Cheers to the Heathens!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I’ve had some big things on my mind and I haven’t been able to get all my thoughts down without accidentally writing a bad dissertation, so I thought I’d try a (relatively) brief post about a fun topic.  Spoiler alert: I tried to be brief and failed. I hope you like really long blog posts. But if you get to the end, I promise to give you a really tasty drink recipe, k?

I have this lovely little book called Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age by A.C. Grayling, a humanist philosopher who has introduced me to several of my favorite quotes.  This book is a collection of his essays on a wide range of topics (ex: loyalty, death, sin, faith, etc.) and I like to open it for a quick nugget of wisdom every now and then.

Today’s topic is: Intemperance  [noun, excessive indulgence, especially in alcohol.  Antonym: temperance]

When I gave up my former faith, I started looking to take the good parts out of all the others and put them together.  While investigating vegetarianism/veganism, I learned that the Seventh Day Adventists avoid meat and drugs (including alcohol, caffeine, and probably all the other ones, too) and they tend to live a long time.  Ever heard of a Blue Zone?  It’s an area where residents tend to live much longer than average life expectancy -- there are a lot of folks over 100 in Loma Linda, California where a large proportion of the population is part of the Seventh Day Adventist faith.  So I started to wonder: should I stop drinking wine in order to take better care of my body? Do I have a duty to people who care about me to quit my sweet martinis* so that I’m at lower risk of health problems and can spend more quality time with them?  If there is no benefit to indulging in drugs, am I ethically required to abstain?

*see recipe below

Grayling starts off talking about hangovers, and I think it’s a good way to begin the conversation.  It’s a reminder that intemperance can hurt us directly. But he quickly turns to the idea that an “occasional bender” could give us a fresh perspective, or allow us to explore unconventional ideas.  It’s funny; I’ve read this before and this is the main part of the essay that I remembered, but now that I’m re-reading it, he doesn’t necessarily say that this is the best idea…

He goes on to talk about Epicurus, the philosopher who sought pleasure and avoided pain.  These days, we colloquially associate epicureans with hedonism, but it didn’t originate as an “anything goes” philosophy.  Grayling reminds us that Epicurus “only drank water and said that life’s highest pleasure is discussing philosophy with friends under a shady tree.” (Grayling, pg. 93)  Despite his own choices, Epicurus understood that there was value in indulging, although he warned that doing so would often be counterproductive because it worsens the fears that it seeks to ease.

One of Grayling’s most striking points is that intoxicants “[reveal] people to one another and themselves”.  It goes along with the idea (which he provides later, in more eloquent language) that drunk words are sober thoughts.  When we loosen up, we might see who we really are. But he also points out a problem by quoting a fictional bartender imagined by journalist Finley Peter Dunne:

“Drink never made a man better, but it has made many a man think he was.” - Mr. Dooley

Of course, there are some circumstances where temperance should be exercised; Grayling calls drunk driving “murder waiting to happen” and reminds us that alcohol dependence is a real medical issue.

So in the end, there’s no firm proscription here.  He brings up some good points and allows us to weigh our options.  I think I could practice more moderation as an exercise in discipline, and I can cut back to improve my health, but I’ll still indulge now and then, as long as I can do so safely.  And we can each make our own choices. So I need to respect the choices of extended family members who swear off drinking because they’re afraid getting tipsy will lead them into sin.  But I don’t see any secular reason to mandate temperance, either. Cheers to that!

Sweet Martini (adapted from various sources)

3 oz gin (I like Two James)

1 oz sweet vermouth

2+ generous dashes orange bitters

3 Luxardo cherries** (with as much of the syrup as you can get on a spoon)

Delicious over ice or room temp; stir well.  I often use a low ball glass, but martini glasses are nice if you’re feeling fancy.  Don’t worry, though, this drink doesn’t discriminate.

**These are a splurge, but they are amazing and if you’re careful, you can get a jar to last a good while.  Available at some grocery stores and on Amazon

Guest Writer Contributions are direct-published opinion pieces. They are not always edited and reflect the views only of the author.