Religion and alcohol

The world's religions have had differing relationships with alcohol. Many religions forbid alcoholic consumption or see it as sinful or negative. Others have allocated a specific place for it, such as in the Christian practice of using wine during the Eucharist rite.

Bahá'í Faith

The teachings of the Bahá'í Faith forbid the consumption of alcohol and other drugs unless prescribed by a physician. Intoxicants take away reason, interfere with making moral decisions, and harm the mind and body. Bahá'ís are also encouraged to avoid jobs related to the production or sale of alcohol and are forbidden from involvement in the drug trade. Those addicted to alcohol or other drugs should seek medical assistance from doctors and/or support from organizations dedicated to curing addiction. [1]


Christian views on alcohol are varied. Throughout the first 1,800 years of Church history, Christians generally consumed alcoholic beverages as a common part of everyday life and used "the fruit of the vine"[2] in their central rite—the Eucharist or Lord's Supper.[3][4] They held that both the Bible and Christian tradition taught that alcohol is a gift from God that makes life more joyous, but that over-indulgence leading to drunkenness is sinful or at least a vice.[5][6]

In the mid-19th century, some Protestant Christians moved from a position of allowing moderate use of alcohol (sometimes called moderationism) to either deciding that not imbibing was wisest in the present circumstances (abstentionism) or prohibiting all ordinary consumption of alcohol because it was believed to be a sin (prohibitionism).[7] Many Protestant churches, particularly Methodists and Evangelical groups, advocated abstentionism and were early leaders in the temperance movement of the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, all three positions exist in Christianity, but the historic position remains the most common worldwide, due to the adherence by the largest bodies of Christians, namely Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Eucharistic wine becomes the Blood of Jesus Christ through transubstantiation.[8] In Lutheran theology the essence of the wine is the blood of Christ, but the substance remains wine.[9] In other Protestant denominations, the wine is a symbol of the blood of Christ. Monastic communities like Trappists have brewed beer and made wine.

Indian religions

Hinduism doesn't forbid the use or consumption of alcohol, yet Hinduism recognizes that alcohol is a powerful substance that has dangers that should not be taken lightly. In fact, the Vedic texts mention about using intoxicating drinks as offering to Gods during sacrifices. In the Vedic texts soma was the name of a god as well as of a plant from which a heavy drink of that name was derived and was offered to gods in most of the sacrifices; according to one opinion it was different from another intoxicating drink, Sura, which was meant for the common people. Soma was a favourite beverage of the Vedic deities and was offered in most of the sacrifices performed to please gods like Indra, Agni, Varun, Maruts and so on, whose names occur frequently in the Rig Veda. Of them Indra, who is known by 45 epithets and to whom the largest number of Rig Vedic hymns — 250 out of more than a thousand — are dedicated, was the most important. A god of war and wielder of thunderbolt, rowdy and adulterous, potbellied from excessive drinking, he is described in Vedic passages as a great boozer and dipsomaniac; he is said to have drunk three lakes of soma before slaying the dragon Vritra. Like the Vedic texts, the epics provide evidence of the use of intoxicating drinks by those who enjoy godly status in Hindu religion. It should be pointed out that there were a large variety of intoxicating drinks, nearly 50 types of them, available in ancient India. The use of alcohol by men was quite common, despite occasional dharmashatric objections in the case of Brahmins; and instances of drinking among women were not rare.[10]

Buddhists typically avoid consuming alcohol (surāmerayamajja, referring to types of intoxicating fermented beverages), as it violates the 5th of the Five Precepts, the basic Buddhist code of ethics and can disrupt mindfulness and impede one's progress in the Noble Eightfold Path.[11]

In Jainism alcohol consumption of any kind is not allowed, neither are there any exceptions like occasional or social drinking. The most important reason against alcohol consumption is the effect of alcohol on the mind and soul. In Jainism, any action or reaction that alter or impacts the mind is violence (himsa) towards own self, which is a five-sense human being. Violence to other five sense beings or to own self is violence. [12]

An initiated Sikh cannot use intoxicants, of which wine is one.[13]


There is a consensus among theologians that the word khamr, meaning "intoxicants", refers to alcohol and all similar kind of beverages causing drunkenness, and that alcohol consumption is prohibited by Islam because it weakens the conscience of the believer.

