Moral Briefs – Chapter XIV – Drink

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonIntemperance is the immoderate use of anything, good or bad; here the word is used to imply an excessive use of alcoholic beverages, which excess, when it reaches the dignity of a habit or vice, makes a man a drunkard. A drunkard who indulges in “high-balls” and other beverages of fancy price and name, is euphemistically styled a “tippler;” his brother, a poor devil who swallows vile concoctions or red “pizen” is called a plain, ordinary “soak.” Whatever name we give to such gluttons, the evil in both is the same; ’tis the evil of gluttony.

This vice differs from gluttony proper in that its object is strong drink, while the latter is an abuse of food and nourishment necessary, in regulated quantity, for the sustenance of the body. But alcohol is not necessary to sustain life as an habitual beverage; it may stimulate, but it does not sustain at all. It has its legitimate uses, like strychnine and other poison and drugs; but being a poison, it must be detrimental to living tissues, when taken frequently, and cannot have been intended by the Creator as a life-giving nourishment. Its habitual use is therefore not a necessity. Its abuse has therefore a more far-fetched malice.

But its use is not sinful, any more than the use of any drug, for alcohol, or liquor, is a creature of God and is made for good purposes. Its use is not evil, whether it does little good, or no good at all. The fact of its being unnecessary does not make it a forbidden fruit. The habit of stimulants, like the habit of tobacco, while it has no title to be called a good habit, cannot be qualified as an intrinsically bad habit; it may be tolerated as long as it is kept within the bounds of sane reason and does not give rise to evil consequences in self or others. Apart, therefore, from the danger of abuse – a real and fatal danger for many, especially for the young – and from the evil effects that may follow even a moderate use, the habit is like another; a temperate man is not, to any appreciable degree, less righteous than a moderate smoker. The man who can use and not abuse is just as moral as his brother who does not use lest he abuse. He must, however, be said to be less virtuous than another who abstains rather than run the risk of being even a remote occasion of sin unto the weak.

The intrinsic malice therefore of this habit consists in the disorder of excess, which is called intoxication. Intoxication may exist in different degrees and stages; it is the state of a man who loses, to any extent, control over his reasoning faculties through the effects of alcohol. There is evil and sin the moment the brain is affected; when reason totters and falls from its throne in the soul, then the crime is consummated. When a man says and does and thinks what in his sober senses he would not say, do, or think, that man is drunk, and there is mortal sin on his soul. It is not an easy matter to define just when intoxication properly begins and sobriety ends; every man must do that for himself. But he should consider himself well on the road to guilt when, being aware that the fumes of liquor were fast beclouding his mind, he took another glass that was certain to still further obscure his reason and paralyze his will.

Much has been said and written about the grossness of this vice, its baneful effects and consequences, to which it were useless here to refer. Suffice it to say there is nothing that besots a man more completely and lowers him more ignobly to the level of the brute. He falls below, for the most stupid of brutes, the ass, knows when it has enough; and the drunkard does not. It requires small wit indeed to understand that there is no sin in the catalogue of crime that a person in this state is not capable of committing. He will do things the very brute would blush to do; and then he will say it was one of the devil’s jokes. The effects on individuals, families and generations, born and unborn, cannot be exaggerated; and the drunkard is a tempter of God and the curse of society.

Temperance is a moderate use of strong drink; teetotalism is absolute abstention therefrom. A man may be temperate without being a teetotaler; all teetotalers are temperate, at least as far as alcohol is concerned, although they are sometimes, some of them, accused of using temperance as a cloak for much intemperance of speech. If this be true – and there are cranks in all causes – then temperance is itself the greatest sufferer. Exaggeration is a mistake; it repels right-thinking men and never served any purpose. We believe it has done the cause of teetotalism a world of harm. But it is poor logic that will identify with so holy a cause the rabid rantings of a few irresponsible fools.

The cause of total abstinence is a holy and righteous cause. It takes its stand against one of the greatest evils, moral and social, of the day. It seeks to redeem the fallen, and to save the young and inexperienced. Its means are organization and the mighty weapon of good example. It attracts those who need it and those who do not need it; the former, to save them; the latter, to help save others. And there is no banner under which Catholic youth could more honorably be enrolled than the banner of total abstinence. The man who condemns or decries such a cause either does not know what he is attacking or his mouthings are not worth the attention of those who esteem honesty and hate hypocrisy. It is not necessary to be able to practice virtue in order to esteem its worth. And it does not make a fellow appear any better even to himself to condemn a cause that condemns his faults.

Saloon-keepers are engaged in an enterprise which in itself is lawful; the same can be said of those who buy and sell poisons and dynamite and fire-arms. The nature of his merchandise differentiates his business from all other kinds of business, and his responsibilities are of the heaviest. It may, and often does, happen that this business is criminal; and in this matter the civil law may be silent, but the moral law is not. For many a one such a place is an occasion of sin, often a near occasion. It is not comforting to kneel in prayer to God with the thought in one’s mind that one is helping many to damnation, and that the curses of drunkards’ wives and mothers and children are being piled upon one’s head. How far the average liquor seller is guilty, God only knows; but a man with a deep concern for his soul’s salvation, it seems, would not like to take the risk.