For thousands of years, alcohol has been steeped in mystery and symbolism, eventually working its way into the very fabric of cults and early religions. One of the oldest methods of purposefully altering a person's conscious state, consumption of alcohol as a means of enlightenment, ceremony or entertainment has been a part of human culture for as long as history has been recorded, and possibly longer than that. But as societies developed over time and religions grew, alcohol became both praised and demonized by various groups at different times. Today, some of the world's major religions denounce alcohol use – like Buddhism and Islam, and other religions use alcohol as an integral part of ceremony and rite of passage, such as in Judaism. However, regardless of what a person's faith is, anyone that consumes alcohol to excess for long enough will become addicted and need serious, life-saving treatment in order to survive. For this reason it is important to understand the role – or lack thereof – of alcohol in religion.
Because alcohol produces a profound alteration of the senses, early human cultures considered it to be a divine substance and treated it accordingly. Alcohol consumption was featured in funerary practices and other Pagan rituals, and eventually played a large role in fertility, as these early peoples considered alcohol's aphrodisiac effect to be a powerful aid in fertility – one of the most important aspects of early society. These Pagan cultures revered alcohol in the same way they revered plants, animals and other natural substances that they perceived to give them special "powers" or enhanced attributes.
Of course, history tells us that these Pagan cultures eventually evolved into the highly organized Christian religions that we know today. For instance, Protestants, Baptists and many other sects of Christianity permit the consumption of alcoholic beverages, provided the consumption of such drinks is never to excess, keeping in line with the general Christian practice of moderation. However, Judaism not only permits the consumption of alcohol, it encourages it among certain sects and groups. In some cases it is required to drink an alcoholic beverage as part of certain ceremonies, depending upon a person's position in the church.
Other major religions like Islam and Buddhism are staunchly against the use of alcohol. Buddhism is more passive in its teachings but generally states that nothing should be taken that will alter the natural state of the body. Islam, on the other hand, teaches that the consumption of alcohol is wicked, and at certain times in history was worthy of severe punishment, including death. While these views are not as extreme today, both Islam and Buddhism remain very much against the consumption of alcohol. This is seen by many as detrimental to because it may prevent practitioners from getting help for a problem if they need it. A prominent writer for the Association of Religion Data Archives, David Briggs, summed this problem up best by stating: "The strong norms against alcohol abuse, particularly in conservative congregations, might deter a lot of people from admitting they have a problem and seeking help."
Alcoholism can happen to anyone, regardless of what religion they participate in. And while some people find solace in their religion, many others do not and therefore their own religion is not able to help them overcome this progressive, deadly disease. In this case, the person must look for outside sources of help like a professional alcohol rehab program. If you or someone you love is suffering from this disease, please act now, because religion alone cannot save a true alcoholic.
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Rachel has led a diverse writing career including journalism, marketing and internet-related writing and editing positions. A specialist in the fields of addiciton and alcoholism, Rachel is also an extremely adept financial writer.