Why Baha’is Don’t Drink Alcohol – A Health Perspective

I was reading an interesting article on the BBC news website the other day and it talked about the detrimental health effects and the financial cost of alcohol related hospital admissions to the National Health Service in the UK.  I couldn’t believe it when I read that nearly £2 billion was spent on alcohol related in-patient hospital admissions in just one year.

As a medical doctor from the UK, a country that has an entrenched culture of drinking alcohol, (in moderation and to excess) I thought it would be interesting to write about the health implications of drinking alcohol.

Having been brought up as a Bahá’í I know that the Bahá’í teachings do not allow the consumption of substances such as alcohol which alter our judgement. In The Most Holy Book, Bahá’u’lláh states:

It is inadmissible that man, who hath been endowed with reason, should consume that which stealeth it away.

When I talk to friends about alcohol, the first response is “Yes, but I only drink wine with food, what’s wrong with that ?” Many would say that there is nothing wrong with that and in fact there are some health benefits to drinking one glass of wine per day, however there are also extensive amounts of study which point to the overwhelming medical and social harms caused by alcohol. The problem is that many people cannot drink in moderation. The religious laws that have been revealed to us which are meant to guide and protect us, refer to the whole human race- all of society, not just a minority of individuals who can drink in moderation. Unfortunately the social, economic and physical harms of alcohol are usually seen in populations of people who are unable to drink ‘just one glass of wine’ a day, and the Bahá’í Faith is not the only religion that teaches abstinence from alcohol, many of the writings from other religions also discuss this topic.

As a Bahá’í, I adhere to the law of abstinence from Alcohol and I don’t feel that I need to be convinced about the wisdom of this law, but as a doctor, I see the wide reaching effects of drinking alcohol on a daily basis – and not just physical, but psychological, emotional, social, and economic. There is an emerging body of evidence and health professionals who are accepting the negative effects of alcohol on health and on the individual , and are consequently actively questioning its place and discouraging is use in society. There are numerous writings and quotes on the subject, but one that refers specifically to the health issues is the following quote by Abdu’l-Bahá:

The drinking of wine is, according to the text of the Most Holy Book, forbidden; for it is the cause of chronic diseases, weakeneth the nerves, and consumeth the mind. (Advent of Divine Justice)

I regularly talk to patients about the harmful health effects of alcohol ,and I thought I would share just five of the many harmful effects that alcohol has on our health, in order to shed some light on this Bahá’í law from a medical perspective.

1. It’s a Toxin

The first point to make is that alcohol is a chemical and a toxin  to the human body. When alcohol is ingested it is absorbed into the blood stream and needs to be metabolized and converted to a safe compound that can be then converted to carbon dioxide and water. One of the main functions of the liver is to remove toxins from the blood. When excess alcohol is consumed, it can cause inflammation, cell death and fibrosis of liver cells. This can lead to hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver, which can in some cases be fatal.

2. Links to Cancer

According to Cancer Council Australia it is estimated that 5,070 cases of cancer (or 5% of all cancers) are attributable to long-term, chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia. Alcohol is known to be a risk factor for  mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel (in men) and breast (in women) cancers. There is a dose dependent relationship between amount of alcohol consumption and development of the cancers mentioned above, and for the first time the US Department of Health and Human services has listed alcohol as a known human carcinogen (substance directly involved in causing cancer).There are a number of mechanisms thought to be involved, including the effects of acetaldehyde (the breakdown product of alcohol) , and the induction of certain enzymes (cytochrome system ).

3. Heart Disease

Alcohol can raise triglyceride (trig) levels , as well as leading to high blood pressure (high trig  and high BP are risk factors for heart attack and stroke) and heart failure.There is increasing evidence to show that even moderate amounts of alcohol in young adults has a proatherogenic effect, ie it helps to contribute to the formation of atheroma (plaque) in the arteries which leads to heart attack and stroke)  Other conditions where alcohol is a causal risk factor include fetal alcohol syndrome, cardiomyopathy , arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.

4. Mental Health

Alcohol use can cause alcohol-related psychosis (delusions and hallucinations , paranoia etc) , and can also increase relapse frequency and severity in Schizophrenics. Alcohol can also lead to dementia, with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s Disease. Alcohol can also cause depression, and also leads to higher rates of suicide and poorer outcomes in patients with depression who use alcohol to try and cope with their symptoms. Alcohol can cause problems with sleep, and general functioning as it is a ‘depressant’ chemical – it slows processes down in the body- brain function being a primary example.

5. Brain Functions

Effects of alcohol on behaviors/brain functioning: Impaired judgment, extreme emotion, and slowed behavior, slowed processing of information, difficulty in learning new material, deficits in abstraction and problem solving, and reduced visuospatial abilities. We have all seen examples of this especially impaired judgement and loss of inhibitions !

As you can see regardless of one’s religious beliefs, strong arguments can be made for the benefits of abstaining from drinking alcohol on health grounds alone. I could go on and on -seizures, gout, anaemia, nerve damage,pancreatitis –  but I would rather hear about your  thoughts on drinking alcohol, so please feel free to share!

