Beer 101: Beer and Religion

06-23-2016, The BeerVibe Crew

Bacchanalia II, Beer 101: Beer and Religion, Beer History

It is not surprising that any substance that affects the human brain the way ethanol does, both in good and bad ways, would find mention in the world’s religions. Alcohol, whether it is in beer, wine, or some other concoction, has been both honored as a gift from the highest deity, and condemned as an instrument of Satan. For example, a poem determined to be about 3,900 years old, honors Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of brewing. The poem itself seems to be a recipe for making beer, to be memorized and passed down through the generations.

In Egypt, the sun god Re was credited with giving mankind life, sustenance, and beer. Re’s wife was Nut, and they had a daughter called Hathor, and their family life gets complicated and we won’t get into all the details here, but it winds up that along with beer, they had love, lust, joy, singing, and laughter. Does that sound familiar? In Rome, wine was big in the celebrations of the Cult of the wine god Bacchus, called Bacchanalia, (The Greek god Dionysus became the Roman god Bacchus), and getting drunk along with the attendant decadent behavior, apparently, was considered a good thing among his worshippers.

Devout Muslims avoid alcohol as an “intoxicant,” generally condemned in the Qur’an as creating an incentive to sin and a product promoted by Satan, but alcoholic beverages have infiltrated such Muslim countries as Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. There is even a brewery in the West Bank in the Palestinian Territory in Israel. While it is operated by Christians, most of its customers, it is reported, are Arabs.

A very common practice among ancient and indigenous peoples all over the world was to pour out libations to their favorite deity. The one offering the libation would ceremoniously pour out some of the drink, which was often wine or beer, and sometimes water, onto an altar or on the ground. Libations are still practiced by some people today. In our experience, however, those who spill their drinks usually do so after they have had too much to drink, not before.

And while the effects of alcohol generally work in opposition to the ideals of Buddhism and Hinduism, ethanol still finds its way in. Varied opinions on the subject are held by the people, so some Buddhists and Hindus can enjoy beer with a clean conscience, while others choose to abstain. Beer made from rice or millet has been brewed in India for thousands of years. That modern beers do make inroads into areas without a long beer tradition is illustrated in this: the Lhasa Brewing Company, in Buddhist Tibet, was established in 1988. They make a brew that suits the Chinese taste for beer. They also have fellow Tibetans for customers. The company also has the distinction of being the brewery with the highest elevation in the world, at 11,975 feet above sea level.

Between the two extremes of unabashed and unrestrained drunkenness, and the complete avoidance of alcohol, is where most of us belong; we can enjoy the drink without going overboard. For Jews and most in the religions of Christendom, alcohol is spoken of favorably at Psalms 104:15, as wine is a gift of God that ‘makes a man’s heart rejoice.’ But the Bible also cautions that wine is a ‘ridiculer,’ and drunkenness is equated with gluttony. (Proverbs 20:1, 23:20, 21). And, if anyone is wondering, Jesus drank wine, without getting drunk.

So, with this little bit of background into beer (alcohol) and religion done, we will next look more deeply into the subject, when the best beers were brewed in monasteries.


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