Beer, Booze and Vino: Veritas — Part 1 of 2

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fr. Jonathan Filkins                                                                                                                                       Father Filkins is Rector of St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Picayune.

There is a bit of a kerfuffle going on about the potential for bars being allowed in Picayune neighborhoods. It has made the rounds, after it was revealed there was an apparent conflict in the Resort Overlay and Picayune City Ordinances. Some have raised the loud alarm claiming, “We do not want to become New Orleans!” We are not, and we are not likely too.

Let us acknowledge New Orleans does have some charms which would be, and are, attractive to us. (After all we do not claim Mardi Gras as our own invention.) Of course, overindulgence of any adult beverage, or the sale in an inappropriate setting, is most onerous.

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Oft quoted, by those in support of drink, is the first miracle of Jesus Christ, as he turned water into wine at the Cana wedding feast. Beer was also made, by the ancient Egyptians, and had been so for centuries. Perhaps, this is why beer and wine does not seem to fly onto the “radar.” It does not seem to raise the same emotions, as distilled spirits, even though most people have the capacity to reach the same level of inebriation, in their consumption. It should be noted that profligate amounts of distilled spirits did not occur until the 12th Century, and, even then, it was used in small medicinal quantities.

We Americans have always had a proclivity for drink. George Washington established a profitable distillation venture, after the Revolutionary War. Our settlers, often carried their stills with them, settling in the now familiar states of Tennessee and Kentucky. Distilled spirits were a part of the fabric of our country and an expected social necessity.

So, if there were no early animas towards these beverages, what occurred to make it so? Simply, it was our misbehavior.

The American Civil War demonstrated the ability to rapidly engineer new devices and thus, the continuous still was invented. It greatly increased the availability of strong drink to the masses and, given the social acceptance of the behavior, was readily consumed. With the Western Expansion, fueled by greater immigration, the consumption of adult beverages, in several forms, grew exponentially.

It was due to this consumption, that families and individuals suffered greatly. Among many ills, many a worker would receive their pay packet after their drudge-filled days and proceed directly to the neighborhood tavern, consuming their earnings and drowning their sorrows. Arriving home penniless, there would be no money for rent, or food, causing families great hardship. Typically, women and children were forced out of their homes, at no fault of their own. It became an epidemic of needless suffering, with the debauchery well chronicled.

Enter some late-nineteenth century protestant religious groups and temperance societies, who adopted a credo of complete abstinence. Cary Nation, and her axe, became strong symbols of the movement. In 1918, the 18th Amendment, to the US Constitution, became law, banishing all adult beverages.

 During Prohibition, bootleg activities actually increased per capita consumption, until the passing of the 21st Amendment in 1933, which officially repealed the earlier Amendment. Yet, it did not change the moral minds, or religious beliefs, of some.