 

About the Author

When she isn't pretending to be Dr. Karl Kennedy (her hero) she enjoys chasing after the sun, cooking, eating and telling everyone she’s going to start being healthy by playing tennis. Roya loves to know what’s going on in all parts of the globe (to aid in her hobby of chasing the sun), so she's really excited to manage Baha'i Blog's Events Calendar.

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Discussion 55 Comments

  1. In your informative article you state that “in fact there are some health benefits to drinking one glass of wine per day.” While this has been noted in some studies, recent research concludes that even one glass may have inimical effects which outweigh health benefits. For example, in a report published in 2009 the French Cancer Institute stated that the consumption of alcoholic beverages is associated with an increase in risks of the following types of cancer: mouth, pharynx and larynx, oesophagus, colorectal, breast and liver. The risk of developing these types of cancer increase even at low levels of alcohol consumption, start at one glass per day.

    In response to the question: “Does red wine have a protective effect against cancer?” (p:47), the brochure answers: “No, quite on the contrary. No alcoholic beverage, including wine, has a protective effect against cancer (…). The crucial factor is the quantity of alcohol consumed. It is important to stress that, in terms of the prevention of cancers, the consumption of alcohol and notably wine, is not advised.” The Institute also stated that a single glass of wine a day will raise the chance of contracting cancer by up to 168 per cent. According to the Institute, the booklet (distributed to 70,000 French GPs) is based upon the conclusions of 500 studies carried out by acclaimed scientists worldwide.

    Of course, research is on going and the matter may not yet be deemed to be settled by the medical/scientific community. I have found research on these issues to be complicated by the fact that the sponsors of research can influenc the findings and also that there are numerous variables to be considered.

    Reports of the Institute’s findings can be found in Google.

    Finally, in addition to your medical perspective on this issue, I would like to state that there is massive peer reviewed evidence linking alcohol consumption to high positive correlations with billions of dollars annually in costs to businesses and economies globally, accidents, domestic violence and crimes of various kinds due to the disinhibiting effect of alcohol.

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thanks very much for your comprehensive comment! I agree with you re: the damaging effects of even one glass of wine- i was debating whether or not to make this comment (one glass being beneficial). I decided to include it as many people do believe it is (depending on which studies they have read!) and the point i wanted to make was that even if it is, there are still reasons why as a society we shouldn’t drink.
      Regarding the other wide reaching detrimental effects of alcohol i agree entirely, and that will be the subject of part two of this post ! :-)
      Thanks again for your comments and your support of Baha’i Blog !

  2. Liked the article. I am from my mother’s side of family and although she was the best mom in the world, she, her 5 brothers were major alocholics. My mom, my sister, a year older died at 50 of alcoholism. I drank a lot before I became a Baha’i, never thinking it could happen to me. Alcoholism is a disease, and I adored my mom and my sister. My twin took after my father’s genetic side, and I the other. I became a Baha’i very quickly, after 3 weeks, and I wondered about the drinking. A friend, not a Baha’i then, who had told me of the Faith, said, “Don’t worry about it honey. It will give you up.” But I had to make conscious decisions. I stopped drinking. A couple of slips in the midst of turmoil, but very little.

    I have a heightened sensitivity towards everything – the good, the bad, and the lima bean is safe from my consumption. But i feel this sensitivity in the form of addiction and yet far beyond addiction. I am grateful to be a Baha’i, but i am never judgmental of anyone with an addiction. I used to smoke 3 packs of cigarettes a day. Addiction travels. I think the Twelve Step programs help many,and I am grateful to have had such a wonderful mother.

  3. My comment below does not add to your succinct paragraph on the subject of mental health and alcohol, namely, that: “Alcohol use can cause alcohol-related psychosis…..and can also increase relapse frequency and severity in Schizophrenics……..Alcohol can cause problems with sleep, and general functioning…….brain function being a primary example.”

    But I would like to add some tangential comments on mental health in general, if moderators here will permit the extension of this week’s topic into the vast tract of mental health issues in contemporary society. You can view these comments on mental health at four sub-sections of my website—at this link: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/MENTAL_HEALTH.html

  4. I have witnessed what alcohol consumption does first hand especially during stressful times and vowed to never do so. I admit I have tried drinking every once in a while, but that lethargic feeling afterwards really freaked me out! I have a very weak tolerance for this type of consumption. I am very appreciative that I have found a community that shares this belief.

  5. Thank you for this article! I just wanted to add that I found a relevant journal article just the other day, showing that moderate drinking, as in even below the legal driving limit of many countries, was enough to decrease the number of new brain cells produced in the hippocampus, which is an area that deals with memory and spacial navigation. So even one glass a day with a meal, which most people would consider acceptable, can have a long term damaging effect on the brain.

    Here’s a link to a summary of the article. I think you’d need to pay or have university access to get the original paper.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024164759.htm

    1. Thanks for the comment and link to that article Shirin! Im sure more and more of these studies are going to surface- its another sign of the changing culture… Thanks for your continued support of Baha’i Blog !

  6. Thank you for the item on the dangers of alcohol. I lost my father to alcoholism and currently keep in touch with friends now seriously ill due to alcohol consumption. The suffering of these people makes me very sad when it could have been avoided.

  7. Thanks for your comments Avigale, hopefully as more people realise the damaging effects of alcohol future suffering will be avoided…
    Take care and thanks for your support of Baha’i Blog.

