Religion and alcohol

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A monk samples wine

The world's religions have had differing relationships with alcohol. Many religions forbid alcoholic consumption or see it sinful or negative. Others have allocated a specific place for it, such as in the Christian practice of using wine during the Eucharist rite.

Research has been conducted by social scientists and epidemiologists to see if potential links exist between religiosity and alcoholism.[1][2]

Indian religions[edit]

In Hinduism, wine as medicine is documented in the ancient Indian healing system of Ayurveda. Arishthas and Asavas are fermented juices, and herbs. Ayurveda, the oldest documented system of medicine, does not recommend wine for everyone. Wine is a potent healer for specific health conditions, on the other hand drinking wine without getting a pulse diagnosis done by an Ayurvedic doctor, may work the other way around. For instance, wine is recommended in specified quantity for Kapha body types.[3]

Jainism is strictly against alcohol. Jainism, which preaches nonviolence and vegetarianism, does not allow alcoholic beverages because their fermentation depends on microorganisms which makes the alcohol non-vegetarian.

Buddhists typically avoid consuming alcohol (surāmerayamajja, referring to types of intoxicating fermented beverages), as it violates the 5th of the Five Precepts, the basic Buddhist code of ethics and can disrupt mindfulness and impeded one's progress in the Noble Eightfold Path.[4]

An initiated Sikh cannot use intoxicants, of which alcohol is one.[5]


Alcoholic consumption is not prohibited by the Jewish faith and appears within biblical text in several instances. For example:

In Gen. 9:20-27, Noah becomes intoxicated from his wine and lies unclothed in his tent where his youngest son discovers him while Noah is asleep.[6]

Deuteronomy prescribes 'spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.'[7]

In Psalms 104:15, it is written that wine "gladdens human hearts".[8]

Excessive consumption and drunkenness, however, is discouraged yet is still not considered a condemnable action. Leviticus 10:9 reads: "A Kohen [priest] must not enter the Temple intoxicated."[9] According to the thirteenth century Orchot Chaim, as quoted in Beit Yosef "there is no greater sin than drunkenness" and it is "the cause of many sins".[10]

Consuming alcohol to carry out religious duty (such as sanctifying the Sabbath with wine) is prescribed and regularly practiced within Judaism.[11]

Anecdotal evidence supports that Jewish communities, on the whole, view alcoholic consumption more negatively in comparison to Protestant Christian groups. The small sample of Jewish individuals viewed alcohol as destructive while a sample of Protestants referred to it as "relaxing".[12] The proliferation of "kiddush clubs" in some synagogues, and an institutional backlash to the proliferation, however, may provide an indication of growing awareness of alcohol abuse issues in Jewish communities. A number of specifically Jewish non-profit addiction rehabilitation and education programs, such as the Chabad Residential Treatment Center in Los Angeles[13] and Retorno in Israel,[14] provide treatment for alcoholism (and other substance) abuse within a specifically Jewish framework for recovery. The non-profit Jewish institutions are supplemented by for-profit rehab centers with a Jewish focus.

Interestingly, the view of the Nazriite (one who refrains from wine, among other restrictions) in rabbinic literature is mixed. While one motivation for becoming a Nazirite may be a reaction to "risky behaviors" associated with alcohol abuse (Tractate Sotah, BT 2a), the term of the vow of the Nazirite is ordinarily a fixed term with wine again permitted at the end of the term.


Alcoholic beverages appear in the Bible, though drunkenness is condemned (by the stories of Noah and Lot).

In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Eucharistic wine becomes the blood of Jesus Christ through transubstantiation.[15] In Lutheran theology the essence of the wine is the blood of Christ, but the substance remains wine.[16] In other Protestant denominations, the wine is a symbol of the blood of Christ. Monastic communities like Trappists have brewed beer and made wine.

Some Christians, including Pentecostals, Baptists and Methodists, today believe one ought to abstain from alcohol[citation needed]. Alcohol consumption is prohibited by Mormonism's "Word of Wisdom". Temperance and prohibitionist movements have often had religious elements: the movement which led to prohibition in the United States was started by Methodists and other Christian movements (see, for instance, Woman's Christian Temperance Union).


There is a consensus among theologians that the word khamr, meaning "intoxicants", refers to alcohol and all similar kind of beverages causing drunkenness, and that alcohol consumption is prohibited by Islam because it weakens the conscience of the believer. However, this has not prevented inhabitants of Muslim majority countries from producing alcoholic beverages such as rakı in Turkey, boukha in Tunisia or wine in Morocco and Algeria.

In the Qur'an, intoxicants, i.e. all kinds of alcoholic drinks, are variably referenced as incentives from Satan, as well as a cautionary note against their adverse effect on human attitude in several verses:

O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone altars [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.

— Surat 5:90

Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?

— Surat 5:91

Another verse acknowledges the small benefit of wine but notes that its harm is much bigger.

They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit." And they ask you what they should spend. Say, "The excess [beyond needs]. Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.

— Surat 2:219

And from the fruits of the palm trees and grapevines you take intoxicant and good provision. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who reason.

— Surat 16:67

The Quran states that one of the delights of Paradise for the righteous is wine which does not intoxicate as a promise by God.

Is the description of Paradise, which the righteous are promised, wherein are rivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of purified honey, in which they will have from all [kinds of] fruits and forgiveness from their Lord, like [that of] those who abide eternally in the Fire and are given to drink scalding water that will sever their intestines?

— Surat 47:15

During the time of Muhammad[edit]

At the beginning of Islam, even during the first battles, Muslims possibly drank alcohol.[17] The prohibition of alcohol came many years after Muhammad had started his mission.

