything had the slightest chance of being corrupted, we should get rid of it. Throw the baby out with the bathwater, in other words . . . And so I wrote in that thread, replying to my Protestant friend:

    Folks can make an idol out of ANYTHING: the Bible, their own spiritual pride, their office as a minister, riches, fame, power, beauty, you name it. So they can make an idol out of a crucifix if they choose to do so.
My argument is that since anything can be corrupted, this is not a sufficient argument to abolish things that can be corrupted, since in that case, EVERYTHING would have to be abolished! It's a reductio ad absurdum. . . . we would have to get rid of every potential idol, and that would include even the Bible itself. So we end up with a Bible-less Christianity based on the Bible (sola Scriptura), and that seems sensible?
    If you disagree, then please show me how the Bible never becomes an idol for some people and is never exploited and distorted and twisted. Best wishes in that endeavor.

Now I realize that Jesus attended a wedding, where we know there was alcohol. This is not the same thing.

I am at a total loss in understanding why you insist that this is not the same thing at all. Could you explain that to me? He didn't just attend, and there "happened" to be wine. He changed water into wine specifically for the purpose of the celebration. In your original query you mentioned beer, which has a fairly low alcohol content. That would have been the case with the wine of Jesus' time, too.

As you would expect, I have written on this topic:

Alcohol: Biblical and Catholic Teaching

Resources for the Biblical Teaching on Wine and Alcohol [Links Page]

"The Proverbs 31 Drunk" (Huh??!!)

The gambling issue is a variation of the same principle / reality. Would you hold that even a raffle is wrong? Remember, the disciples cast lots even in a matter so important as selecting another apostle to replace Judas:

Acts 1:23-26 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsab'bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthi'as. [24] And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen [25] to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." [26] And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi'as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.

Now, we can say that God guided the "chance" here (1:24), but if we acknowledge that, why could He also not do so in any raffle or other such undertaking? God in His Providence could use anything like that to help provide for someone's needs.

I'll use my own example, as an author (not exactly rolling in dough over here). In a sense it is a matter of "chance" when a person is in a Catholic bookstore, in (coincidentally!) the apologetics section. Now, say they want to buy one book, and one only. There is a wide selection (Keating, Madrid, Hahn, Akin, Ray, Kreeft, Howard, Shea, etc., etc.). Let's assume for the sake of hypothetical argument that they like all these authors to roughly the same degree. My books manage to be there, too.

Which one they pick is sort of like "chance." It's like being in a music store and liking all kinds of music, but only having enough money to buy one CD. Who's to say that God doesn't help that process along by putting a suggestion into someone's mind to buy one book or another? So they choose mine, and I get the royalties from it (alas, only twice a year, but I still get them eventually). It could actually happen that way, because God is providing needs in His Providence.

Somehow things happen so that needs are provided. I've seen it again and again in my own life, as a full-time apologist (with four children) for now almost eight years. God provides (both for the sparrow and even for us human beings). And involved in that whole process (sometimes) are aspects of "chance" or selecting one thing over another, or "the luck of the draw," so to speak.

It applies to anyone, really. If you go to get a job, there could be a hundred different applicants (as many in this country are going through right now). Somehow we get chosen. It could have been that our application was at the top and so we were picked. It could have been perfect timing when the interview took place, according to the mood of the interviewer, and so we were picked. Perhaps we mentioned something (by "chance") that was very dear to the interviewer, and so the personal element clicked and we were chosen.

Maybe we had a mutual friend, or we happened to be from the same town or school or church group. Any number of things that are random or unplanned or spontaneous can determine the final choice. God can work with all this in His Providence. I'm maintaining that He can also do that through games of chance and suchlike, even in a Christian context. It's right in the Bible, with Matthias.

God promises to provide our needs, as long as we're not negligent and are working hard and not being irresponsible. But the needs are provided through human beings.

A church raffle works similarly. This is what you objected to. Bingo; gambling nights . . . It's designed to raise funds for the church (a good thing). In so doing, there is also a chance that anyone who contributes can get something back from it. There is nothing wrong with that. It's no different from the early church sharing their possessions. The only difference is that the sharing is taking place in order to pay church bills. Additionally, someone gets a jackpot by chance, too. It's a fun way to raise needed funds.