  8. ………nearly £2 billion was spent on alcohol related in-patient hospital admissions in just one year.And £50 billion income from the taxes for the government!!! hehehehe

  9. Hi,
    I totally agree that every new habit begins with mental shifts
    Casa Bella Recovery Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center is an addiction center that offers modern and effective drug and alcohol recovery through cutting edge techniques. If you want to know more about it then please Follow the link casabellarecovery.com

  10. Interestingly enough I just today received the american baha’i and there is an article about the use and sale of alcohol. The most concise quote was from Shoghi Effendi dated March 1957 that says “under no circumstancess should Baha’is drink. It is unambiouosly forbidden in the Tablets of Baha’u'llah that there is no excuse for them ever touching it in the form of a toast,or in a burning plum pudding;in fact in any way”

  11. In the late 1980s I had a class in Social Work on working with families of alcoholics and we had a guest speaker who told of some amazing research. A friend of his was a neurologist at Columbia University (in New York City) who found through auto paying brains of alcoholics that instead of metabolizing down to sugar & water, in an alcoholic it immediately broke down into the same substance as heroin thus creating an instant, intense and addicting high! I don’t remember any names but those results have always stayed with me as an excellent example of why we’re not to drink – you never know if you may be one to have such a reaction.

  12. Jesus drank wine. Jesus turned water into wine. Many great prophets drank wine.

    How about a drug that has withdrawal symptoms like lack of alertness, fatigued muscles, throbbing headache, difficult to concentrate… a drug that is chemically addictive and is listed as a mental disorder in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

    This drug actually changes the brain, blocking receptors for adenosine causing brain cells grow to more adenosine receptors, which is the brain’s attempt to maintain equilibrium in the face of a constant onslaught of this drug.

    In extreme cases withdrawl can cause dull muscle pains, nausea and other flu-like symptoms.

    I’m speaking here of caffeine … coffee!

    Anything can be addictive and potentially harmful if not used in moderation. There are many studies that show the benefits of small amounts of wine drinking.

    What I see here is a lack of consistency, a righteous lack of extending personal responsibility and an unyielding fundamentalism that is at worst, hypocritical.

    BTW….I’m an athlete who rarely drinks alcohol.

  13. Clarification: Caffeine withdrawl is listed as a MENTAL DISORDER in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

    Why do Baha’i's think caffeine is ok and alcohol in any amount is bad? There are a lot of things that influence behavior and judgement… including sugar, high carb intake, and a host of so-called ‘safe’ and commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. But most of all, one of the biggest influences on judgement is divisive religious fundamentalism – one of the driving factors of hate and violence in human society.

    Sure alcohol can be very harmful, but when used sparingly, moderately and responsibly, it can be safe and promote happiness for some. Unlike many of the so-called ‘safe’ and commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs that Baha’i's would have no hesitation to use, there is often no determination of the long term health risk of such drugs. On the other hand, alcohol has been used for thousands of years by humans and the risks and benefits are well known.

  14. Hi William,

    I just read this blog, somewhat late in the piece, I found your comments interesting and thought provoking (thank you for that), so I followed your link, read the article on the benefits of beer and linked to the cited Harvard study, here’s what it says at the end of the published article on the benefits of moderate drinking: (it’s actually titled “Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits”)

    18.2 million Americans meet standard criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. (19)
    Alcohol plays a role in one in three cases of violent crime. (20)
    More than 16,000 people die each year in automobile accidents in which alcohol is involved. (21)
    Alcohol abuse costs more than $185 billion dollars a year. (22)

    I live in a country (Australia) where almost all deaths on the road are related to Alcohol, and Alcohol related violence and domestic violence is a significant issue.

    I guess the problem is the availability of alcohol in our societies means many people don’t drink moderately leading to the above problems, don’t they outway the benefits to the few? Dare I quote Start Trek here?? :) I don’t think the same numerous detrimental societal impacts can be claimed for caffeine or the responsible use of pharmaceutical drugs. I do have to agree with you about fundamentalism though (great point), of any kind, be it religious, political, capitalist etc… all very bad. One has to wonder when the massive profits from Alcohol that flow to a minority and to our governments around the world far out-way the monetary costs, therefore there is no economic and political will to affect a beneficial change for people. Capitalist society’s don’t really value human happiness they value human consumption of goods, they are pro individual gratification and anti community.

    I think that if we had happier societies based on humanist values there would not be the “need” be it perceived or otherwise to seek a substance to consume that provides temporary “happiness”. True happiness is an elusive thing.

    I also come from a family who claim to be responsible moderate drinkers, but being the observer I always notice that at parties there’s always more than one moderate drink, peoples personalities are visibly altered and many times it’s not for the better. Sure this is an anecdotal story, I accept that, it’s just that I know a lot of friends who don’t drink and they are among those I would list as the happiest people I’ve met.

    One of the things about alcohol that I cannot personally forgive is that our colonialist societies brought this to indigenous societies when we colonized Australia, NZ etc, with devastating effects, look at the impact of the native American peoples also – to me this is unforgivable and seriously worth contemplation. Being originally Scottish, I know first hand the impacts alcohol has on an entire society who champions its use and abuse, and having lived for half a decade in a culture that does not drink to excess (in the Middle East) I noticed that people were on average happier, and there was significantly less person to person crime and feeling of safety for all members of society to enjoy public night life etc, not something I’ve experienced in the USA, UK or Australia, all the world capitals for drinking to excess.

