Thursday, October 20, 2011


I enjoyed watching Prohibition, the latest documentary from Ken Burns.  A friend of mine observed that prohibition would never have passed if women had rights (been treated better at the time). 

I agree wholeheartedly.  

What I found interesting, however, is the education in schools prior to prohibition.  The Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the Anti-Saloon league successfully lobbied for laws to teach children about the danger of alcohol.  One of the things they claimed was that one drop of alcohol could lead to alcoholism.  This was part of the curriculum for children, who also pledged to never touch alcohol throughout their lives.

This was fascinating to me.  First, I didn't realize that this argument (currently used against illegal drugs/drug abuse) had been used against alcohol in the U.S. 

To bring it to mormonism (being raised mormon), I always thought the history of alcohol and mormons was interesting.  Drinking alcohol is prohibited by mormons, but many church leaders had breweries or wineries.  Brigham Young owned a bar in Salt Lake City, for example. My family legend suggests one of my ancestors owned a saloon in Utah, one of the first in the region.  

According to wikipedia, it was in 1902 the word of wisdom (abstaining from alcohol) became necessary to enter mormon temples (to be married or to attend the weddings of family members and friends).  This would have been right around the same time that prohibition fervor was growing in the country. 

The way it was taught to me growing up, was that I should never try a sip of any form of alcohol.  Period.  Trying even a sip of alcohol was sinful.  And, it could cut me off from the spirit, from contact with God.  It's a powerful argument, to suggest that a substance immediately cuts someone off from any direction or protection from God.   

As a teenager, I thought this interpretation was extreme.  I didn't think that trying a sip of alcohol would lead to alcoholism, although many mormons suggested that to me.  Were they just trying to get a message through to teenagers, or explaining something they sincerely believe(d)? 

I am not sure that any research shows that an occasional beer or wine leads to alcohol abuse.  There really isn't a clear line between a sip of champagne and buying a case of beer instead of food. In my opinion, there is a huge difference between the two, and true alcoholism takes years.  If anyone can even explain what alcoholism is and who suffers from it (it's fairly controversial).  Since most everyone has tried alcohol at some point, why aren't more people alcoholics?

So in my opinion, it does a disservice to all mormons to continue the strict adherence and ban on any forms of alcohol, to encourage people to refrain from trying a sip of alcohol.  It's really not a black and white issue. 

Why not encourage moderation?  Why not learn how to drink responsibly, but also how to make up your own minds about what substances/food/cultural experiences you will embrace?  Why not teach children and families what true alcoholism is, what some signs can be (when sober is your altered state of being), etc.

In terms of mormon doctrine, the strict adherence is really a modern interpretation.  The Word of Wisdom was never fully required, it was just advice (as chanson points out aptly in her novel exmormon). 

But mormonism (whether or not it's doctrinal or cultural) appears to be about fifty years behind the times.  In this instance, perhaps the leadership is 80 years behind the times of re-examining strict prohibition of alcohol, and allowing personal responsibility and moderation.


Freckle Face Girl said...

I wasn’t exactly taught that taking a sip will make you an alcoholic, but I remember them saying if you never take a sip you will never become an alcoholic. That is basically what is taught about smoking too and it makes sense. I happen to remember a Sunday school lesson when I was 14 that a pharmacist taught when he went on & on about how a tablespoon of red wine once or twice a week was actually healthy, but it is tough for people to only stick to that. I was living in Utah County at the time, fairly close to BYU so I am not sure what the point of his rant was.

For almost the first 30 years of my life, I didn’t think much about alcohol. My parents were extreme TBMs, so it wasn’t around me while growing up. In high school, even my non-member friends didn’t drink. They didn’t start until college & by then I was at BYU. When I saw them in the summer, one of the girls had put on about 15 lbs due to college eating and drinking. I went to a few parties with them and witnessed the foolish things they did while drinking. Honestly, I didn’t have any desire to try.

After college, I moved to the Middle East where alcohol is harder to buy than it is in Utah. I came back to the US dating an Arab. We were together for 3 years, so it was never part of my life. When I broke up with him, I went out with friends in Miami. I tried a few drinks. I hated that buzzed feeling, so I never had more than a few sips.

As you know, I ended up married to an alcoholic with a horrible long history of it in his family. I have plenty of friends that usually drink responsibly. I even like to cook with wine. However, I personally think that the world would probably be a better place if it all disappeared. I don’t see that anything alcohol adds to anyone’s life is worth all of the added harm it does. People are dumb enough without making their minds a little or extremely cloudy.

You may find this odd, but I don’t feel like my opinion has anything to do with religion other than I thank GOD everyday that I didn’t grow up with alcoholic parents.

Freckle Face Girl said...

I hope I didn't scare everyone away from commenting on this topic. Sorry!

Aerin said...

Thanks for your comment(s) FFG. I want to respect your point of view (personally). I still believe that moderation is the key.