If human beings were always perfect saints and gave contributions to the church and other causes completely spontaneously, so that no one had to even ask or teach about it, that would be wonderful, wouldn't it? But unfortunately, that is usually not the case, and so the church "condescends" to the normal human condition and has to resort to Bingo and raffles, so that people will be willing to donate. Not ideal, but not intrinsically wrong, either . . .

What is better, between the following two choices?:

1) Church funds raised by a raffle + one person getting a surprise "pot".


2) No raffle at all because this is considered a sin; therefore no church funds raised.

You might say, "well we can never sin; we can't use an immoral means to reach a moral end." Yes, of course. But the Church denies that it is wrong in the first place! It is only wrong when corrupted; in excess. The key is to reach the balance between legalism (no drinks at all, contrary to even St. Paul and Jesus) and license (get drunk to your heart's content and exercise no self-discipline and moderation).

So many times I have had people say to me, I am in the Catholic Church because we can drink, or get drunk.

But we can't do that. This is not Church teaching, and drunkenness is objectively a mortal sin. Just because many people may be ignorant and are trying to justify their sin in a mindless way, by pretending that the Church teaches something that it does not teach, it doesn't follow that we are wrong.

People abuse Protestant teachings, too. You know this well, as I do, from my own past experience! Many say, for example, that because they are saved, they can sin in any way and they are still forgiven. They can't lose their salvation. They're not trying to say, "hee hee, I can go sin and not have to worry" (we mustn't caricature or twist or uncharitably exaggerate) but they are saying that if they do, they don't have to worry about losing salvation. Sometimes it is a very fine line, and we all know that Satan exploits that to the max. It's the same mentality of justifying sin, but only in a different fashion, since the devil corrupts everything. I would say there was false, unbiblical teaching on salvation there, too, but that is another issue.

The fact remains that both Luther and Calvin strongly stressed that good works must be present in a Christian's life, or else we can question whether they are true Christians or not. They taught that. I've documented it myself. But millions of Protestants don't understand this and distort it. They don't even grasp what Luther and Calvin meant by "faith alone."

Likewise, millions of Catholics think the Church is encouraging drunkenness simply because it allows wine, as Jesus did. Jesus drank wine at the Last Supper, for heaven's sake. When He taught us the central Christian rite of Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, He used wine to do it.

I even had my Uncle say to me, "geez, I can get drunk on Saturday night and go to mass the next morning. yep! I like this kind of religion!"

He could do that (he has a free will that even God honors by allowing it to exist), but nothing in that has the least sanction in Catholic teaching.

Now I realize these folks don't have a clue about a relationship with God. Personal.

Nor about Catholic teaching . . . so why would anyone want to use them as examples in the first place? If we take the absolute worst example of a Catholic or a Protestant, that tells us little or nothing about the actual teachings of either theological system.

However I will say that it appears the church condones the behavior by the support they give, in alcohol and gambling at the different events.

The issue has complexities that need to be thought through. Too many people don't do so (as they approach theology itself: with a total lack of interest and no desire to ever learn more: I did so myself for my first 18 years). I think it is a matter of working through it in order to understand the principles involved; the nature of corruption and excess, free will, the human condition, how the devil tempts us and brings us down, and the reality of churches and other such groups having a need to raise funds, and how to do that, given the selfish, self-centered tendencies of human beings.

Someone else commented:

I think churches that do sponsor such events should perhaps monitor the participants and make sure they either get home safely (have a sober driver) or they don't go overboard (set limits).

Yes! This is something we can all agree on: those who defend it in moderation, and those who don't like it at all, who are rightly concerned about the excesses, as all should be.

In any event, the Church has clearly spoken: use of alcohol and gambling are permitted. Sensible oversight and monitoring is the "responsibility" part that is probably too often neglected. I think that's a perfectly valid point and criticism.

From what I read, the church is also against the abuse of those things. In saying that though, it still appears that it would be in the best interest of the church, to not support these things.

That makes little sense to me, seeing that the Bible gives examples of the same exact things (Jesus miraculously making more wine at a wedding; the disciples casting lots to choose Judas' successor). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with either thing. What you have to deal with (given the position you are staking out) is the reductio ad absurdum ("reduction to absurdity") argument that whenever a thing can be corrupted, it ought to be abolished, in order to avoid any difficulties or "stumbling" whatever. I think it would be a very difficult position to consistently defend.