    Sorry Mate, I hope this didn’t come across as an attack on your comments, rather I was inspired by what you said to share some other points of view which I hope constructive further this discussion.

    Cheers,

    Stu

    1. This statement by Stu is false: “I don’t think the same numerous detrimental societal impacts can be claimed for …. the responsible use of pharmaceutical drugs.”

      The CS Monitor reported last year: “Prescription drug abuse now more deadly than heroin, cocaine combined”

      About 6.1 million people abuse prescription pills, and overdose deaths have at least doubled in 29 states, where they now exceed vehicle-related deaths. In 10 of those states, rates tripled; in four of them, they quadrupled.

      Still believe that pharmaceutical prescribed drugs are better than natural substances like cannabis? Millions dead from pharmaceutical prescribed drugs. How many from cannabis? But cannabis is forbidden, and pharmaceutical prescribed drugs are just fine?

      Why do Bahai’s have this ignorance and think all drugs are ok that are bought over the counter or prescribed?

      America is a drug culture. Better to learn responsible use and education. Prohibition doesn’t provide for very good education.

  15. Hi William,

    Just one other point there are also numerous studies, one of which is from Harvard about the benefits of Caffeine and having a cup of coffee a day, so it’s not a black and white issue either.

    BTW I’m an athlete who abstains from caffeine, alcohol, cane sugar, animal products etc and I’m pretty happy :)

  16. Yes I agree that one glass of wine a day is not really that bad and it has some benefits, but think of it that all addictions starts with a little bit of consumption. Alcohol addictions affect most of people in who suffer S.A and depression and it can lead a lot of problems in future. There’s an effective way to cure this kind of substance abused, a rehab treatment is one of the way to help those people suffering it.

  17. bardia, …to say that Baha’i's don’t drink alcohol is not true. What is true is that the Manifestation of God has forbidden His followers from drinking alcohol, unless prescribed by a Dr. Baha’i's are human beings with all the faults and frailty’s that come with that title, so one may know a Baha’i who drinks alcohol which does not mean that Baha’i's drink alcohol, it only means that some do. The same can be said for any group of people. White people don’t or black people do or Native people do etc. In other words we cannot generalize about any group of people based upon the actions of a few as it is stereotyping and is unjust. The article might have been more constructive had it begun with why Baha’i’ are forbidden from drinking alcohol, rather than why Baha’is don’t.

    Thank you for your consideration

  18. Hops is a herb used in beer for flavoring. As a supplement it has potent medicinal properties. It is available as a liquid extract. It provides all the benefits without the alcohol. It tastes great when added in generous amounts to non-alcohol beer.

  19. First off, I love Guiness and red wine, but choose not to drink these as part of the spiritual disciplines necessary to cultivate a generic spiritual and specifically Baha’i world view which I regard as more valuable than transitory highs.

    Red wine can convey some benefits as a source of reseveratrol and polyphenols, but the mechanism of delivery has significant down-sides inasmuch as any amount of alcohol will kill brain cells and impair judgement, and is particularly harmful at all stages of foetal development. You can get the same benefits from grapes themselves as well as tomatoes.
    It is also important to understand something of the social history of alcohol:

    The earliest known evidence of brewing was in Babylon 3,500 years ago at a time when it was the largest urban community in the known world. That many people could not rely on wells or running water, and so cisterns were built and the harmful effects of bacteria mitigated by adding yeast and honey from which emerged a very light, but drinkable and relatively safe “ale”. The lightheadedness that accompanied this was enhanced by concentrating the process and the same idea was applied to fruit juice.

    Certainly in northern Europe, sharing alcoholic drinks was less a custom of simply getting drunk, as a means to demonstrate that the knowledge of brewing was known, and used to preserve a decent community water supply, and thus a community large enough to warrant such storage, so keep your distance.

    The Greeks and Romans notably ascribed the “madness” to the Gods and it was enfolded into an idea that if sufficiently detached from one’s willful conversation and action, a less restrained, more truthful opinion or action might result, and one might receive divine insight. Not for nothing do the manifestations of God use wine as a metaphor for divine inspiration, one devoid of the constraints of human interference, and capable of inducing unconstrained joy. Jesus turned the plain water of the un-edified soul into the wine of the devout believer, a metaphor well received at the time.

    You should not forget that while it is easy to assume someone gets drunk or takes drugs or whatever because of some incident in their past, for most people it is because it is fun to set aside one’s inhibitions and see what happens. Pity is that it kills off the brain and can have immediate consequences such as impaired driving, or “Dutch courage” (incidentally Dutch bargees were employed during the 17thC plague of London to carry off the dead bodies and dump them in the sea, for which they were fortified with strong drink that their judgement would not prevent them from carrying out their duties – hence the term) that can turn nasty when incipient frustrations rise, triggered by even the most innocent of remarks, and chaos and violence follows.

    I love that Baha’u'llah is sufficiently concerned for my health that He would wish me to avoid alcohol, and learn to become creative and unrestrained through conscious effort, rather than letting loose the wild animal within me.

