Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Case against "Demon Rum"

Many of the great 19th-century women leaders in the U.S. were against what they considered three great evils: slavery, discrimination against women (including no voting rights), and alcohol. The first two evils have largely been eradicated. But not the third.
Jane Addams, the subject of my 9/5/15 blog article, was active in the temperance movement, as was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the main subject of my 11/10/15 article, and her close friend Susan B. Anthony.
One of the main 19th century opponents of alcohol was Frances Willard. She is best known as the first national president of the Women’s Christian Temperance League, serving in that position from 1879 until her death in 1898.
In addition, Willard was a strong advocate of women’s suffrage, and her vision included federal aid to education, free school lunches, unions for workers, the eight-hour workday, work relief for the poor, municipal sanitation and boards of health, national transportation, strong anti-rape laws, protections against child abuse, etc.
Willard was a strong suffragette partly because she thought it would take women’s votes to pass laws against liquor. Consequently, fear that alcohol would become illegal was one of the reasons for much male opposition to giving women the right to vote.
In spite of women not being able to vote nationally, though, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the production, transport, and sale of alcohol was ratified in January 1919 and went into effect a year later.  
Interestingly, the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified 19 months later.
Last Dec. 22, 2015, the Washington Post published an article titled “Americans are drinking themselves to death at record rates.” According to that article, in 2014 “more than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes,” a 35-year high.
Moreover, that number “excludes deaths from drunk driving, other accidents, and homicides committed under the influence of alcohol. If those numbers were included the annual toll of deaths directly or indirectly caused by alcohol would be closer to 90,000.”
From that and many other sources, it seems indisputable that the consumption of alcohol has a direct causal relationship to health problems, fatal and disabling accidents, homicides, domestic violence, rapes, and other negative issues, such as financial problems for those with limited means.
Of course, some will quickly say, “But that is only when alcohol is drunk excessively or irresponsibility.” While that is probably true, who ever starts drinking with the intention of doing so excessively (except maybe temporarily) or irresponsibly?
Proponents of stricter gun control repeatedly point out that guns cause some 33,000 deaths each year in this country. But if the figure of 90,000 deaths caused by alcohol is correct, guns are not nearly as much of a problem as alcohol is. Moreover, alcohol is a worldwide program.
Even though I am a strong advocate of greater gun control, perhaps the NRA and its friends are correct: it is not guns that kill people, it is people who kill people. Is that really any different from saying that alcohol does not cause problems, it is the people who use alcohol excessively or irresponsibly who cause problems?
What is the solution to the alcohol problem? Probably not more laws. But maybe a long-term educational program such as there has been against tobacco. The detrimental effects of tobacco has been widely disseminated, including in public schools. As a result, smoking in this country has decreased drastically.
No doubt the nineteenth-century women who were opposed to the three big problems of slavery, discrimination against women, and “demon rum” would be pleased if society now took the latter problem much more seriously.


  1. BRAVO, Leroy! My father was an alcoholic, but for some unknown reason, he quit cold turkey when I was a freshman in high school. Neither my mother or I ever found out the reason, there was a decided change in mood and temperament in his life. Alcohol seems to be a harder habit to break (along with smoking) than either heroin or crack! Most interesting article... my thanks!

    1. Thanks, George, for being the first to respond, and I am happy that the first response was so positive. I was happy to hear about your father, and I'm sure you were better off after he quit drinking.

  2. I'm laughing because I'm thinking you can take the boy out of the Baptist church, but you can't take the Baptist out of the boy! I can't argue with your logic, Leroy, and while my own family had some fairly serious problems with alcohol, especially my grandmother her entire life and my father when he was young, I'm quite suspicious of this Puritan strain in the American culture that wants to police every habit that causes people harm. While I don't smoke, except for the occasional cigar, I'm not sympathetic to the excessive laws banning smoking from every venue where someone might catch a whiff of someone else's smoke. Maybe the greatest health problem facing this nation is obesity, as well as eating processed and junk food; and while I'm a bit obsessive about controlling my own weight and, consistent with your argument above, think we need to do some "long-term educational" work on diet, I firmly believe in a person's right to eat whatever he or she wants and to be fat. I suppose, when it comes to personal habits, even when it comes to self-destructive bad habits, I'm a libertarian.

    1. I was amused by your first sentence--and there may be some truth in it! But the three 19th century women I mentioned were not Baptists, nor were they Puritans.

      And, you may have noted, I did not use any religious arguments in what I wrote about alcohol. Although, if one seeks to uphold the importance (sanctity) of human life and to oppose whatever harms life, then arguments against whatever causes injury to individual persons as well as to the public good/welfare are "religious."

      I fully agree that obesity is another serious problem, and I have long wanted to write a blog article about that. Obesity, like alcohol abuse, is not just a self-destructive bad habit, though. It impacts the lives of family members and entails great public expense.

      In my article I said nothing about policing habits that cause people harm or enacting excessive laws. But alcohol abuse, as well as obesity and smoking, are public matters as well as personal ones. Drunk driving and homicides by those who have been drinking cause the deaths of many other people, just as guns do.

      If people are going to be against the great freedom of people to buy and use guns because of the great number of death they cause (including a majority of those deaths that are suicide and, therefore, "personal"), then it seems that there ought to be concern also for other things in society, such as "demon rum," that are as detrimental (according to the statistics).

  3. A few unrelated observations-

    Both Frances Willard and Jane Addams have schools named after them in Moline, IL.

    There are many vices which corrupt the actions of people. Over indulgence of alcohol is certainly one which captures many people. (But there are also many others. There seems to be a vice which tends to capture each of us.)

