C.S. Lewis & Alcohol

December 15, 2016 — 47 Comments

chaliceWe children of alcoholics often have a difficult time determining the proper place for alcohol in our lives. Because we’ve seen the damage its abuse can cause, some are tempted to condemn it all together.

At the same time, like the abused child who is likelier to grow up becoming an abuser himself, as a group we are vulnerable to misusing alcohol ourselves.

The church’s attitude towards “drink” does not always help. Many denominations overlook the fact that it is drunkenness that the Scriptures condemn, and extend the prohibition to all drink that contains alcohol.

They are like the exegete who transforms the warning about the “love of money” being the root of sin into a rejection of all mediums of exchange beyond barter itself.* They overlook the attitude towards the object, and make the object itself the objectionable thing. Thus, money becomes the problem.

In the case of alcohol, it is no longer inappropriate or damaging use that is condemned, it is the drinking of anything containing alcohol that is reasoned to be sinful. Moving the bar in this fashion is simple legalism.

But this column isn’t about legalism. I don’t have an axe to grind. And, as the saying goes, some of my best friends (and family members) abstain from all drink. Similarly, I rarely drink myself. My point is not that wariness about alcohol’s dangers may be wise, but pushing God’s cautions to the degree where we call sin that which is not, is wrong in and of itself.

The solution does not come in the form of devising a pasteurization process so we can improve on the first eighteen centuries of Christian worship and now enjoy “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine” for holy communion.

At the other extreme, there are some religious communities that celebrate their freedom in the gospel to degrees that may invoke Romans 14:21. There is something uncomely, perhaps even sinful, in a church celebrating this liberty. (And I write this as a pastor in a denomination that frequently takes note of the arrival of Oktoberfest.)

Neither prohibiting what God has deemed lawful, nor uncritically embracing secular festivities is the right course. The proper solution to the question of how drinking can or should fit into our lives is found by looking at the Scriptures themselves.

The Biblical Christian View on Alcohol

The Scriptures could not be clearer on the use of alcohol. Unless God has directed an individual to a particular course (or vow) in their personal life, the general rule is this: in moderation, treated as a beverage without the goal of intoxication, drinks containing alcohol are okay.

I know that some churches teach otherwise, but from the Bible itself it is clear that merely drinking a glass of wine or beer is not a sin. It is drinking to excess, that is sinful.

C.S. Lewis provides an extremely clear explanation of this distinction in Mere Christianity. He explains how the principle of temperance is applicable to many aspects of our lives.

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance,’ it meant nothing of the sort.

Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.

It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself.

But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying.

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up.

That is not the Christian way.

An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as ‘intemperate’ as someone who gets drunk every evening.

Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals.

If he were alive today, Lewis could easily add sports-mania and social media-mania to his list of excesses that voraciously consume a person.

The fact that C.S. Lewis could enjoy a pint of beer with his friends becomes a stumbling block to some who would otherwise benefit from reading his work. Likewise, some readers of Mere Inkling may consider this post an endorsement of drinking.

That could not be farther from the truth. We children of alcoholics are acutely aware of the pain and chaos caused by its abuse.

On the contrary, these words are written to caution my brothers and sisters in Christ about a potentially more destructive sin, legalism.

Fortunately, the simple solution to both problems is an unfiltered, honest reading of God’s word.


* This is an exaggeration, of course. Few, if any, reject all coin and currency, even if they misquote 1 Timothy 6:10 in alleging “money is the root of many evils.”

** “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21).

47 responses to C.S. Lewis & Alcohol


    Nice post. Not to make light of it, but it reminds me of a couple of similar ideas about alcohol.

    First, in the U.S., there’s the “Baptists & Bootleggers” proposition: that both want a total prohibition of alcohol – only for different reasons.

    Having been raised a Baptist, there was never any alcohol in my parents’ home. In fact, I once watched my mother pour a pint of whiskey down the kitchen drain when an uncle brought it into the house. (She was right in that case because my uncle couldn’t control himself; he was always an immoderate drinker as far as I know.)

    Second, it reminds me of Noah Sweat, Jr’s “If by whiskey” speech in 1952 during a debate in Mississippi over whether to continue Prohibition there (which lasted until 1966).

    “My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

    If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

    But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

    This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”


      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’d like to offer a thought on each point, considering the second first.