  20. When people ask why I don’t drink I say it’s in solidarity with those who can’t drink in moderation, whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol, who would have avoided a great deal of pain if alcohol was not part of our society. I want to be able to meet with these people and say “I’m on your side”. This becomes a practice in compassion, a sacrifice for mankind. Since I live in a house where alcohol is being consumed I feel from day to day the strain of being an outsider, sometimes I even feel judged. So it is a sacrifice, but from sacrifice comes strength and integrity. In so many ways, other than just the health benefits I feel abstaining from alcohol pushes me to walk the spiritual path.

  21. It is so sad that in the face of so much evidence of the harm alcohol does, society continues the multifaceted and relentless pressure on individuals to drink it. Alcohol is presented as the drink for celebration, special events a sign of hospitality, a medicine, a bracer in hard times, a way to socialize a sign of sophistication,in fact for all occassions at all times, and those who dont drink are labled kill-joys.
    It breaks my heart the mixed message we send out about alcohol use that result in stunned looks when drinkers find out what damage they have done themselves while behaving “Normal”. As if we will be protected as long as we follow the accepted pattern of drinking. I see growing numbers of women counting glasses of wine and not units, suddenly finding their world falling apart. Being stopped at lunchtime by the police, found guilty of drink driving , loosing their licence , their job, their income their house. All from false ideas and harmful myths such as “Drinking responsibly”. When we look at the government guidelines on alcohol its obvious that recommended limits are far lower than most people drink. There is frankly no safe, healthy , legal limit that would allow the levels of drinking most people drink on “a night out”. Who sits with one glass all night?. One reporter bought a can of strong larger that had a “Safe drinking” label and phone number. He called it and asked “What should I do with the rest of the can ? ” The can contained more than the recommended daily limit. !! Mixed message ? I think so.

  22. It is interesting to hear alcohol consumers constantly citing the health benefits of wine as a justification for drinking it. If they were really concerned about health benefits, why are they not drinking grape juice instead which is a thousand times healthier and does not alter the mind? As the article points out, drinking in moderation does not exist. All those who consume it WILL drink in excess whenever a rough day comes their way. As a medical transcriptionist, I was astounded at the number of visits to the hospital that were secondary to drunkenness – people falling down concrete steps reslting in fractures or broken bones, etc. And comparing caffeine to alcohol is like comparing gently tapping yourself on the chest with a hammer versus bashing yourself over the head with it. Alcohol is HIGHLY poisonous and toxic. Why consume it in any amount?

  23. Articles often point to health problems or drunk driving as negatives of alcohol. But I believe that these are tangential.

    A much larger cost is the social costs for example:

    - men that work hard all week for a meager wage in a poor country drink away the earnings on the weekend
    - its relation to domestic violence and abuse.
    - the eroding and destructive effect is has on family relations

    While alcohol may be bad for you (like too much fat is probably bad for you), alcoholism is totally destructive not only to you but to your family and ultimately society. A good illustration of this is the book “Angela’s Ashes”.. but most of us can also find examples in our friends and families.

    I believe Baha’u'llah forbade alcohol consumption and drug consumption because He wanted humanity to be free from material addiction of all forms including money, luxuries, and transitory and obsessive entertainment. Drugs and alcohol create attachments to substances when Baha’u'llah only wants us to be attached to the love of God and to be free from the slavery of material attachment.

    How horrible that someone could become so attached to a drink to the point that family pays the price. Alcohol is not the only way to do this… but it is a common way.

  24. Incidentally, America sought to ban what was regarded as the pernicious effects of alcohol by prohibiting it in the 1930′s. The consequence was bootlegging and all manner of alternatives – notably methanol derived from wood and other cellulose distillation. There was such a dramatic spike in deaths as a result of poisoning by such that it lead to the development of the science of forensic investigation, and this in turn led to an overturning of prohibition because of the public health risks that resulted.

    “Observe My commandments for love of My Beauty” exhorts Baha’u'llah, which would seem to be the best approach to this by way of voluntary, willful and informed abstension even if we can’t understand why.

    We might usefully define a “spiritual” life as one lived on the understanding that one’s evety action has consequence and effect on people and circumstances about which we have no direct knowledge. Certainly Baha’u'llah broadens our understanding that our actions have consequence on the world, not just ourselves, or family, tribe, city or nation. Perhaps one element of the “Beauty” to which He refers is the comprehensive and integrative nature of our global civilization, and that following His advice and the laws or guidance He gives will be for the good of us all, whether Baha’is or not.

  25. I don’t feel like Baha’is push their beliefs about not drinking alcohol onto others at all. This is the first article I have read in years that even broached the topic and I found its tone to be non judgmental towards anybody that did decide to consume alcohol.

    My feeling is that there are many things in this world that are bad for us from a health perspective (coffee, alcohol, refined sugar) but that alcohol and other mind altering drugs have a particularly detrimental affect on collective society.

    Williams example of coffee was perfect. Coffee, like alcohol and also be very unhealthy (especially is not taken with moderation) but despite coffee’s legality and widespread availability I think it would be hard to argue that it brings about as many social ills as alcohol. Coffee doesn’t destroy relationships and break up families, coffee doesn’t result in car accidents and wreck less behavior that ruins people’s lives, and coffee doesn’t carry with it the huge emotional dependence that so many regular alcohol drinkers have… Even if they are not alcoholics. Sure… Coffee an result in dependence… But it’s not an dependence that inhibits who you actually are.

