An Unpopular Remark on Alcohol

Over the past six years, I must say that one of the most annoying aspects of contemporary Catholic culture, at least as I see it in the United States among those 10 years north or south of my age (37), is this sense that in order to be a “true Catholic gentleman” or, worse, a “true Catholic (pseudo-)intellectual” one must posture with cigars, bourbon, and craft beers (preferably of the Quadruple Hops Belgian Style Cherry Blended Whiskey Barrel Aged IPA variety). In fact, it’s not just so much posturing as it is consuming all of these things in so gluttonous a manner as to make Chesterton blush. And truth in point, it is probably Chesterton and Belloc—or certain conceptions surrounding these two towering figures of British Catholicism—that leads unsuspecting young men down a false pathway of sophistication where the spirit to be consumed is more crucial than the point of theology to be discussed. Moreover, let’s be honest. Most of those who claim to have some professional-academic knowledge of theology or philosophy typically lie about what they’ve read and understood; the booze just makes it easier for them to fib while deadening the senses of their fellow man to call them out on it. The end result is not just a deadening of the senses, but a descent into parody—one which Catholics should be thankful that no one outside the fold notices or apparently cares.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with indulging a bit here and there. As one priest in Chicago told me, the virtue of being Catholic is that you can drink, smoke, spit, swear, and chew—all in moderation. Moderation, unfortunately, seems to be in short supply these days judging by some of the spectacles I have witnessed and the innumerable others I have heard about. I think perhaps this is less a problem among previous generations who both understood the proper limits of consumption and did so because they properly understood the Catholic tradition which, in merry times, they come together to discuss. I consider it a privilege to have spent time among such men; it’s a sobering contrast to the obnoxious bantering of millennials and gen X’rs fueled by the latest concoction emanating from a microbrewery which, if successful, will soon become another subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch. (As an aside, it should be known that on the hierarchy of things in life one is allowed to be snobbish about (e.g. classical music, wine, and art), microbrew snobbery is 19 rungs down the ladder from pro-wrestling snobbery.)

Some may say it is unfair for me to make mention of this given my own restraints, but I disagree. Had I not, for a time, bought into the idea that alcohol—and lots of it—was part of contemporary Catholic culture (just as it is indeed very much part of contemporary Eastern Orthodox culture), I might have faced up to my problem a lot sooner, or at least not exacerbated it as the years went by. Granted, much of that was my fault; I am a grownup and I realize full well that many people drink regularly without being ensnared by fermented beverages. Another Chicago priest, this one a member of the Antiochican Archdiocese, remarked that if you can’t give up drinking during the fasting seasons of the Byzantine Rite (Advent, Great Lent, Apostle’s Fast, etc.), then you have a problem. I wonder: how many young Catholics, Latins and Easterners alike, could hold themselves to such a standard? Would they even want to try? And if they failed, would they admit defeat and seek help, both spiritually in the confessional and naturally through programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or individual counseling?

10 Comments

    1. Gabriel S. Sanchez
      July 25, 2017

      You’re always that guy.

      Reply
  1. Felix Romanus
    July 24, 2017

    I think you are being a little puritanical here. Alcohol must, of course, be treated with respect and can destroy a community if it is not. Drunkenness cannot be tolerated and if someone is incapable of doing their job in the morning because of a hangover that is also an issue. That said, outside America most places where Western culture dominates consider wine and/or beer a staple the consumption of which does not even really imply celebration or levity. It is just normal (“take a little wine for your stomach,” so says St Paul). This being so I cannot see why struggling to give it up for the periods you mention shows that one has a problem. I don’t think, for example, that I have a “problem” with the amount of meat I eat, but I can honestly say that it is a rather unpleasant struggle to give it up for Lent.

    Reply
    1. Gabriel S. Sanchez
      July 25, 2017

      “Drunkenness cannot be tolerated and if someone is incapable of doing their job in the morning because of a hangover that is also an issue. ”

      I think it is more than this. In times past, I could get quite drunk and do a very effective job the next morning. I could even go out to lunch, have a few, and come back and do my work without any issue (at least none that were ever brought to my attention by any supervising attorneys). However, I won’t deny for a second I was abusing alcohol and engaging in the sin of drunkenness. I didn’t need to go out and start a bar fight or crash my car or whatnot. The act of over-consumption itself, and the intentional loss of the full range of my faculties, was sufficient enough for the act to be sinful.

      Reply
  2. T Sliw
    July 24, 2017

    Maybe I’m missing it because I don’t usually indulge nor did I interact with many of the Real Catholic Gentlemen ™ or Authentic Masculinity ™ types on social media sites but other than those who truly endanger their souls through drunkeness perhaps the root of this microbrew cigars pipes and bourbon aesthetic is a type of insecure pride, desiring to be seen and respected as a real grown up. And if it is gluttony it strikes me quite like Aquinas’ argument that being too picky an eater is gluttonous.

    Reply
    1. Gabriel S. Sanchez
      July 25, 2017

      Largely, I agree with you. I think a lot of this is more of a posture than anything else, though there are some deeper problems of alcohol abuse (if not alcoholism) being “normative” in certain ethnic-religious circles. A friend of mine is working on a detailed examination of this matter; hopefully it will be done shortly.

      Reply
  3. MT
    July 24, 2017

    What’s wrong with craft beer snobbery? Is brewing not a worthy art like wine making as well? There is something to be said for supporting the local microbrewery over a big monopolistic corporation.

    Reply
    1. Gabriel S. Sanchez
      July 25, 2017

      There is nothing wrong with craft beer per se, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It takes a much more refined palette to appreciate the nuances of Misawa v. Kawada from All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1994 than it does to talk about the hoppiness of the latest IPA abomination.

      Reply
      1. Aethelfrith
        July 25, 2017

        IPA: “We need hops to cover up the fact that we don’t know how to flavor beer otherwise.”

        Reply
  4. Olaus Ouisconsinensis
    August 7, 2017

    Hear, hear! I also shall be “that guy,” as I wrote about this set here:

    “For lay people, you’ll get guys growing out their beards, wearing fedoras, sometimes capes, smoking pipes, speaking Latin (immo, conantes Latine loqui), and generally sticking out like sore thumbs.”

    https://driftlesscatholic.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/larping-in-the-last-days-of-franco/

    I wear a fedora myself, but I’ve been doing that since I watched “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” at the age of 6.

    Reply

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