So there's a community made up of predominantly conservative Christians. They belong to various denominations, but all of them agree on one thing: Drinking alcohol is a sin. As such, they pass laws banning not merely the sale of alcohol but its consumption as well.
Time passes, however. It always does. The community grows and expands and soon there's a significant number of non-conservative Christians among them.
These non-conservative Christians do not believe the consumption of alcohol -- in and of itself -- is a sin.
As citizens of the United States they exercise their right to freedom of speech to petition the government to change its laws and permit the sale of alcohol.
Now the issue breaks on purely freedom of religion grounds, one group asserting its right to declare alcohol a sin, the other to declare it is not.
The teetotalers fight to keep the old laws on the books. "Think about the children!" they say (they always do).
The drinkers agree they should think about the children and agree alcohol should not be sold or served to them.
But adults should be allowed to purchase and consume.
"But what about drunk driving?" the teetotalers say.
The drinkers agree driving under the influence is A Bad Idea since it imperils everyone equally, and as such support DUI laws.
"But we've never allowed the sale and consumption in our town before, " say the teetotalers.
There’s a first time for everything. Times change.
"Why don't you just move to a community where it’s sold, or just visit such a community, buy what you want there, and bring it back but keep it hidden.”
The drinkers don’t want to. Many of them were born in the community; they all live here now. Why should they give up basic rights and jump through hoops to buy and consume alcohol.
“But what about people who will become alcoholics?”
Those people will always be with us, unfortunately. Banning alcohol won’t prevent drunks from finding booze, but it may make it easier to ignore real alcohol problems and keep people who could be helped from getting help they need.
“But…but…but…it’s a sin!” say the teetotalers.
Then don’t drink alcohol.
Now we’re back where we started. Is that it? Have you got nothing else?
There is no secular reason to prevent people from legally buying and selling alcohol, the same way they legally buy and sell a million and one other products.
That leaves only the Bible…
…but the Bible is a word of authority only to those who believe it is. In the secular world, it’s just another book.
But say a Christian is looking for guidance on the topic of drinking alcohol (or any moral issue, for that matter)…
First off, there’s nothing in the Old Testament that applies to Gentiles or Christian Jews.
In Exodus 19: 3-6, in a run up to the issuing of the Decalogue…
And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
God is not issuing a command, God is negotiating with the children of Israel (i.e., the descendants of Jacob).* “If you will do X, I will do Y” which in this case was “If you will refrain from doing these 10 things, I will protect you; if you don’t refrain, I won’t protect you.”
That’s not a law.
That’s a deal, a bargain, a contract.
Moses is correctly identified as The Lawgiver because he’s the one who came up with all the picayune rules and regulations to force the Israelites to adhere to the terms of the contract.
It’s as if a landlord said to a homeless family, “I’ll let you stay here if you keep the front lawn mowed and the house cleaned” and the parents then assigned specific chores to their children, punishing those who refused to obey and help.
The landlord has no desire to whip any kid with a belt; the landlord may not even think whipping is a good idea.
But the family has the right to set discipline for its own members.
That doesn’t mean they can set discipline for the family across the street.
The Israelites were not the only followers of God in the Old Testament. Several of the tribes and personages they encountered along the way were monotheists worshiping the single great Creator.
But the Israelites were the ones called to special service, and promised extra protection and extra blessings if they would devote themselves to God.
…and immediately started looking for loopholes.
While God was working with the Israelites (soon to be whittled down to just the tribe of Judah), He wasn’t necessarily ignoring the rest of the world. Christ taught “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
We see in the writings of the great Greek philosophers intimations of their recognition of a higher, greater Creator above and beyond the numerous deities of folk religion. In China Lao Tze wrote of the Tao, which he understood to be the great force behind the universe.
Many, many peoples and cultures caught a glimpse, a hint of what we refer to today as God. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity:
If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole word is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest one, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic - there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.
The Old Testament is a collection of texts that provide the basis and the context for Christianity. These texts are profitable for instruction and inspiration…but they are not for us.
We Christians could live without any of the Old Testament, provided our faith is solidly locked in on the teachings of Christ.
Therein lies the paradox: Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant, but by fulfilling it, he did away with it: The contract was completed. We -- all those who believe in what Christ taught -- are to follow the new teaching: That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
We know that Christ followed all of the ten points in the Decalogue, the covenant between God and Israel.
We also know he violated many of Moses’ picayune petty laws on holiness, such as working on the Sabbath.
We know he refused to condemn a woman caught in adultery even though Moses' law required her death.
We also know God appeared to Peter in a vision and basically told him Moses' kosher laws were bollocks, which Peter rightly interpreted as “The Word ain’t for Jews alone”.
So what do we not find in the Decalogue? What matters were so trivial God didn’t think to include them in His basic deal with Israel?
No mention of proscribed food, or drink, or manner of dress.
No requirements for one gender to be held in greater esteem than the other.
No requirement to lord it over non-Israelites.
No proscription of pre-marital sexual relations.
No proscription of same sex relations.
No penalties or jurisdictions. (And why should there be? This is a voluntary relationship. Any Israelite who wanted to opt out and no longer be under God’s protection was free to do so.)
Human beings can get some mighty peculiar ideas in their heads about what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s morally good and what’s morally evil, what’s socially acceptable and what’s not.
God apparently doesn’t care about 99.99%+ of the stuff that gets our knickers in a twist.
There’s a lot of hate being spread out there in the name of Christ, who repudiated hate and stood for unconditional love.
None of the hate is Bible based. It can’t be. The Bible -- particularly the New Testament that does apply to us Christians -- proscribes hate.
If you hate someone, you need to make your peace with them before worshiping God. God’s first question to you is going to be, why are you hating your sibling, who is my child as well? Go back and make peace.
There’s still time.
* Who’s who among the Hebrews and Jews: Not all humans are Semites, not all Semites are Hebrews (descendants of Eber, who was a descendant of Noah & ancestor to Abraham), not all Hebrews are Israelites (descendants of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob), not all Israelites are Jews (i.e., from the tribe of Judah). When Moses led the 12 Tribes of Israel out of Egypt, he picked up a few relatives along the way who were adopted into the nation of Israel. Nonetheless, many of the nations and tribes the Israelites encountered were fellow Hebrews. Technically, even Arabs are Hebrews since they are descendants of Abraham.