    My basic point is this. Although alcohol is prob unhealthy medically… It is really the social implications that it breeds that are of the greatest benefit to those who choose to abstain from it. Again… As a Bahai I make my own choices and do not wish to force my beliefs on another person… But it is clear that socially… Alcohol takes much more away from society than it contributes…

  26. From my life in Ghana, West Africa I have also come to understand alcohol as a social disease as well, for lack of a better term. In rural areas, men whose focus should be on their families and children end up bankrupting the home by spending money on alcohol. Money that could go towards school fees, clothing, books and transportation for the children. Women often have to sacrifice their roles as traditional mothers by getting jobs or starting businesses to supplement the household account, leaving children to be raised by other relatives. It’s like a ripple in a pond – the alcohol is unhealthy for the person drinking it, but the repercussions ripple out and disrupt the entire family.

  27. The damages are much greater than the benefits. People get killed by drunk drivers. Buildings are burnt because of drunk tenants. Families are destroyed by alcoholism. People lose their jobs when they have drinking problems ending on the street begging. I do not drink because if I drink I am contributing to its production which will abused by someone. When I see a drunken men on the streets I say to myself when will society care about the welfare of others. If you love humanity and do not want to see people in that condition it is better for you to sacrifice your drinking habit just for the sake of a healthy society.

  28. I am not a baha’i and I do drink wine occasionally. I am one of the few that drinks in moderation. My father is an alcoholic. My brother never drinks, and I only drink wine about 2 times a month (and not more than1 glass at a time). Oh, and I drink decaf coffee occasionally (no caffeine for me) and I do not smoke. My addiction is food. I love cooking it, sharing it with others, and eating it.

    I think that earlier civilization drank alcohol due to lack of other water resources for consumption. Wine keeps for a length of time. Water did not.

    Strange thing about religion telling followers not to drink, they allow smoking, coffee, and other things like multiple wives, killing others in the name of god, divorce, require you cover your head, and such. But don’t drink! seems like a control thing to me.

    There are all kinds of addictions that change behaviors. Not just alcohol. Anything in moderation can be okay. But many humans can’t really moderate themselves.

    1. Hello Ann,
      You leave a very interesting comment. I believe this article provides a great description of why Baha’is are prohibited to drink, and I don’t judge you for anything you said. I would just like to point out that having multiple wives or killing others in the name of God are not allowed in the Baha’i faith, and even in other religions those laws were not in their holy writings, but later accepted by new religious leaders. In the Baha’i faith, there is no requirement to cover your head, but you can choose to do so if you feel like it. (Hats can be cool :P) As for smoking, it is discouraged in the Baha’i faith due to its health detriments but not prohibited. As for coffee and caffeine, Stu provided a great explanation in a comment above. Because of the explanations for each of the laws in the Baha’i faith, I don’t believe that they are there for “control” purposes.
      Have a great one!
      Kira

  29. Really interesting comments. Great discussion.

    All things in the universe operate with laws. The laws of gravity, attraction and energy distribution and movement etc. Then there are biological laws. It is a physical law of all living things to eat, otherwise we die. Then we have social laws, for e.g., traffic laws. These allow us safety and many conveniences that we would not otherwise have enjoyed if this was lacking. if there were no lanes that separate the flow of traffic or no traffic lights, it would be very unpleasant. And having visited countries with loose traffic laws, believe me it is an amazing blessing. You may say but some people are able to drive very politely, they are considerate drivers and dont need red lights to tell them to stop and let others go. Clearly then, the laws are not meant for those people only right? Plus even with such great people around, the progress of traffic would still be very inconvenient and slow. Even something as unbridled as music is based on laws of harmony and tone and vibration. there is no taking away of our freedom or control in all of these instances that I mentioned. In fact, laws help us to create a greater sense of liberty and creativity within the security of the boundary. Many sweet melodies can be created by the utilisation of the laws of music for eg. So ok we need laws for everything, but interesting thing is, we make exemptions when it comes to the topic of spirituality and personal growth, to say that we do not need them and that we are intelligent/controlled enough to check ourselves.

    then with regards to quoting of laws from older religions. These laws were created for the time and place they were revealed. They made sense for that dispensation. For example not eating pork when the religion was revealed in the heat of the desert and at a time when no fridges existed made total sense right? Marrying more wives to give them a home and security in a time of war when their husbands was actually a kind act. Religion needs to be renewed always, to not only keep it in context but also to guard against its corruption, because lets face it, many people use these laws for power right? Perhaps citing laws that are out of context for today as a reason not to have any religious laws at all may be saying we shouldn’t have traffic laws for cars because making camel drivers pay tax is unfair. I guess the two don´t really have much to do with each other, would you say? Humanity is moving towards a wondrous level of advancement and nobility. And to be honest, alcohol just doesn’t fit that vision for me.

    The question is what does alcohol do for the moderate drinkers? it helps them loosen up, relaxes them after a stressful day, helps them lose inhibitions and gives them confidence to socialise etc. The new maturity we have attained is that of those capable to create authentic connections with people that doesn’t require courage from a bottle, and ways to cope with stress that don´t need a glass of wine. this law is not for something else to control us, it is to help us control ourselves and maintain our nobility and to be masters of ourselves instead of masters to the feeling alcohol gives us. When we have tasted the sweet wine of unity with others, we will find we can feel intoxicated with the joy of it.

