Is drinking a sin, or is just drunkenness a sin? Is it only a near occasion of sin? Can having just one drink be a sin for some people but not for others? Steve Ray discusses on Catholic Answers Live.
Caller: Recognizing that Jesus turned water into wine, the question is: is it a sin to drink? And I guess the second part: if not, is it a sin to become intoxicated? And does it matter in which methods you use, or is it just a sin?
Steve Ray: Okay, just a short answer. To become drunk and to lose control of yourself would be considered a sin. I mean—and then there’s a degree, where do you draw the line?
I have to say, I’ve been drunk once in my life and I didn’t realize it. I’ve drank too much in my life, but I’ve only been drunk once in my life, and that was when I had heard that you had to try Sangria, it’s really good. So when I was in Spain, I ordered a Sangria. I said I’d take a glass of Sangria, they said, “We don’t make it by the glass, only by the pitcher.” So they brought a pitcher of sangria, and it didn’t taste like alcohol to me, it just tastes like grape juice, so I drank the whole pitcher. And ten minutes later, ka-BOOM, it hit me and I was on the floor.
Steve Ray: I was in bed in that hotel for 24 hours, and I said to my wife, “I’m never gonna get drunk again ever, that was horrible.” So that’s the only time I’ve ever been drunk, and I didn’t do it on purpose.
But what St. Paul says, in Ephesians 5:18, is: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is a waste, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” So Jesus turned water into wine, and the Aramaic word for “wedding feast” that Jesus was at, the Aramaic word means “a drinking party,” so Jesus went to a drinking party and he drank wine with, you know—so drinking of wine or alcohol is never considered a sin. In fact, Paul tells Timothy, “Drink a little wine for your stomach’s sake.” I think Timothy was nervous and shy, and he’d get, like, his stomach would get sick, and so Paul said “Have a few glasses of wine and relax.”
But there’s a borderline that you cross of drunkenness. You know, everything in Christianity seems to be regarded as a matter of moderation, doing things in moderation. Licit things, doing licit things like drinking wine is fine in moderation, but not too much, not to become drunk. So drunkenness would be a sin. I hope that helps a little bit. Drinking of wine and alcohol is fine, it’s one of the reasons I became Catholic. No, don’t quote me, I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding! It had no part to play in it, I drank wine before I was Catholic. But I think that it’s a matter of being moderate about things.
Host: Does that help any, Steve?
Caller: Yes, and I guess the one last thing is: if you are an addict and have a history of problems with that, to even just have one or two, does that matter? Or are we kind of beating a dead horse here? No, I think that you’re correct. If you’re an alcoholic, and having a drink brings you near to the place where you are gonna lose control, that could be viewed as a sin.
I would say also the same with sports. There’s nothing wrong with sports, but if someone is addicted to sports and that’s all they care about, and they know that if they go to a ballgame that they’re gonna forget about God, they’re gonna go crazy, and that’s all they’re gonna think about for the next week, then I think that even sports could become a near occasion for sin. I think the scripture has this, near occasion for sin. So there are some things that maybe are a sin for me but not for you, say, for example. Or if you’re an alcoholic, going to the bar and getting a drink and saying “I’ll just have one” is a very dangerous thing and could be a near occasion for sin, or be a sin, especially if you play it out. For me to go to a bar and have a drink wouldn’t be a sin. So, you know, God deals with us as individuals.
There are certain lines that are—going out and committing adultery, there’s no question about that. That’s not a matter of moderation. But other things that are licit or good things, like alcohol or food—I can be a glutton, too. Gluttony can also be a sin. If I eat too much and I stuff myself like a pig, then I could say “Oh my goodness, I just sinned through the sin of gluttony,” and then the near occasion of that. So I think if someone has a propensity to alcoholism and to not being able to control it, I think it would be considered a sin to go and tempt yourself there; but I think each one of those is kind of between you and God.
For more on this topic, see “The Bible Does Not Forbid Alcohol.”