Building the Perfect Religion: Humility, Moderation and Sobriety? Ouch…

Well, I guess sex is no big deal, after all, in my perfect hypothetical religion, basically just: cover your genitals, please. And don’t do it in public. And hide it from the kids. Dress moderately. Homosexuality is okay, as long as you don’t demand the right to march down Market Street in only your jockstrap. Abortion is a horrible thing, but ultimately a woman’s right to choose, for lack of better options. I would only say to women who see this issue as only an issue of women’s health: we’re talking about a human life here, okay? At some point it becomes murder, which is not okay… what else?

Like sex, most religions don’t deal with issues of sobriety directly, but many do, being prohibited outright in some. Once again I see no clear path either way, but it has certainly been an object of contention over the years. To this day, many counties and cities in the USA are ‘dry’, not allowing any sales of alcohol; and many others are so restrictive that they accomplish much the same purpose, allowing mixed drinks only in eating establishments, for instance, the only stand-alone bars limited to beer.

But mention Christianity or the West to much of the world, and the first image that comes to many foreigners’ minds is alcohol—and drunkenness. It’s pretty accurate, really. Historical scuttlebutt is that the Celts invaded the Roman Empire looking for wine, long after they themselves had had a reputation for beer, from which the Spanish word for it—cerveza—comes, apparently. They likely invented wheels and pivoting axles, too, so the buzz is not necessarily bad, just disgusting for a lot of people, it seems. I concur. It’s messy. There are cleaner highs, if you just gotta…

And some people do, of course, just gotta’ get a buzz, that is, something to punctuate the day from night, work from rest and stress from relaxation. It’s been controversial, though, throughout history and across the continents. Islam forbids it, of course, as is well-known, but less well-known is that it’s tolerated there to a degree that might likely surprise many skeptical Westerners. It should also be noted that Islam tolerates cannabis and hashish use to an extent that would make many a latter-day American hippie proud.

Many Protestant Christian sects have long eschewed it, of course, though the obedience to that prohibition seems to be eroding over time. Coming from the US southern Bible Belt myself, I’d say that the traditional prohibitions on alcohol are entering a new period of, uh, ‘relativity’. India is very similar, with mixed emotions about the whole subject and a certain attitude that it’s dirty at the same time that it’s tolerated. Bars there are frequently dark dingy holes-in-the-wall best avoided, and the concept of ‘fern bars’ and discos are only slowly gaining ground.

The Muslim presence in India is certainly a factor, of course, and it seems the Brits left no significant pub influence as elsewhere. The prohibition on alcohol in Pakistan is there to an absurd degree, and so is the presence of hashish, proudly puffed at the local Sufi shows. But go to a pharmacy in Pakistan and look for medicine and you’ll find out quickly that none of them contain alcohol; they tell you so.

Muslims are up north, in India, of course, where the Mughals once came and ruled. But hop across the southern strait to Sri Lanka, and it’s different. I wouldn’t call it a modern pub scene, but it’s not hard to find. They’re Buddhist, of course. The bars come with chicken-wire counter fences like juke-joints in the old backwoods south. It’s almost religion in Thailand, unfortunately, to the point that it’s creating a failed state and the government is stepping in to curb its use, not to mention prostitution. There, I didn’t mention it.

Buddhist countries and East Asian countries in general have no qualms about alcohol, and are some of the world’s most industrious, up north, if some of the world’s most degenerate, down south in the world’s party central zone of Thailand, Cambodia, and Philippines (Christian), with ex-Commies Laos and Vietnam quickly getting on the party train. Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslim, of course, but mostly ‘lite’ and with no shortage of party girls amongst the Christian and tribal populace, always ready to sing-a-song with Karaoke Bill using karaoke mike.

Africa is pretty much divided alcoholically along Muslim/Christian lines, the Muslim communities generally more hard-working and industrious, it seems, but that may be a false perception, given the late-night Christian juke-joint closings and women looking for pickups without flat tires after midnight. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t accomplish anything during the day. You can decide for yourself. Certainly the rise of Islamic fundamentalism all over the world changes the equations that existed previously.

Bottom line: there really seems nothing wrong with some selected ‘mood-changing’ as long as it’s done in moderation. Sound familiar? I know that some of the things I did as a younger youngster have little or no interest to me now, simply because they close the doors that they used to open. But that doesn’t mean that I regret having opened those doors. It just means that there are more appropriate pleasures available to me now, like writing this missive to you. I see no need for psychoactive sacraments as part of religion but I see no need for prohibitions, either. A cada quien sus gustos… drive carefully.