  30. Charles Boyle in fact gives the correct answer to this question! For example, there is little or no evidence supporting the so called health benefits in the Biblical/Koranic prohibition on eating pork. On the other hand, social research showed that the prohibition era in the USA had some strong social benefits. Although there were always some who knew how and where to get alcohol, for the majority, a full pay packet went home at the end of the week, rather than to the bar.

  31. Some people may have defended coffee drinkers. Caffeine is a highly addictive substance, as we all know. And again, studies have shown different results: some researchers argue that one cup of coffee a day can benefit you – others disagree.
    Isn’t it very similar regarding a glass of wine a day? Both alcohol and caffeine can be damaging to health and can be addictive (according to studies) even in moderation.

    Secondly, while all of the comment above are relevant and very interesting, I can’t help but think: why would you not just decide for yourself especially if you have tried alcohol and enjoyed it? A glass of wine or a small beer would not in the slightest hinder your path to spirituality.

    And since Bahai claims to be the most modern, up-to-date religion ‘made’ to respond to demands of the human kind right here, right now… how is it possible that you are not allowed to drink alcohol but being gay in Bahai religion is still frowned upon? Is this not in any way fundamental, judgemental and goes against your core beliefs? While my Bahai friends have never shown any sign of discrimination towards gay people, it is still very alarming that a religion like Bahai, claiming to be the world religion, would not allow someone involved in a same-sex marriage to become a Bahai. If this is not discrimination, than what is?

    Would you rather be sober and feel good about yourselves instead of opening your eyes at issues such as discrimination coming from the Bahai community?

    I do not wish to offend any of you, however, I am genuinely curious and passionate regarding this matter.

    Looking forward to reading all of your replies.

    1. Hi Anna, thanks so much for your sincere comments.

      In my understanding, the issue relating to alcohol is not that it is addictive, (as anything and can become addictive, as addiction is not limited to a substance or physical intake) but the issue with alcohol is the fact that it can quite easily affect ones sense of reason and judgement. The Baha’i teachings prohibit this along with other ‘mind altering’ substances. For someone to have a glass of wine a day with their meal in some cases may not affect their sense of reason or judgement, but ultimately perhaps it comes down to sacrificing something one may want for the greater good. Furthermore, Baha’is strive to live their lives (as best as they can) according to the laws and teachings of Baha’u'llah and the interpretation and explanation of these laws by Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. So basically our benchmark or road map for life is not based on what the society around us ‘does’ or ‘does not’ do. We based our lives on the Baha’i Teachings.

      I don’t think Baha’is claim to be a ‘modern’ religion, but we often do say that it’s the ‘most recent’ religion in a series of divinely ordained religions, but ‘modern’ and ‘recent’ are two different things. ‘Modern’ is something which is based on the the social norms and trends of a society or group of people at any given time, and this can be extremely varied depending on where you are on an emotional, social, geographical, historical etc level. As soon as it becomes ‘modern’, it can become outdated the next day. This idea is also based on human ideas of what is ‘modern’ or relevant or ‘the norm’, but Baha’is do not base our lives on this, as we base our lives on the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, which we believe is divinely ordained.

      It is also important to understand that the Baha’i laws and teachings are not changed by any institutions or individuals.

      On the issue of Homosexuality, this is a topic which deserves its own discussion and should not be limited to this ‘commets’ section relating to a post about alcohol, so it’s something I’ll write about for Baha’i Blog. But I’ll just quickly say that your right about the act of homosexuality being forbidden in the Baha’i Faith, and you’re also right that we do not show prejudice to homosexuals, the same way we do not show prejudice towards those who drink alcohol.

      Thanks Anna!

  32. I read Anna’s comment and couldn’t help but agree, even though homosexuality is completely off-topic.

    Naysam, you seemed to spend a long time interpreting and re-interpreting the words ‘modern’ and ‘recent’, however, it does not change the fact that homophobia is a big problem in Baha’i Faith.

    I do understand that Bahai laws cannot be changed, however, at some point Baha’i Administrative Bodies will have to re-examine how Baha’i law is applied to gay Baha’is in committed relationships.

    There will have to be a campaign to educate Baha’is on the harm of homophobia because homophobia is a form of prejudice that has to be eliminated.

    I am also very much looking forward to your blog entry on homosexuality and the problems of homophobia in Baha’i Faith.

    Best regards,
    Nick

  33. I understand RESPECT is the best Religion and Law for Living in the World. Very interesting Article to read and learn. This is a world of Free Wheel and everybody needs to decide want to do with their own Live not harming anyone others has to respect it… I think that’s the Best Religion ever. And by the way I believe all monotheist religions teaches us the same just in different words and adapted to the times they came for…

  34. When we went on Baha’i Pilgrimage many years ago, Mr Furutan discussed with the pilgrims the topic of alcohol. He pulled out his notebook and gave us 30 references from the Bible , both Old and New Testaments, which condemned the use of alcohol. I have kept his list of refs for Christian folk who are interested in the Baha’i Faith They tend to come up with other refs which appear to state the opposite !

