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My 18th amendment: Why I don’t drink

I have spent most of this semester meeting new people, most of whom I’ve been lucky enough to befriend. I’ve always thought this initial phase, the time when acquaintanceship starts to deepen into something more real and relaxed, is one of the best times of any friendship — but it comes with a lot of information exchange. Where are you from? What do you do? How many siblings do you have?

Do you drink?

A few friends drinking beers. Image from Creative Commons.
A few friends drinking beers. Image from Creative Commons.

Granted, I’ve never been asked that straight out. I’d actually prefer it to the scenes of surprise and confusion that I normally get when the topic comes up — and less casual questions that inevitably follow. Are you kidding? How do you have fun? Is this because you go to church? Like, never?

Why not?

To answer briefly (and I really have answered these all, in some form or another): no, easily, sort of, and “it’s complicated.” Believe me when I say that I have never had a sip of alcohol in this country, and that it isn’t actually that big of a deal.

Admittedly, I wasn’t this calm about the issue when I first got to college. Some brand-new friends of mine went off-campus to drink the first weekend and I was horrified. I understood intellectually that this was college, not a convent, but it was still a shock to the system. I didn’t dare go to an off-campus party until my second year here, and to this day I make sure that I only go out with good friends and at least one other sober person.

My objections were never entirely legal in nature, although no one will ever convince me that underage drinking is the same as going 5 miles over the legal speed limit. My choice — and it is a conscious and deliberate choice — is more deeply tied to the fact that I claim to be a Christian.

While this is a wholly distinct topic, people tend to assume they’ve got me and “my religion” figured out on this point. Being a Christian means I’m a good little girl who doesn’t do anything bad, this-I-know, for-the-Bible-tells-me-so. Right?

Wrong. Being a Christian means I try (and fail, constantly and miserably, and then commence trying again) “to let [my] light shine before others” and live out my beliefs — with peers on Friday nights as well as with my first- and second-grade class on Sunday morning.

The Bible explicitly and repeatedly condemns drunkenness, rather than alcohol itself — after all, it wasn’t grape juice being miracled at Cana. Without wading too deeply into the controversy over alcohol within different faith communities, I don’t believe (at this point in my life) that it’s wrong, hypocritical or sinful for a Christian to have a drink. To get drunk? Yes. To make it a habit? Yes. To do it at all? No.

My thinking on this point has a lot to do with the semester I just spent in Scotland — a land known for its alcohol consumption, and where I was legally allowed to purchase and consume any drink I cared to.

True confessions: I drank, and it wasn’t that exciting. I averaged less than a drink a week for the 5 months I was abroad, and I found it a mildly pleasant interlude at best (and an expensive kind of nastiness at worst). With my 21st birthday just over a month away, I look forward to cooking a spectacular dinner with friends — and having a single drink from my Mason jar wineglass.