Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Pope Encourages Drinking - Why He Is Wrong

Recently the pope made some comments regarding wine. He said it is a "gift from God" and "a true source of joy."  The comments were made during a private audience at the Vatican attended by Italian winemakers.  The Vatican is known for having the largest consumption of wine per capita against any other nation in the world.  What are we to make of the pope's comments?  

Well, first of all, his opinion is not official teaching, so we do not have to follow every word he says. If the pope says the Yankees are the best team in the world or God's team, we can dismiss his comments as his personal opinion. Second, wine is not a gift from God any more than soda. While the ingredients were created by God, the new substance is man-made. Thirdly, the pope's comments were irresponsible.  Over 140,000 people die due to alcohol in the United States alone. These deaths stem from driving while intoxicated, poisoning from drinking too much alcohol, and other tragedies including domestic violence. Many times, children are the ones caught in the latter.  (See: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-related-emergencies-and-deaths-united-states#:~:text=The%20Alcohol%2DRelated%20Disease%20Impact,behind%20tobacco%2C%20poor%20diet%20and). 


The CDC or Center for Disease Control states:


Short-Term Health Risks

Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following:


Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns.6,7

Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.6-10

Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels.11

Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.12,13

Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.6,12,14,15

Long-Term Health Risks

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:


High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.6,16

Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.6,17

Weakening of the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick.6,16

Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.6,18

Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.6,19

Social problems, including family problems, job-related problems, and unemployment.6,20,21

Alcohol use disorders, or alcohol dependence.5

By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health risks.

(Source: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm#:~:text=Long%2DTerm%20Health%20Risks,liver%20disease%2C%20and%20digestive%20problems.)


The National Institue on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states the effects of alcohol on the body:


Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health.  Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:


Brain:

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.  


Heart:

Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:


Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle

Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat

Stroke

High blood pressure  

Liver:

Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:


Steatosis, or fatty liver

Alcoholic hepatitis

Fibrosis

Cirrhosis

Pancreas:

Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation in the pancreas that causes its swelling and pain (which may spread) and impairs its ability to make enzymes and hormones for proper digestion. 


Cancer:

According to the National Cancer Institute: "There is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer. In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen.


"The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks–particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time–the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. Even those who have no more than one drink per day and people who binge drink (those who consume 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths were alcohol related."


Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and increased risks of certain types of cancer:


Head and neck cancer, including oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx cancers.

Esophageal cancer, particularly esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. In addition, people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma if they consume alcohol.

Liver cancer.

Breast cancer: Studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer in women with increasing alcohol intake. Women who consume about 1 drink per day have a 5 to 9 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all.

Colorectal cancer.


(Source: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body)


Even a little consumption of alcohol opens oneself up to dangerous health problem. A Study in November of 2023 highlighted this (see: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2798004 and the article https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/13/well/mind/alcohol-health-effects.html).  This is important for everyone to know. We are not sure if even the pope is made aware of this. Moreover, Pope Francis has brought a lot of attention to the Climate Change crisis the he issued the encyclical Laudato Si. In it, he expresses the scientists' concerns that man-made activities are causing the earth to warm which then leads to climate disasters.  Yet here he is praising the wine industry which does a lot to cause harm to the earth and adds to the climate change crisis.  The production of wine adds a huge carbon footprint on the world. The process of making wine alters the soil and pollutes it and the water, as well as the air. This is just the processing of grapes. We cannot forget about the fermentation process and industrial process of bottling which creates fumes that go into the atmosphere while making the wine, not to forget the consumption of energy, mostly fossil fuels for the machinery which in turn is released into the atmosphere as co2, the main cause of global warming (see: https://greenly.earth/en-us/blog/ecology-news/what-is-the-carbon-footprint-of-the-wine-industry  and  https://www.infowine.com/intranet/libretti/libretto12728-02-1.pdf.  It is hypocritical of the pope to show concern for the environment while at the same time endorsing a business that adds considerably to the climate change crisis. Here in Laudato Si he quotes his predecessors showing the concern for human activities and how they harm the planet was always a concern for the Church:


4. In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation”.[2] He spoke in similar terms to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations about the potential for an “ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization”, and stressed “the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity”, inasmuch as “the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man”.[3]


5. Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical he warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”.[4] Subsequently, he would call for a global ecological conversion.[5] At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”.[6] The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies”.[7] Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”.[8] Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.[9]


6. My predecessor Benedict XVI likewise proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment”.[10] He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”.[11] Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”.[12] With paternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves”.[13]


(Source: Laudato Si -https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html)


How can Pope Francis in good faith preach the dangers of Climate Change while endorsing a business that adds to Global Warming and produces a drug that kills hundreds of thousands a year and hurts families? 