This is documented in the Hadiths (the sayings and traditions of Muhammad). Jābir ibn Abd Allah (جابِر بن عَبْد الله) narrated: "Some people drank alcoholic beverages in the morning [of the day] of the ’Uhud battle and on the same day they were killed as martyrs, and that was before wine was prohibited."[18]Anas ibn Mālik (أَنَس بن مالِك) narrated that the people said: "...some people [Muslims] were killed [in the Battle of ’Uhud] while wine was in their stomachs.' [...] So Allah revealed: 'There is not upon those who believe and do righteousness [any] blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and believe and do righteous deeds...'"[19] [sura 5:93[20]]

Some scholars and writers, for example Gerald Drissner, suggested that the fact that the Muslims were sober (and their enemies possibly drunk) lead to an advantage in battles.[21] This could have been the reason why the Muslims - although most of the time outnumbered - were advancing so quickly and defeated the enemy (Meccans) relatively easy.[21]

Other religions[edit]

Bacchus pours wine from a cup for a panther, while Silenus plays the lyre, circa 30 BC.

In Ancient Egyptian religion, beer and wine were drunk and offered to the gods in rituals and festivals. Beer and wine were also stored with the mummified dead in Egyptian burials.[22] Other ancient religious practices like Chinese ancestor worship, Sumerian and Babylonian religion used alcohol as offerings to gods and to the deceased. The Mesopotamian cultures had various wine gods and a Chinese imperial edict (c. 1,116 B.C.) states that drinking alcohol in moderation is prescribed by Heaven.[22]

In the ancient mediterranean world, the Cult of Dionysus and the Orphic mysteries used wine as part of their religious practices. During Dionysian festivals and rituals, wine was drunk as way to reach ecstatic states along with music and dance. Intoxication from alcohol was seen as a state of possession by spirit of the God of Wine Dionysus. Religious drinking festivals called Bacchanalia were popular in Italy and associated with the gods Bacchus and Liber. These Dionysian rites were frequently outlawed by the Roman Senate.

In the Norse religion the drinking of ales and meads was important in several seasonal religious festivals such as Yule and Midsummer as well as more common festivities like wakes, christenings and ritual sacrifices called Blóts. Neopagan and Wiccan religions also allow for the use of alcohol for ritual purposes as well as for recreation.[23]

Sake is often consumed as part of Shinto purification rituals. Sakes served to gods as offerings prior to drinking are called Omiki or Miki (お神酒, 神酒). People drink Omiki with gods to communicate with them and to solicit rich harvests the following year.

In the Voodoo faith of Haiti, alcoholic drinks such as rum are consumed to be able to allow spirits called "lwa" to enter one's body and help them find the motivation for or strength to survive everyday struggles or life.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Francis, L. J.; Fearn, M.; Lewis, C. A. (2005). "The Impact of Personality and Religion on Attitudes toward Alcohol among 16-18 year olds in Northern Ireland". Journal of Religion and Health. 44 (3): 267–289. JSTOR 27512870. doi:10.1007/s10943-005-5464-z. 
  2. ^ Ford, J.; Kadushin, C. (2002). "Between Sacral Belief and Moral Community: A Multidimensional Approach to the Relationship between Religion and Alcohol among Whites and Blacks". Sociological Forum. 17 (2): 255–279. JSTOR 3070326. doi:10.1023/A:1016089229972. 
  3. ^ Sharma, Anisha. "Draksharishta (Grape Wine) and other Ayurvedic Wines used Originally as Medicine", The Chakra News, India, 10 October 2011.
  4. ^ "Access to Insight: the Panca Sila (with Pali)". Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  5. ^ Sukhmandir Khalsa. "List of 11 Sikhism Dos and Don'ts". Religion & Spirituality. 
  6. ^ Genesis 9:20
  7. ^ Deuteronomy 14:26
  8. ^ Psalms 104:15
  9. ^ Leviticus 10:9
  10. ^ Orach Chaim:695 (Beit Yosef)
  11. ^ Loewenthal, Kate (2014). "Addiction: Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Judaism". Religions. 5 (4): 973. doi:10.3390/rel5040972. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Loewenthal, Kate (2014). "Addiction: Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Judaism". Religions. 5 (4): 977–978. doi:10.3390/rel5040972. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  13. ^ Center, Chabad Residential Treatment. "Chabad Residential Treatment Center -". Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  14. ^ "Retorno - Rehabilitation and Empowerment". Retorno. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  15. ^ Gately, Iain (2008). Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. New York: Gotham. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-592-40464-3. 
  16. ^ An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, (LCMS), question 291)
  17. ^ Drissner, Gerald (2016). Islam for Nerds. Berlin, Germany: createspace. p. 98. ISBN 978-1530860180. 
  18. ^ "Hadith - Sahih al-Bukhari 4618". Retrieved 2016-11-18. 
  19. ^ "Hadith - Sahih al-Bukhari 4620". Retrieved 2016-11-18. 
  20. ^ "Surah Al-Ma'idah [5:93]". Surah Al-Ma'idah [5:93]. Retrieved 2016-11-18. 
  21. ^ a b Drissner, Gerald (2016). Islam for Nerds. Berlin, Germany: createspace. p. 99. ISBN 978-1530860180. 
  22. ^ a b Hanson, David J. History of Alcohol and Drinking around the World,
  23. ^ Patti Wigington. "Drug and Alcohol Use: A Pagan Perspective". Religion & Spirituality.