One of the most contentious issues in the vast literature about alcohol consumption has been the consistent finding that those who don't drink actually tend to die sooner than those who do. The standard Alcoholics Anonymous explanation for this finding is that many of those who show up as abstainers in such research are actually former hard-core drunks who had already incurred health problems associated with drinking.The interesting thing to note in the above is not that heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers, but the AA explanation: those abstainers used to be drinkers. To err is human, but so is to make data conform to your own prejudices. AA is no more guilty than Christians are in this respect.
But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that - for reasons that aren't entirely clear - abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one's risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.
To understand the point it is not even necessary*** to go to the Bible; all that is necessary is to ask why it is that the American Christians' opposition to any drinking stands in such stark contrast to a) the rest of Christendom, and b) historical Christianity. The answer is that for much of America's early history, pretty much everyone was drunk pretty much all the time. It has been alleged (based on a still-existing bar tab) that the 55 delegates to the Constitutional convention drank "54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight of whiskey, 22 of porter, eight of hard cider, 12 of beer and seven bowls of alcoholic punch" in a single evening, two days before they signed off on the Constitution. The amount of liquor they drank in colonial times was phenomenal, far more than we drink today. They drank at pretty much every meal, including breakfast. They probably drank (gasp) too much. And that has consequences, in family, in health, and in society. The result was that during the Second Great Awakening, the ascendant Baptists, Methodists, and other reformers formulated a theology that fit hand in glove with the reforms they wanted. One reform was to deal with the societal wreck that alcohol was making; an easy solution was to emphasize the biblical admonition against drunkenness to the point where you get the 18th Amendment. In order to stop the damage of heavy drinking, they promoted abstention, which kills you even faster.
Which makes me wonder****, how long it will be until we formulate a theology of thin? I'm quite serious. America is a fatassed nation, and the damage wrought to personal health by obesity is everything alcohol was and more. There are biblical admonitions that compare gluttony and drunkenness. At some point, there is going to be a severe and broad based***** societal reaction against fat, and I will not be surprised - in fact I fully expect - that just as preachers harp on demon rum, they'll harp on demon french fries. It's a simple matter of logic and time. Logical consequences eventually arrive.
No, this is not to say I think we ought to develop such a theology: the last reason to change your theology is because of society. But it's also the easiest. Almost as easy as making up reasons for why it's not your fault that people who follow your advice die early.
* This is not to single out the Baptists**, they have just been the loudest for the longest over this.
** some of my best friends are Baptists
*** or at this point helpful. I mean, it's not like Americans are the only people who have bibles or know how to read them.
**** since I do not believe that people, as a whole, learn from mistakes.
***** Prohibition was not the result of a few sourpussed Baptists tricking a nation, the consensus for it was broad, deep, and built over a period of 7 decades or more.