There are even books out there about "saints that drink" and social media posts presenting the drink as something cool or fun. It is just distasteful, irrational, reckless, and bad optics.  We as Catholics in general need to put disclaimers about alcohol use and not try to use the saints to make drinking "cool" or beneficial.  The truth is Alcohol hurts so many families and people. It should not be celebrated or presented as a virtue. Growing up in the Bronx I witnessed many families and kids' lives destroyed by this vice. A glass of wine may not immediately lead to ruin, but it is the starting point that leads to addiction. Addiction starts somewhere, right? It is not just something that happens spontaneously. 

Alcohol rewires the brain. About 20% is absorbed immediately from the stomach into the bloodstream. Just a small amount increased stomach juice production which leads to an increase in appetite. This causes the drinker to want more. Remember 20% was absorbed already, so the brain starts to desire it more. Once in the bloodstream, it widens your blood vessels making feel warmth. However, the body begins to lose heat, and blood pressure drops. In the brain, it starts to weaken the parts that control the body. The brain cannot make clear decisions. Filters are gone. It begins to change your mood by making feel moody or depressed, even aggressive. The more alcohol enters, the more you will be susceptible to slurring of words, blurry vision, and loss of coordination. In the kidneys, it dehydrates and forces the body to produce more urine. This loss of urine then causes the body to want more liquid. The liquid is of course alcohol. When it enters the liver, 95% of it gets processed creating water and carbon monoxide. Yes, carbon monoxide the poisonous substance! This is why it causes heavy damage to the liver. Just one sip of alcohol either wine or beer brings about an increase in dopamine. I can go on and on about what science says, but I think we get the idea that this stuff is just not as "good."  It is a psychological placebo that gives you the impression it is good.  Like the devil coming like an angel of light offering you the world as he did to Jesus in the desert.  Are we strong enough like Jesus to say no and get away Satan?

Drinking alcohol has NO BENEFITS at all unless you hate life and want out or hate people and want to harass them while intoxicated. This is why I applaud our separated Protestant friends who choose the route of temperance and avoid this vice. Just because you have a mouth does not mean you can drink gasoline because you have the will for it. Just because you can taste sugar does not mean you should consume sacks of it. Alcohol is different. It is literally a toxin. There is nothing good about it at all unless you are pouring it on a wound to disinfect it. That is about the only thing good about it. Even a small amount is dangerous when consumed orally.  

What I found disturbing is that some Catholics will go at any length to defend alcoholism.  They will do this more than defend the Church's actual teachings.  This is typical of addicts who are in denial. We can see the effects of alcohol already in these people and they are not even aware of it.  Some will argue and bring up the miracle at Cana. I was just having this discussion with a laywoman on Facebook yesterday and corrected the misconception. I also did this on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.  

If you study the Bible and history professionally and academically you would know the wine used in biblical times is much different than the one used now, not to mention that beer is a completely different substance. Ancient wine was diluted. They were poured and mixed with water in amphorae jars. The modern alcohol content we have today was not what Jesus had at Cana. The distillation process used to make modern alcoholic beverages came later on in the 7 to 8th centuries by Arabs. The Mishnah and Talmud show that the normal dilution rate among the Jews was 3 parts water to 1 part wine. B. Shabbath 77a says that wine that does not mix well with three parts water is not true wine. B. Pesahim 108b states that the wine consumed during Passover was 3:1 wine. This was very likely the commonly accepted dilution rate among Jews of the New Testament era as well. This dilution rate reduces the alcohol content of New Testament wine to 2.75 to 3.0 percent. So it is not the same thing. This is why some alcoholic priests or priests with digestion issues are allowed to use what is called mustum.  Moreover, alcohol is not the matter necessary to confect the Sacrament in Holy Communion. This is why, as stated, the Church allows mustum to be used.  

Everything must be used in moderation. The Catechism states this and makes it clear that food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine cannot be abused or taken in excess:


2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.


The Sacred Scriptures or the Bible also says a lot about wine.  It mentions wine in these passages and even encourages its use in moderation and in other places condemns it (Lev 10:9; Num 6:3; Deut 14:26; 29:6; Jud 13:4, 7, 14; 1 Sam 1:15; Prov 31:4; Mic 2:11; cf. Prov 20:1; 31:6; Is 5:11, 22; 24:9; 28:7; 56:12; Lk 1:15; Deut 21:20; Prov 20:1; 21:17; 23:20-21, 29-35; 26:9; Is 5:11-12; Rom 13:13; Rom 14:21; 1 Cor 5:11; 6:10; Gal 5:21; 1 Tim 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7; 2:3; 1 Pet 4:3). So we seen wine has been a drink mentioned throughout biblical times and its use was often recommended for celebration, ailments and even religious ceremonies while warnings were often given for its use as well. 