How many cults and heresies are there, that corrupt the Bible? Look what the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do with it! So do we get rid of the Bible in order to avoid any corruption of it? This is the burden of your position. If you want to be strict against alcohol and gambling, then you have to do the same, it seems to me, with absolutely everything that has ever been corrupted or has caused serious problems in any way. Why should these other cases be any different? So in this case you would have to forbid the Bible. That would go over wonderfully with our Protestant friends, wouldn't it? Cheesy

This is what is called a reductio ad absurdum argument in classical logic. I use it often, and many times it is not understood, so I hope I have made clear how the argument proceeds, and that it is not any kind of personal attack or "belittling": not in the slightest degree. I'm simply being "Dave the apologist" and lover of back-and-forth dialogue.

Now I realize that doing so makes lots of money for the church. Actually it draws people in just for that purpose. My sister has served on the church committee. According to her this was discussed at some point.

If it does that (a good end) and is not intrinsically wrong (a good means), then why should anyone oppose it? We should oppose excessive gambling and alcohol consumption in individuals. In other words, it is a matter of monitoring the abusers, not abolishing the neutral thing that can possibly be abused.

anyway I also thought that this seems to fall into the category of the scripture Paul gives, about not causing your brother to stumble.

Partially, I think that argument can be made (it's a relevant factor, for sure); however, it is more complex, since Paul himself recommends the use of wine and was also still an observant Jew, meaning that he consumed wine at Passover and probably other Jewish feasts. So we can't possibly make the case that Paul was against all use of wine. He was against drunkenness. Jesus made wine, etc.

I contend, then, that this position of yours would have to be urged against our Lord Jesus Himself. Would you tell Him that He has caused brothers to stumble, by turning water into wine, and therefore, shouldn't have done it? I think it is a huge problem for your position. It's like the radical vegetarians (and I have debated them, too) arguing that Jesus was a vegetarian, and all Christians should be, when He ate lamb at every Passover (including the Last Supper) and ate fish even after His resurrection. It's a pretty steep hill to climb.

Okay I have said enough about that. It appears that this may be a very controversial topic. and that's okay. It has revealed that many feel the same way I do.

And many feel differently. I completely agree that drunkenness and compulsive gambling are grave sins, and of course, to be avoided at all costs. Controversial topics need to be worked through, not thrown out and then the conversation ends, once there is any good-natured disagreement. It doesn't have to end with disagreement and fuzziness and uncertainty. I think there are solid answers here to be had. I think people can be persuaded. It's not hopeless, with no resolution. We can discuss this sensibly and not have to feel that we have to walk on pins and needles.

It is a legitimate concern (I believe we all agree) that can be and needs to be discussed in the Church. At the same time, I think all the practices in and of themselves can be defended. The Catechism does so, and I try to do so. I would like to see replies to the "pro" arguments that have been thrown out, from those who continue to disagree. That's how dialogue works. It's how I personally work through issues, by dialogue and pondering both sides: offering criticisms and replying to them in turn.

Where we can meet and have total agreement is in solving the problem of individuals who become drunk at a church event. How do we deal with that? How do we prevent it? Does it mean no alcohol at all should be offered, because maybe five out of a hundred people become intoxicated? Do the 95 have to change their behavior and totally abstain because the five can't handle their alcohol? Is the Church totally responsible for this happening or is it the person's blame alone? What else has been done by a parish and parishioners to help alcoholics in our ranks? Etc., etc.

As for gambling, I highly doubt that a compulsive gambler got that way from playing Bingo at church (which I've never done myself, by the way; I hardly even play poker). That goes much deeper, and will involve casinos and race tracks and perhaps illegal bookies at some point. To blame that on a raffle or Bingo is stretching it quite a bit, I submit.

My husband said that it appears that it makes the church look like the world. When we are to be set apart, holy, and St John said we were not to do that.

Jesus drank wine and He was perfectly holy. So did Paul. This is a red herring. The only thing valid about it is if there is a person sitting there drunk at a church event and the priest says, "that's wonderful! Give him another round!" But I doubt that this rarely ever happens. We can only condemn drunkenness itself.

I understand the concerns themselves. Sometimes I have thought this way myself in the past. I used to make lighthearted jokes about Catholic parishes called "Our Lady of Perpetual Bingo." It's a legitimate question to ask and it deserves a solid answer, too.