In the Quran, intoxicants, i.e. all kinds of alcoholic drinks, are variably referenced as incentives from Satan, as well as a cautionary note against their adverse effect on human attitude in several verses:

O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone altars [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.

Surat 5:90

Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?

Surat 5:91

Another verse acknowledges the small benefit of wine but notes that its harm is much bigger.

They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit." And they ask you what they should spend. Say, "The excess [beyond needs]. Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.

Surat 2:219

And from the fruits of the palm trees and grapevines you take intoxicant and good provision. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who reason.

Surat 16:67

The Quran states that one of the delights of Paradise for the righteous is wine which does not intoxicate as a promise by God.

Is the description of Paradise, which the righteous are promised, wherein are rivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of purified honey, in which they will have from all [kinds of] fruits and forgiveness from their Lord, like [that of] those who abide eternally in the Fire and are given to drink scalding water that will sever their intestines?

Surat 47:15

During the time of Muhammad

At the beginning of Islam, even during the first battles, Muslims possibly drank alcohol.[14] The prohibition of alcohol came many years after Muhammad had started his mission.

This is documented in the Sunni Hadiths (the sayings and traditions of Muhammad). Jābir ibn Abd Allah (جابِر بن عَبْد الله) narrated: "Some people drank alcoholic beverages in the morning [of the day] of the ’Uhud battle and on the same day they were killed as martyrs, and that was before wine was prohibited."[15]Anas ibn Mālik (أَنَس بن مالِك) narrated that the people said: "...some people [Muslims] were killed [in the Battle of ’Uhud] while wine was in their stomachs.' [...] So Allah revealed: 'There is not upon those who believe and do righteousness [any] blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and believe and do righteous deeds...'"[16] [sura 5:93[17]]

Some scholars and writers, for example Gerald Drissner, suggested that the fact that the Muslims were sober (and their enemies possibly drunk) led to an advantage in battles.[18] This could have been the reason why the Muslims - although most of the time outnumbered - were advancing so quickly and defeated the enemy (Meccans) with relative ease.[18]


Judaism relates to consumption of alcohol, particularly of wine, in a complex manner. Wine is viewed as a substance of import and it is incorporated in religious ceremonies, and the general consumption of alcoholic beverages is permitted, however inebriation (drunkenness) is discouraged.

This compound approach to wine can be viewed in the verse in Psalms 104:15, "Wine gladdens human hearts,"[19] countered by the verses in Proverbs 20:1, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is riotous; and whoever stumbles in it is not wise,"[20] and Proverbs 23:20, "Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat."[21]

The Bible

The biblical narrative records the positive and negative aspects of wine. Wine is a beverage of significance and import, utilized in ceremonies, for example, celebrating Abraham's military victory and successful liberation of Lot,[22] festive meals,[23][24] and the libations comprising the sacrificial service.[25]

In Gen. 9:20-27, Noah becomes intoxicated from his wine on exiting the ark and lies unclothed in his tent where his youngest son, Ham, discovers Noah asleep, and "views his (Noah's) nakedness." Noah becomes aware of this the following day and curses Ham's son Canaan.[26] In Gen. 19:31-37, in the aftermath of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot became inebriated on wine and had sexual intercourse with his two daughters. Moab (the father of the biblical nation by the same name) and Ben-Ammi (the father of the nation of Ammon) were born to Lot of this incest with his daughters.[27] Religious service in the Temple must be void of consumption of alcohol or wine, as the priests are admonished, "Do not drink wine nor strong drink... when you enter the tabernacle of the congregation, lest you die."[28]

