|UCH HAS BEEN said of late about the Mel Gibson saga, but little has been mentioned about the way the event pertained to beverage alcohol.|
James B. Butler, executive director for the California Council on Alcohol Problems, has said: "Mel Gibson was arrested for drunk driving, and during the arrests made a number of anti-Semitic remarks. It now appears that his Hollywood career may be in jeopardy -- not because he was drunk, not because he was driving and putting people's lives at risk, but because of his remarks. Interestingly enough, alcohol is not identified as a significant contributing factor ...."
Years ago, the famous evangelist Billy Sunday described the destructive nature of alcoholic beverages when he said:
"If all the combined forces of hell should assemble in conclave and with them all the men on earth who hate and despise God, purity and virtue -- if all the scum of the earth could mingle with the denizens of hell to try to think of the deadliest institution to home, church, and state, I tell you, the combined forces of hell could not conceive of or bring into being an institution that could touch the hem of the garment of the tavern to damn the home, mankind, womanhood, business, and everything good on earth."
Although Sunday's words would likely be dismissed by most today as the misguided remarks of a prohibitionist, they still prove true time and again. Approximately 18 million Americans have an alcohol problem. Half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or drinking problems. Nearly half of all traffic fatalities are alcohol-related. Alcohol is responsible for one quarter of all emergency room visits, one third of all suicides, and more than half of all homicides and acts of domestic violence. It significantly contributes to the top three causes of death: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. As a producer of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, it's a leading cause of mental retardation. Moreover, the overall economic impact of alcohol abuse in America amounts to approximately $184.6 billion, which breaks down to nearly $638 for every man woman and child in the nation.
John Freeman in his book Shadow Over America notes the influence of alcohol on history:
"Who can know how far alcoholic beverages have gone in undermining government and in changing the balance of power among the nations of the world? Every nation since earliest historical records has grown great while its population was primarily rural, hence had neither time nor money with which to pay the costs involved in drinking alcoholic beverages. As Greece decayed and finally collapsed because an urbanized population who had been demoralized by venial priests who exalted wine above all else in their worship and feasting, even so did Rome slowly degenerate. The glories of the Republic, the Conquests by Caesar, the far-spread empire with its vast system of roads, the great schools, libraries, theatres and colossal athletic events -- these were gradually caught in the mesh of wine. Instead of statesman, puppets of a wicked king like Nero arose, and finally the invaders from the North caught them with no suitable defense or defenders. Out of the scattered wreckage of the Holy Roman Empire arose the feudal states of the medieval ages which now constitute the pawns in the modern military and economic games of the great, and whose citizens continue to enslave themselves by strong drink."Interestingly, the first mention of alcohol in the Bible was a negative incident that affected events on the world stage. Noah became drunk, which resulted in an occasion for his son Ham's sin (Gen. 9:20-25). No doubt Ham committed a much worse crime than simply looking on his father's nakedness, but whatever happened set in motion events leading to the curse of Canaan, Ham's descendants. One also shivers at the thought of what Mel Gibson's drunken tirade of anti-Semitic remarks could have resulted in at a time when matters are so precarious for the Middle East.
A fallacy often leveled at any effort to control the sale of alcohol is that prohibition was a total failure. Yet the best of research reveals just the opposite. In fact, William J. Bennett, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under former President George H.W. Bush, has written:
"One of the clear lessons of prohibition is that when we had laws against alcohol there was less consumption, less alcohol-related disease, fewer drunken brawls, and a lot less drunkenness. Contrary to myth, there is no evidence that prohibition caused any big increases in crime .... The real facts are these: As a result of prohibition, 180,000 saloons were shut down, and 1,800 breweries went out of business. In ten years of prohibition, the death rate due to alcohol decreased 42%, the death rate due to cirrhosis of the liver decreased by 70%, crime decreased by 54%, and insanity decreased by 66%."There's a story of a woman who stood near the magistrate who was hearing a case against her husband. Somehow her sad look and disposition touched the heart of the judge, and he said to her, "Ma'am, I'm so very sorry, but I have no choice except to lock up your husband." Replied the woman: "Your honor, wouldn't it be better for me and the children if you locked up the local bars and let my husband go to work?"
It's hard to understand America's love affair with this product, which Jack Van Impe once called, "The Beloved Enemy." Recently, I visited a local drug store where a sign on one of the shelves read: "As a leader in efforts to control methamphetamine abuse, we restrict the sale and placement of all products containing pseudoephedrine." Yet alcohol is America's number-one drug problem and little is done by business or government to stringently restrict the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Only last week, Dell recalled thousands of defective computer batteries that could burst into flames when used in their computers. Yet 40% of all fire deaths in this country are alcohol-related -- and there's no recall on beer, wine or liquor.
Mel Gibson's alcohol problem is simply a reflection of a much deeper national issue. As evident in this case, America's focus is blurred by its love for booze, choosing to practically disregard Gibson's drinking problem while at the same time spotlighting his regrettable anti-Semitic remarks. Generally speaking, the nation fails to recognize the nature of this extremely socially sensitive product. Should a plague of sorts be inflicted by some other country or terrorist cell such as is seen daily from alcohol, the U.S. would likely rise up in a declaration of war against that power. Nevertheless, Americans are content to embrace this "legal product," enjoying the buzz of a drunken stupor and the temporary break from reality it provides, all the while ignoring its harm to others and one's own impending hangover.
But don't expect the Mel Gibson situation to spur any serious discussions on this issue anytime soon. The national conscience is too drunk right now to talk about it.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
More columns by Rev. Mark Creech