I absolutely understand moderation. However for me or any of my family, its not a good idea. My hubby was an alcoholic. He quit drinking in 1986 when he had an encounter with Jesus. for real. My son was heading that way, as far as alcohol. His issues were drugs.

Now we're getting somewhere. It is an issue for you and your family, because there is alcoholism involved. It does not follow, however, that no one can ever have a drink in a church setting because someone is an alcoholic. You and your family can and should simply avoid functions where there is alcohol. Don't go to a bar, etc. Weddings usually have wine, but you can always avoid the reception if you wish to. The problem comes when one's personal experience and struggle is made into an ironclad law for everyone else.

This is at the heart of the present discussion, I think: the relationship of the many who use moderation or abstain, vs. the few who have stumbled and may stumble again. I don't think it's simple at all, for the reasons I have given. We can't decide such issues on personal experience and emotion alone. We have to think them through.

Now free! and preaching. been free for 6 yrs. My son in law is an alcoholic, and I see what it has done to my daughter and granddaughter.( who are believing for his deliverance) I love red wine myself. I love the taste and I love that its so healthy for you. In moderation! however I don't do that very often. Don't want to tempt myself, or stir up old bondages.

Then don't do it! None of you who have had a problem should go to a place where drink is freely offered. That's simple enough, isn't it? I don't eat white sugar, so I don't spend much time in candy stores. What would be the point? No one who understands biblical and Catholic teaching would tell you otherwise. How does that affect me or many who never had a drinking problem?

I've never been drunk in my life, that I am aware of (perhaps on one occasion in high school, I came close). Not that I have no sin in my past; they just happen to be in other areas! So I don't have any bondage issues with that at all. I don't even like beer that much. I enjoy a good glass of wine at a wedding, but never buy a bottle myself. The alcohol bothers my stomach anyway.

But here I am defending the use of alcohol because it's not based on personal like or dislike, or past problems, but on reason and what the Bible and the Church bring to bear on the topic.

God wants us, according to His word, to depend on Him. so that is where I am with that. what I know for sure, with Jesus all things are possible!!!! for THOSE who believe!!!amen?

Absolutely. My only problem with what you are saying, is suggesting that the Church should have no alcohol or gambling at all. With all due respect, I don't think that position can be reasonably sustained, after being properly scrutinized and examined closely. Your motives are great. It is completely well-intentioned, but I think it goes too far in the direction of "legalism."

Thanks for the discussion!

BTW I also realize that when Catholics make comments like my uncle did, it reveals the depth of their heart and the lack of knowledge they have about their church, and what it teaches and believes.. I do know that. thanks.... geez, I am surely head spinning now! actually dave I said that my head was spinning after your answer!

I didn't give ya a drink! LOLOL

lol...that being said, your point is taken. I will repeat this much, I am comfortable in saying that I may disagree with some of what u claimed, yet, I am so okay with the answer. I realize that I do not have to agree with the stance on this. and its okay. . . . ....and u r absolutely right when you said there are many abuses in the protestant world as well. U r so right!!!@@@ Now I am able to see things I never had before. I actually shared this at a women's meeting recently. and u r right, I know the church teaches to live a holy life. Now I am one that does NOT believe that salvation makes it okay for you to live any old way u desire and it still be okay! That is just NOT so!!!!! that is NOT biblical. I agree.... Thanks again......and I am moving forward no doubt with some new questions or perspectives! God Bless....


amen dave! okay okay...I get what you are saying, I get it. out of allllllll of the words you used legalism caught my heart. I read that and said...ouch!!!! I never want to go there. and I am working on that one for real. That has probably come from personal experiences and being in the protestant church for so long. I will say this, a dear friend of ours who happens to be a southern baptist preacher, said to us, why would we go into a bar, if that was an issue for us? and I agree with that. I stopped going into bars after my encounter with Jesus in 1984. I want to also say this, that scripture speaks of generational sins or curses. I believe that the abuse of alcoholism is one that is passed on. there were people on my side of family and hubbys who had this issue. Yet there were people who were sold out in serving God and this wasnt an issue. Just saying that this is a passed on issue, or can be. agree? Thanks....God bless....

Yes; certainly many things tie into a propensity for alcoholism: family habits, culture, even biology. The fact that it tends to run in families could be for any and all of those reasons or even some sort of spirit of bondage passed down (though I would usually underemphasize the latter and concentrate more on personal choice and responsibility).