      That’s a very intriguing distinction offered in that speech. He’s drawn the dichotomy between use and misuse quite well. (Some points could be debated I’m sure, e.g. whether the taxes derived from the sales truly offset the cost to society of alcohol’s abuse.) Still, the picture he paints of the two paths is quite vivid.

      It was the former that moved many chaplains during the Civil War (one of my research obsessions) to make promotion of the Temperance movement (in its narrowest sense) a priority in their ministries.

      As to the remembrance of your mother temporarily protecting her brother from drink… It reminds me of one of my own uncles. A wonderful man, when he drank he always drank to excess. And he was not a gentle drunk; he invariably became argumentative and insulting. While I never witnessed any physical aggressive, his alcohol-induced mean spiritedness was sufficient to bar his attendance at family gatherings for some years. He was welcome to attend, of course, but not to drink when he did so.

      His life followed the path of many alcoholics… loss of his business, destruction of his marriage, and ill health that led to an early death.

      Bobby Stierwalt April 24, 2019 at 7:24 pm

      Sir, I am reading your comment long after you posted it. Not only did you NOT make light of the thrust of C.S. Lewis and Alcohol, you sharpened the blade by sharing the message by Noah Sweat! Thank you so much, brother and I am sure the blogger thanks you too.(By the way, I am at this moment drinking some E&J Brandy and hoping the “Retired Bank Robber” whom my wife and I give room and board to will show up here having just had a fight with his wife….Again, I am so grateful for the blog and your comment). Bobby


        Thanks for your comment, Bobby. Nice to see how a positive discussion can bear good fruit years after it occurred. Have a blessed Easter week.


    Hi Rob,

    So, true. We have to guard against anything that hinders our walk. It is a life in progress, right?

    Merry Christmas,



    Perfect last line ( and response to gpavants)
    Running by to wrap up the holidays…
    Waiting for sunset on Christmas Eve is like standing toes-over-the-edge on a high diving board.
    Every year we’d cruise casually by the window to keep an eye on the sun’s progress until it was officially evening.
    Then the shout “Christmas Eve Gift!” would ring out.
    You see, the traditions says that the first person to voice that phrase on Christmas Eve to another would be graced with good fortune and joy all the next year.
    (And of course, whomever was first won. Everything was a contest…)
    It’s more difficult to be first now with caller ID.
    As all those who have become my friends in blogland are spread widely across time zones, I’d like to wish you all “Christmas Eve Gift” now.
    And as I already feel so fortunate to have such wonderful readers and writers in this neighborhood, I wish to share any phrase acquired good fortune and joy with you in thanks.
    No matter where you are or what you are guided by, hope you have a very merry Christmas and a new year full of adventure and joy.
    Peace on earth and goodwill towards all creatures great and small.


      What great Christmas Eve traditions… the initial family one, and the tradition of offering a blessing to your blogging “family.” May your Christmas be holy and your new year richly blessed.

    scumlikeuschurch July 31, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    God bless and thanks for stopping by


    Thanks for an insightful article. Much to ponder. Thanks for stopping by and giving a hearty hello.


    Thanks Rob! I really enjoyed this article. I found it very informative and honest. I am not Christian, but I like and agree with your conclusion absolutely.



    Well balanced and correct!


    Wow! Never reblogged but this just hit so close to home…


    Reblogged this on Fittingmiss.


    Thanks for your continuing interest in, Elm Drive Images, my friend.


    Interesting read and well thought out and written. As an American who grew up Baptist in the Midwest I am so very, very well aware of this continuing “issue” with all the labyrinthine twists and turns of Christian thought on what makes this one thing a sin and this other thing not a sin and how we use and abuse the Bible to “stick to our guns” (allusion intended). My husband on the other hand, who is from Europe and lived all over the world before we met, still can not get his head around this “drinking is wrong” thing. He did however understand that at our wedding, we would honor my side of the family and not serve alcohol. And so it continues…. for me I try to apply the “rule” of Paul’s — if it offends someone, and if I can choose to either do something or not do something for a “weaker” brother or sister, then in love I should choose that; but if it does not cause me to sin, then I will continue to as Peter learned, eat or drink whatever I choose.” Ah — C.S. Lewis — always something relevant, always something new. Bravo you for your Lewis posts! Shalom, Jane


      Jane, thanks so much for sharing the story about your wedding. When my wife and I were married, 43 years ago, we had a church reception. After that we had a family reception at my parents’ house. My dad was shocked (and offended) when we said “no alcohol.” The shocked part was because he was going to pay for it all. We had paid for our own wedding (with one more year of college ahead) but kept it modest. My wife even made her own wedding dress.

