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The best way to drink: Carelessly

If you want to be a good Christian, you should drink carelessly.

“In so far as drinking is really a sin it is not because drinking is wild, but because drinking is tame; not in so far as it is anarchy, but in so far as it is slavery.

Probably the worst way to drink is to drink medicinally. Certainly the safest way to drink is to drink carelessly; that is, without caring much for anything, and especially not caring for the drink. In such things to be careless is to be sane: for neither drunkards nor Moslems can be careless about drink.” – G. K. Chesterton, Wine when it is Red.

Chesterton gets it right where both our culture-of-excess and the puritans go wrong. The former is a slave to drink, the latter is enslaved by their reaction to it.

Our temptation, then, is to instead engage in moderation. All things in moderation, they say. Yet most things that we are to be “moderate” in were not meant to be moderated. Not directly anyway.

It’s like the fool in love worrying about the looking foolish part. Or, upon hearing exciting news, moderating exactly how high you will jump. The very moderation of the thing spoils the heart of it. The mechanics of life begin to spoil the spirit of it.

The common wisdom to “drink responsibly” really reads like a prescription. Feeling stressed? Need to unwind? Take 4 beers, some water before bed and a Tylenol in the morning. Do not mix with liquor or operate heavy machinery.

This is the worst kind of drinking. An abuse of the drink. Not because it is too wild, but because it is too tame. Not because it is careless, but because it is too careful. Not because it is anarchy, but because it is slavery.

Some rules for drinking:

“The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules – a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.” – G. K. Chesterton

He also said “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.” But we should do so because we don’t need it and because we’re happy without it. And we should most certainly do so with good company and glad hearts.

The virtue of temperance is the key. But such virtue is not practiced in the excess of license, nor is it promoted in the restriction of a measured cup. It lives in the fulfillment of the legitimate desires of a healthy, disciplined soul set free to live as it should. Set free to live carelessly.

(Thanks to my friend Kevin for sharing this Chertertonian wisdom with me over a careless beer.)

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