    With the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, there was an immediate and persistent increase in DUI's related to usage. That particular plant has had a substantial increase in drug content from hybrid development over the past few decades. The dramatic increase in heroine and opiate usage over the past few years has also been dramatic across the country - and not just in urban areas.

    I was speaking with the Sheriff of Worth County this week, and he noted that the state justice and local systems are overwhelmed with the increase in drug usage and related crimes. This has led to a catch and release system for non-violent crimes, and a dramatic increase in production and usage due to non-pursuit of criminal justice.

    There probably needs to be a dramatic focus on supply and demand for all the vices. But there probably also needs to be another spiritual awakening. Devout Muslims take (some of) the vices seriously.

  4. John Wesley, the founder of the "Methodist" movement, objected to the distilling of alcohol on socio-economic grounds: it diverted grains needed for good nutrition into a life-destroying substance. He was appalled by the effects of alcoholism in society. So he preached abstinence as a course for human development The story goes that when one of the early Methodists was challenged regarding his acceptance of the account of Jesus turning water into wine, he responded: "Whether Jesus turned water into wine, I don't know, but in my case he turned beer into furniture."

    1. Thanks, Ed, for your comments.

      The economic factor has been one of the major reasons I have been opposed to alcohol all my life. As a young pastor I visited and tried to reach out to the poorest people, especially the children, in the towns in which my churches were located. And almost without exception, there was excessive drinking in the homes of those poor children.

      And in a world where there are so many who are literally starving, it seems wrong to use so much grain and grapes for non-nutritious drink rather than for nutritious food.

  5. Again you have touched on a topic with which I must agree has been given too little attention. I am a Baptist teetotaler and for three major reasons. First both of my grandfathers "liked" alcohol in any form way too much. I won't risk developing the same desire. Second I have no idea how the stuff will affect my reaction times so why risk drinking it and then having to drive before it is all out of my system. Third, and the least important reason, a couple of church members said they would get me fired if they heard I was a social drinker or any other kind. Too many other members drink already for that to happen.

    My wife has to listen to me rant about the creation of a social mystic surrounding alcohol. We hear of wine and cheese events but never tea and cheese events. We hear of events with an open bar, but my experience has been those bars have very limited access to soft drinks. I haven't tried, but I'm sure if someone counted commercials during major sporting events, the alcohol commercials would outnumber those supporting non alcoholic beverages of any kind. When was the last time you saw someone over 50 drinking beer on a commercial? All to say part of the problem of alcoholic beverage use is related to the culture we have allowed to develop. Be cool. Drink something with alcohol in it. I like my diet root beer. No caffeine. No calories.

    One final comment in this rambling. Bro. Anton said, "I firmly believe in a person's right to eat whatever he or she wants and to be fat." I agree because I believe God created us free to make those kind of decisions. My irritation rises when people make self-destructive decisions and my insurance goes up to cover for those decisions whether it is unhealthy eating, smoking too much, refusing to exercise, random and unprotected sex, or using inherently dangerous drugs without medical guidance. Time to get off my soapbox.

    1. Always issues with most everything but water. Coffee and tea contain the stimulant drug caffeine. Sugar in soft drinks stimulate cancer onset. Sugar alternatives stimulate alzheimers onset. Mega vitaminosis effects the liver and kidneys (energy drinks). So the studies/anecdotes/claims go. I have several friends who are alcoholics, and others with their own vices. I have never had an issue. I have also found that cash bars are generally well stocked with soda pop, water, and even faux beer. However, my father, a teetotal Baptist, considered me an alcoholic since I would have a glass of wine at a formal meal, or a beer with a friend needing to talk a couple times each year. There are a couple of times on the Jewish calendar when one drinks, and even excessive drinking is permitted. I have never gone that far, but I'm sure Jesus did. By his statement, one can probably expected in the next realm as well. Where does that leave us now? I don't know. But living for a vice is a poor way to live.

    2. Thanks, again, Tom for making substantial comments. Since I fully agree with what you wrote, I don't think you were ranting or rambling. You were pointing out various aspects of a serious societal problem.

      As you pointed out in the last paragraph, many destructive things that people do have effects far beyond themselves. They are not just personal issues but have social implications, including the necessary use of public funds (collected by taxes) to deal with the problems caused by those excesses.

  6. The `Devil`s Brew`, as some have called it, is one of the most devasatating concockions Ever!

    I agree that more should be done to educate people on the destructiveness of alcohol like we did tabocco.

    11 Corinthians 16:19-20 should be enough for Christians to abstain from this `Demon Rum`.


    1. Thanks for your comments, John Tim.

      I think the Bible passage you meant to refer to is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 -- "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."

  7. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson shares these brief comments:

    "As one born into an alcoholic family, I agree with you, Leroy, we need education. It would help, too, to have limits set on advertising alcohol, similar to limits set on advertising cigarettes or other tobacco products."

  8. [I'm laughing because I'm thinking you can take the boy out of the Baptist church, but you can't take the Baptist out of the boy!]
    Too funny!
    As a lifelong Baptist I am reminded of a comment I overheard in my youth.
    I was at a pool party in the mid seventies, and there was a relative of the homeowners visiting from somewhere in the deep south. I over heard her say something to the effect of "I don't understand you California Baptists, you rail against smoking, and allow the children to bathe communionally"
    Sin is sin, the smallest no less damning than the greatest.
    "You strain the gnat and swallow the camel" Mathew 23:24
    I am both a drinker and smoker, and disinclined to change.