In halakha

Halakha (Jewish law) mandates the use of wine in various religious ceremonies (such as sanctifying the Sabbath and festivals with wine at their start and conclusion, and at circumcision and at marriage ceremonies).[29] The beverage required as "wine" by Jewish law generally permits the use of a non-alcoholic grape extraction (grape juice) for all ceremonies requiring wine .[30]

Excessive consumption and drunkenness, however are discouraged. According to the thirteenth century Orchot Chaim, as quoted in Beit Yosef "inebriation is entirely prohibited and there is no greater sin than drunkenness" and it is "the cause of many sins".[31]

A Nazirite voluntarily takes a vow to abstain from grapes or any of their byproducts (including wine), he refrains cutting the hair on his head, and he may not become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves.[32] While one motivation for becoming a Nazirite may be a reaction to "risky behaviors" associated with alcohol abuse (Tractate Sotah, BT 2a), the term of the vow of the Nazirite is ordinarily a fixed term, with grapes and wine again permitted at the end of the term.

Contemporary Judaism

Anecdotal evidence supports that Jewish communities, on the whole, view alcoholic consumption more negatively than Protestant Christian groups. The small sample of Jewish individuals viewed alcohol as destructive while a sample of Protestants referred to it as "relaxing".[33] The proliferation of "kiddush clubs" in some synagogues, and the institutional backlash to that proliferation, however, may provide an indication of growing awareness of alcohol abuse issues in Jewish communities. A number of specifically Jewish non-profit addiction rehabilitation and education programs, such as the Chabad Residential Treatment Center in Los Angeles[34] and Retorno in Israel,[35] provide treatment for alcoholism (and other substance) abuse within a specifically Jewish framework for recovery. The non-profit Jewish institutions are supplemented by for-profit rehab centers with a Jewish focus.


Sake is often consumed as part of Shinto purification rituals.[36] Sakes served to gods as offerings prior to drinking are called Omiki or Miki (お神酒, 神酒).[37] People drink Omiki with gods to communicate with them and to solicit rich harvests the following year.

Vodou (Voodoo)

In the Vodou faith of Haiti, alcoholic drinks such as rum are consumed to be able to allow spirits called "lwa" to enter one's body and help them find the motivation for or strength to survive everyday struggles or life.

Historical religions

In Ancient Egyptian religion, beer and wine were drunk and offered to the gods in rituals and festivals. Beer and wine were also stored with the mummified dead in Egyptian burials.[38] Other ancient religious practices like Chinese ancestor worship, Sumerian and Babylonian religion used alcohol as offerings to gods and to the deceased. The Mesopotamian cultures had various wine gods and a Chinese imperial edict (c. 1,116 B.C.) states that drinking alcohol in moderation is prescribed by Heaven.[38]

In the ancient Mediterranean world, the Cult of Dionysus and the Orphic mysteries used wine as part of their religious practices. During Dionysian festivals and rituals, wine was drunk as way to reach ecstatic states along with music and dance. Intoxication from alcohol was seen as a state of possession by spirit of the god of wine Dionysus. Religious drinking festivals called Bacchanalia were popular in Italy and associated with the gods Bacchus and Liber. These Dionysian rites were frequently outlawed by the Roman Senate.

In the Norse religion the drinking of ales and meads was important in several seasonal religious festivals such as Yule and Midsummer as well as more common festivities like wakes, christenings and ritual sacrifices called Blóts. Neopagan and Wiccan religions also allow for the use of alcohol for ritual purposes as well as for recreation.[39]


Research has been conducted by social scientists and epidemiologists to see if potential links exist between religiosity and alcoholism.[40][41]