That is only one bondage or "idol." There are many others, too, so we shouldn't just give the alcoholic a hard time, as if he or she were uniquely sinful or irresponsible.

As for sin being passed down, ultimately in Scripture God makes it clear that we are all responsible for our own sins, not those of our parents and ancestors further back. There is a long passage on that. I'd have to look it up, and am too lazy to do so right now, and need to get some lunch! But I can easily find it if someone wants a reference.

I agree that we are responsible for our sins, however we are also somewhat responsible for creating a stumbling block for our brothers, right? Isn't that what Paul teaches us?

Absolutely. Okay; this is how I would apply that to our present discussion. Let's look at this very practically and concretely. Say you and I are together and there is the Oktoberfest at my parish (as we actually had in September: I sat, volunteering at the dessert table all day, cutting pastries, and I don't and didn't eat any of it!! LOL). Lots of beer around; even some liquor. Our parish made $16,000 in this event, by the way. And it was sorely needed, as we have a big beautiful old building to maintain and heat and just a small number of parishioners.

So how do I live up to my responsibility of not causing you to stumble, as one Christian brother to a Christian sister and friend?

Well, I make sure as a friend that you don't start drinking the beer (i.e., if you have stated it has been a problem in the past; it's not totally clear if this is the case with you, but I'm just using the example)! If I'm with you, I don't drink it myself, so you don't stumble. I go the extra mile. I give up what isn't in and of itself bad because it makes you stumble. I encourage you to do the other things there: eat the food, listen to the music, have fellowship and fun, buy some auction items. But we keep away from the drinks. That's my responsibility to you. And if you try to start drinking, I ought to strongly persuade you otherwise, even rebuke you, in love and concern.

In this way, that Scripture you allude to is fulfilled, yet without going to unnecessary lengths of condemning the whole thing and saying that no one there can ever have a drink, and the church is wrong to offer it at all, etc. The individual responsibility on an individual level can function alongside and within the social event.

I don't say, "that's your problem; I'm gonna drink anyway" -- lest I violate what Paul taught. But I also don't condemn the wine itself -- lest I have a problem with Jesus miraculously creating a bunch of wine for the festivity of a wedding. We do the happy medium. Thus we take into account all of the relevant Scripture on the subject: use of wine, and the "do not stumble" injunction.

Each person (I agree) should have some awareness of the problem drinker and the alcoholic in their midst. And we can only do that by getting to know each other in our churches (which is another whole area to be discussed: that we are too individualistic and not communitarian enough). The priest alone can't know the personal situation of many hundreds, even thousands of people. That's unrealistic. If we did that, then each person (taught correctly) could apply the procedure that I have outlined, in individual cases.

If that were done, then there wouldn't be any drunk people and scandals to contend with at all, would there? No; but see, the problem is that (as so often) Christians don't live up to the biblical, Christian ideal. We are not always our brothers' keepers. America is a very individualistic society. Every man for himself. Look out for number one; whereas Catholicism is "look out for your brother, too; what is in his best interest." "Love one another as I have loved you." "The greatest is the servant of all."

So often in Christianity, we see this paradox between the high and noble, sublime ideal of Jesus and the Bible, and the reality of our own sin and rebelliousness and stubbornness and refusal to accept God's grace that He has for us. This is only one such case among many. But that is the happy medium, as I see it. And I say that when there is drunkenness, it is not so much a failure of the parish as a whole, or the priest (though it may be in some cases), as it is the failure of fellowship and the communal dynamic within the church, so that a friend could have stopped it, but either didn't, or there was no friend in the first place to stop it.

The same happens in the alcoholic family, of course. Usually, the non-alcoholics become enablers, and give up. Arguably, they must take part of the blame. They have to fight very hard to persuade the alcoholic that he has a problem, and can be helped, with their support. But usually, they choose not to do that because it is a difficult path, with tons of resistance. The problem at bottom, then, is not alcohol itself, but the weakness in the alcoholic, and in the enablers around him. It's more so on the personal level rather than the "substance" level.

Even the secular world recognizes and advocates this principle of the person who watches over another. There are commercials about "don't drink and drive" and a designated driver, etc. That requires someone else being there as a sort of "watchdog." The Church should do no less, and far more than that. But forbidding alcohol altogether doesn't solve that problem anymore than legal prohibition did in the 1920s. It has to go much deeper and incorporate one-on-one human involvement and love and concern.

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