I was more than a little reticent when I came to consider the cardinal virtue of temperance. Always keen to enjoy good quality wine to accompany Mrs Wiselmo’s gourmet culinary offerings, the very thought of espousing a more teetotal, virtuous lifestyle is depressing.
Wikipedia defines temperance as ‘moderation in action, thought, or feeling; restraint.’
Historically referring to moderation or abstention from the consumption of alcohol, temperance spawned very successful mass movements in the USA and Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The movement had its greatest success in the USA with the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919 which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. It was a disaster, leading to an upsurge of crime and violence as gangsters stepped in to provide the public with the alcohol denied to them by the government.
The total failure of Prohibition led to its repeal by the 21st Amendment in 1933 and thereafter the temperance movement declined rapidly.
Interestingly, the American temperance movement had its roots in the 1820 Christian revival which began in Rochester. This awakening transformed the USA in the 1820s, making it one of the most radical Christian nations on earth. The effects of the revival went beyond the spiritual, into the social and political, producing reform movements focussed on a variety of causes from temperance to the abolition of slavery.
The temperance movement in Britain originated from a variety of sources, including the churches. It reached its zenith in the early 20th century.
The First World War assisted the temperance cause. Through the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, pub opening hours were regulated, beer was watered down and was subject to a penny a pint extra tax. 1916 saw an extraordinary measure with the nationalisation of breweries and pubs in areas where armaments were manufactured.
Post- war however, things returned to normal and over time support for temperance declined.
A side effect of historic Christian enthusiasm for temperance is the contemporary residual image of Christians as opponents of alcohol consumption and their association of alcohol with all things evil.
Yet the Bible takes a different view. While the consumption of alcohol is not prohibited, believers are instructed to avoid drunkenness. Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything. The key here is ‘temperance’.....all things in moderation.
In the Gospels, it is recorded that Jesus changed water into wine and it even seems that he drank wine on occasion. If wine was good enough for Jesus it is certainly good enough for me. Let's all drink to that !