See also


  1. Smith, Peter (2008-04-07). An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 168. ISBN 0-521-86251-5.
  2. Jesus Christ. "Matthew 26:29;Mark 14:25;Luke 22:18". I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the wine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
  3. R. V. Pierard (1984). "Alcohol, Drinking of". In Walter A. Elwell (ed.). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. pp. 28f. ISBN 0-8010-3413-2.
  4. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, ed. (2005). "Wine". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 1767. ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3. [W]ine has traditionally been held to be one of the essential materials for a valid Eucharist, though some have argued that unfermented grape-juice fulfils the Dominical [that is, Jesus'] command.
  5. Raymond, p. 90.
  6. "Wine". Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897. Retrieved 2007-01-22.
  7. Gentry, Kenneth (2001). God Gave Wine. Oakdown. pp. 3ff. ISBN 0-9700326-6-8.
  8. Gately, Iain (2008). Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. New York: Gotham. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-592-40464-3.
  9. An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, (LCMS), question 291)
  10. "What the gods drank". Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  11. "Access to Insight: the Panca Sila (with Pali)". Archived from the original on 2010-11-23. Retrieved 2011-03-14.
  12. "Jainism: Know It, Understand It & Internalize It". Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  13. Sukhmandir Khalsa. "List of 11 Sikhism Dos and Don'ts". Religion & Spirituality.
  14. Drissner, Gerald (2016). Islam for Nerds. Berlin, Germany: createspace. p. 98. ISBN 978-1530860180.
  15. "Hadith - Sahih al-Bukhari 4618". Retrieved 2016-11-18.
  16. "Hadith - Sahih al-Bukhari 4620". Retrieved 2016-11-18.
  17. "Surah Al-Ma'idah [5:93]". Surah Al-Ma'idah [5:93]. Retrieved 2016-11-18.
  18. Drissner, Gerald (2016). Islam for Nerds. Berlin, Germany: createspace. p. 99. ISBN 978-1530860180.
  19. Psalms 104:15
  20. Proverbs 20:1
  21. Proverbs 23:20
  22. Genesis 14:18, Malchizedek, the king of Salem, greeted and blessed Abraham with bread and wine.
  23. Genesis 27:25, Isaac partakes of bread and wine prior to confering his blessing on Jacob.
  24. On tithing one tenth of one's animals and produce, the tithe is to be consumed in Jerusalem, should a person be unable to transport the tithes themselves to Jerusalem, he is instructed to utilize the proceeds from the sale of the tithe items on food and drink items - including wine - that he is to consume in a festive meal Jerusalem. One can thus utilize these proceeds "for whatever you wish — oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together," Deuteronomy 14:26.
  25. A meal offering consisting of flour and oil, and a wine libation accompany certain sacrifices, verses 3-5 in Numbers 28 , et. al.
  26. Genesis 9
  27. Verses 31-37 in Genesis 9 .
  28. Leviticus 10:9
  29. Loewenthal, Kate (2014). "Addiction: Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Judaism". Religions. 5 (4): 973. doi:10.3390/rel5040972. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  30. Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 272:2
  31. Orach Chaim:695 (Beit Yosef)
  32. Verses 3-8 in Numbers 6 .
  33. Loewenthal, Kate (2014). "Addiction: Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Judaism". Religions. 5 (4): 977–978. doi:10.3390/rel5040972. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  34. Center, Chabad Residential Treatment. "Chabad Residential Treatment Center -". Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  35. "Retorno - Rehabilitation and Empowerment". Retorno. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  36. Thomas P. Kasulis (August 2004). Shinto. University of Hawaii Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-8248-6430-9.
  37. Brian Bocking (30 September 2005). A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Routledge. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-135-79738-6.
  38. Hanson, David J. History of Alcohol and Drinking around the World,
  39. Patti Wigington. "Drug and Alcohol Use: A Pagan Perspective". Religion & Spirituality.
  40. Francis, L. J.; Fearn, M.; Lewis, C. A. (2005). "The Impact of Personality and Religion on Attitudes toward Alcohol among 16-18 year olds in Northern Ireland". Journal of Religion and Health. 44 (3): 267–289. doi:10.1007/s10943-005-5464-z. JSTOR 27512870.
  41. Ford, J.; Kadushin, C. (2002). "Between Sacral Belief and Moral Community: A Multidimensional Approach to the Relationship between Religion and Alcohol among Whites and Blacks". Sociological Forum. 17 (2): 255–279. doi:10.1023/A:1016089229972. JSTOR 3070326.
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