      Since I don’t consider drinking in moderation to be a sin, my dad thought it was foolish to pass on the hosted refreshments. I don’t think he ever realized that it was for him that we made that choice. The rest of the folks could have chosen to have a beer or glass of wine, without problems. But for my dad, it wasn’t a choice… the only thing he knew how to say when it came to alcohol, was “yes.”


    As an almost retired Army Chaplain (UK) who cannot bring himself to present the Mess with the traditional bottle of whisky: I thought about giving a copy of Mere Christianity. A search on CS Lewis and whisky took me to your page here. I have to confess to struggling with my attitude to alcohol and those who are perhaps too into it. Reading your article was helpful and humbling. I am perhaps too into my motor-bicycle. If not that, then something else would take it’s place and the place of the Lord Jesus Christ who alone is worthy.


      I’m glad you found this post helpful.

      I like your idea of offering people a copy of Mere Christianity. (I keep several on hand for that purpose… although my semi-retirement makes those occasions rarer.)

      As you note, anything that becomes too important to each of us possesses the potential to intrude on our relationship with God.

      I hope you’ll visit Mere Inkling again soon.


    First class. A Canadian Christian leader of yesteryear said, ‘The hardest thing in the world is to keep balanced.’ You and Lewis nailed it!


      I’m glad you too recognize the necessity of balance in our Christian lives. It’s particularly challenging when it deals with an issue where we’ve experienced direct, personal pain. Alcohol abuse has wounded many and killed more than a few. But, it’s not the C2H5OH (ethanol) itself that is guilty of this grief.


        Yep, Rob. We’ve had to deal with both sides of the issue in our extended family. My wife’s father was an alcoholic, my father struggled with alcohol dependence for much of his life. Our children and their spouses seem to be getting the balance right, praise God. My wife and I have just finished reading the Book of Proverbs, a puzzling book in many ways as you know, but it does demonstrate the importance of balance and good common sense… ha ha…


        It is a precious gift of God when family “curses” such as alcoholism are broken, isn’t it?

        Proverbs is certainly interesting, and entertaining (and I don’t believe it’s blasphemous to say so).


    Thank you, Rob, for illuminating this issue from the various points of reference.
    “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up.” I’ve been around people like that but reading this post I recognize that without the grace of God, I myself have a propensity to fall into that ditch.


      Yes, were it not for the grace of God, what wretched creatures we would be.

      And Lauren Talley has a wonderful new arrangement of the song that truth evokes:


    Interestingly, in your article,you don’t point out the fact that CS Lewis actually was a drunkard and didn’t take care of his body ie. Smoking 50 cigarettes a day (which I’m not saying smoking is a sin other than the fact that it’s not taking care of your body which is the Temple of the holy Spirit). when you said if he was with us today I’d be remiss if I did not point out but using it is not with us today is because he died due to his alcoholism. Read and explain Proverbs 23 where we’re not supposed to even look at it while it sparkles in the cup meaning we’re not supposed to be tempted by it?


      Drunkenness is a sin, and I don’t recall Lewis glorifying it. Of course, to someone who believe even tasting alcohol is a sin, one could never explain drinking in moderation. (I’ve actually met people who believe Jesus did not use wine when he instituted Holy Communion.)

      I’ll never praise tobacco. That vile weed killed my mother, cousin, brother-in-law and father-in-law. Yet, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has been 100% vigilant in caring for their body and physical health. And, if I encountered such a claim, my mind might turn to another Proverb (16:18).

      The purpose of this column is not to glorify alcohol consumption, but to warn against legalisms such as hoping to find justification in temperance.


    I came from a family of money obsession and the love of money divided the family. So alcohol to me is nothing, I have no addiction to it. But gaining riches for riches sake is a big issue for me. We all have to respect where someone is coming from. Of course I would never drink around someone who was an alcoholic, etc. You get the point.


      A great insight, Rebecca. This emphasizes the importance of listening to others, so we can gain insight into their unique situation (especially those things they find particularly challenging).

      Money was never big in our family. We were technically middle class, since my dad was a military NCO, but we lived at what I now recognize as a near-poverty standard, due to the fact my dad spent “his” income on his personal activities.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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