Posted by: Scott | April 5, 2010

So God walks into a bar …

Chimay is one of the seven beer-producing Trappist monasteries.

Easter Sunday, one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, has come and gone. I wonder how many people celebrated with a beer. “Beer?” some might ask. “On Easter Sunday? Sacrilege!” Or perhaps they’d sit politely, shifting once or twice but remaining silent. Or maybe they drank wine.

For centuries, we Americans have disconnected beer from faith. We associate church with pious Sunday-morning finery; we associate beer, however, with parties gone wild, dank dives, and swearing, sweaty men. It’s not surprising that social movements have risen up to combat the evil effects of alcohol. The Temperance Movement — a crusade for family values led by groups of women who give themselves names like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and who apparently think that alcohol alone can turn peaceful, loving husbands into wife-beating monsters overnight — played an influential role in passage of the 18th Amendment. According to Wikipedia, after the adoption of prohibition, evangelist Billy Sunday said,

“The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs.”

… Mmmkay. So why do they hate alcohol? And what is temperance, exactly? On their website, the WCTU defines temperance by quoting Xenophon, a Greek philosopher:

“Temperance  may be defined as: moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.”

Quite a broad net. They obviously haven’t read any of the recent studies suggesting that moderate beer consumption can actually benefit your health. Let’s try to forget the WCTU for now and focus on the organized religions that invite alcohol into their houses. Wine, for instance — a similar beverage to beer in many ways — is a key ingredient in the Christian ritual of communion. But beer scholar Michael Jackson, in his introduction to the Beer Visual Reference Guide, suggests a disparity in translations:

“The Aramaic scrolls that were the foundation of the Bible have Jesus miraculously turning water into ‘strong drink.’ The Greeks translated this as ‘wine,’ but the Saxon version of the Gospels refers instead to ‘beer.’”

Wow. Hefty implications there. According to Jackson, beer and faith have been friends for years. And why shouldn’t they get along? I struggle to find a reason, especially when said beer is consumed responsibly by people who drink it for the taste (or the symbolic ritualism, I guess) rather than the effect it has on the body. Thanks to that alleged Saxon interpretation (and that’s a BIG thanks), monastic brewing traditions sprang up and spread across all of Europe, planting the roots for the brewing industries of Germany, the Czech Republic, and many others.

In some countries, such as Belgium, brewing traditions still thrive. Trappist monasteries produce some of the best beers in the world. But, if you’re still unsure about the bond between beer and God, heed the following words of wisdom from Father Theodore, a Trappist monk. He sums up my overall points about beer, religion, and responsibility with the grace and eloquence of a born scribe:

“I’ll have another beer. I’m not driving.”

Monday: Foot surgery on Wednesday means no article on Thursday. Next Monday I’ll be reviewing a beer of Judaic origins — just to be fair, of course. This isn’t turning into a religious blog. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I topped off my Easter evening by sharing Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with my lovely wife.



  1. Hail Mary full of beer.

    • Now we’re talkin! Or praying, I guess.

  2. I need to try that Double Chocolate Stout – As soon as your foot allows you to venture outside again

    • Sounds good! It’s a tasty beer.

  3. As Ben Franklin said…”beer is proof that god wants us all to be frat boys.” I think that’s right…

    • Ha, Ben Franklin would know all about acting like a frat boy…

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