Jesus partook in events with wine as we read in Matt 11:19; Lk 7:33, Jn 2:1.  Jesus was even accused of being a drunk and glutton because of His "partying," so to speak.  Moreover, we read how wine was used for religious purposes (Ex 29:40; 1 Sam 1:24, Mt 26:17 ff.; Mk 14:12 ff.; Lk 22:15 ff.; Jn 13:1).  It is important that we present the facts so that the reader can make his or her conclusion.  

Remember, drinking is not part of the Catholic faith. What we mean by this is that drinking, smoking, and so on are not required by the Catholic faith. We do not have to drink wine, coffee, tea soda, water, juice, or even smoke to be practicing Catholics in good standing. These vices are performed on the individual's conscience and free will. Nowhere in the Church's teachings, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, or the Magisterium does it say that we need to drink or smoke in order to become holy, serve Christ, or make it to heaven. Books, social media posts and commentaries out there from clergy, the laity, religious, or even the pope on drinking and smoking are their personal opinions based on their palates.  You are not obliged to try their recommendations or engage in vices because they mentioned them or praised them. 

Let me be clear. I never said we should ban alcohol. I am saying these posts and comments from the pope do not help our faith. If we are teaching people to be virtuous and care for themselves, their bodies, and the earth, then we should not be endorsing substances or behaviors that contradict what we are trying to teach the world.  For example, imagine if I preach on the street that drunkards will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven and then take a break and go to the corner store and get a beer to drink. What will the people I just preached to think?  I would become a clown, a charlatan.  

St Augustine is quoted as stating “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow. How can we do this by making choices to drink toxins?  

1 Corinthians 6:19 says the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Do we take care of temples or destroy them intentionally?  We must take care of our temples, both the body and the buildings we use for the Sacraments.  Nowhere in Catholic teaching does it say to destroy the body or ignore health. That is a pro-choice stance, not pro-life.  Caring for our health is part of Church teaching: 


"Everyone has the duty to care for his or her own health or to seek such care from others. Those whose task it is to care for the sick must do so conscientiously and administer the remedies that seem necessary or useful." 
-  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia, 1980 (https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19800505_euthanasia_en.html)


So in conclusion, we need to do better. The world has a spotlight on us and will catch us whenever we show a slight contradiction between what we believe what we say and how we act.  It is 2024, and we have advanced in science. We know the dangers of alcohol, so why promote it?  We have psychology and know the human mind is frail. We cannot expect human beings to know what "moderation" is via second nature.  Unfortunately, self-control is not exceptionally hardwired in us. This is why we have so many people addicted to drugs, alcohol, smoking, and even food or hoarding.  Hopefully, this post will educate you so that you make an informed decision about whether to drink or not. Now that you know the dangers and the religious reasons surrounding drinking you can hopefully avoid intoxication, hurting others, death, and causing the death of others.  

Everything in moderation. Also, note that some people are genetically predisposed to alcoholism, so even a taste can cause addiction.   It is just not worth it.  People in biblical times did not know about genetics and did not anticipate the creation of vehicles, but they did know how drunks behaved. This is why the characters in Scripture often encouraged moderation.  The same applies to Church figures in history. They are a product of their time and understanding. We know better now and our future descendants will know even more and will hopefully solve the problem of alcohol abuse.  Hopefully, the Church's teaching will develop on this just like it did with the death penalty which is now inadmissible. Maybe one day a better-educated pope who values health science will enforce a non-alcoholic stance knowing the dangers of drinking.  

Please do not drink and drive. Drink very little and do not make it a daily thing. Be considerate of your family, especially children.  They do not need to see you staggering around like a zombie or walker from The Walking Dead with slurred speech and a violent or annoying demeanor. 


What do you think? Post on Disque below. Remember to follow the rules so your comment is allowed.  



If you need help with substance abuse, in particular, alcohol, call:

SAMHSA National Helpline

Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and information.  

1-800-662-4357




Source:

Wine is a gift from God, Pope Francis tells Italian producers | Pope Francis | The Guardian

Pope: Wine is a gift from God - The Catholic Thing

Why does the Vatican drink so much wine? | Wine | The Guardian

Wine, working the land, selling its fruits are gifts from God, pope says | National Catholic Reporter (ncronline.org)

Pope Francis Addresses Crowd at Vatican: 'Wine is For Everyone' | VinePair

The Pope says 'wine is a gift from God' and a 'true source of joy' as he jokes about appearing 'drunk' | Daily Mail Online


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