    1. Hi Richard, my father had a list of those references from the Bible as well and it’s something I’ve wanted to put together for a while now as I can’t find it. Is there a way you could email me that list? I would really appreciate it Richard! My email is: naysan@bahaiblog.net Thanks!

  35. This is a fine article, but I feel that any such reference to the negative effects of alcohol should never neglect the science of addiction and at least briefly reference the processes that are necessary to rid oneself of said addiction. As you may or may not know, quitting “cold turkey” is highly ineffective even though that is what many new Baha’is feel compelled they are to do. Ridding oneself of addiction takes a long process of pain and honesty from the addicted as well as the ability to surrender our will to a higher power. It also takes support from a supportive community that allows the afflicted person to be open and to grow spiritually as they work to divest themselves of their addiction. Unfortunately, for many of us (myself included), the Baha’i Faith does not currently provide that community. I believe this is due to a lack of awareness of the nature of addiction, a desire for the community to maintain an appearance of purity, and the misguided belief that we must panoptically monitor each others’ adherence to Baha’u'llah’s laws. It is important to remember that what Baha’u'llah has lain out for us is a path towards spirituality and not a fixed point on a continuum. In other words, the laws were created for us to become healthy, spiritual, and closer to our Beloved. The reasons for His prohibition of alcohol is clear, as this article states, but it is not a law that many can adhere to without serious commitment and even medical/psychological treatment. To imply that ridding oneself of addiction is simply a matter of never drinking or using again can have devastating psychological effects on the individual.

    As a Baha’i as well as a recovering addict/alcoholic, I find the statement “Baha’is don’t drink” particularly disturbing, offensive, and above all, dangerous. The fact of the matter is that even though the writings urge us to refrain from alcohol, there are many among our ranks who are still suffering from the debilitating effects of addiction, whether or not we are actively using/drinking at the time. However, as we loudly proclaim that “Baha’is don’t drink,” we create and perpetuate a stigma on the addict/alcoholic that tells the afflicted that they are unfit within the community. This is dangerous ground in that, in an effort to keep within the ranks, the addicted Baha’i must “act perfect” and keep their addiction in hiding. In other words, “Since Baha’is don’t drink or use drugs, I am a bad Baha’i, for I have and sometimes still want to”. So yes, we are not to drink or use drugs, but how do we deal with the alcoholic/addict Baha’i who still suffers? The answer, as illustrated by this article is “not very well”. Healing addiction, as Alcoholics Anonymous rightly asserts, takes a program of rigorous honesty. I can tell you firsthand that the only way out is to be absolutely open and honest about the addiction in order to deal with the multiple underlying causes of the addiction. Stigmatizing the addicted does not allow for this healing process to occur. Just being told that we are not to drink or use drugs is not enough for those of us who are addicted. Simply put, addiction does not work that way. It cannot simply be “willed away”. Some might take the path that I did, become a Baha’i and stop drinking. Unfortunately, the way addiction works is that just because one is not actively consuming does not mean that they are no longer addicted. They are what is known as a “dry drunk”. They are clean, but far from sober. The sad fact is that without dealing with the addiction itself, it is bound to reappear in an even more dangerous level. I was clean for 9 years but was still heavily addicted. As I did not deal with the underlying causes of my addiction, it was bound to return in a much more nefarious incarnation. Unfortunately, because “Baha’is don’t drink,” too many of us feel unable to come to our communities for support due to the stigma created and the crippling fear of the personal judgement to which we addicts and alcoholics are particularly sensitive. Some of us may be “dry drunk” and some of us are still drinking/using, just not during Feast or other Baha’i activities. We addicts and alcoholics are particularly prone to feelings of guilt and shame. To many of us, it is why we drink/use in the first place. The exclusionary attitude of “Baha’is don’t drink” creates a wall of shame and guilt that is insurmountable, for not only have we offended our communities, but we have offended God. For me, it has taken a great deal of prayer and personal reflection to come to the understanding that even though the community might blame and stigmatize me, the God that I believe in does not. I am sick but I am not bad.

    We Baha’is are promised that many more people will join our communities in the years to come. They will come from all walks of life. They will be from all kinds of cultures, economic backgrounds, and religions. We welcome that. Many, like me, will come bearing the heavy burden of addiction. Will we openly welcome them as well? As a Baha’i and a recovering alcoholic/addict, I will make it my personal mission to strive to remove the stigma and allow addicted Baha’is to be open about their affliction and heal through proper and effective measures rather than simply stopping their active consumption.

    1. Thank you for your open and honest feedback about this article Theo, and for sharing your personal experiences with us. I think it’s safe to say that many of us have some form of addiction in our lives regardless of whether we are Baha’i or not, and we’ll be posting about addiction on Baha’i Blog as well within the next couple of months.

      I’m also sorry to hear that you live/d in a community which was not very supportive of your journey with addiction. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience communities which were extremely loving and supportive of individuals struggling with addiction, but I’ve also experienced communities which are not quite there yet. A community, like an individual, also has to go through its own process of growth, and sadly this process often means individuals are tested along the way.

      In my personal experience over the last 10 years or so, I can honestly say that I’ve definitely seen a shift for the better in both individuals and communities towards a more outwardly-focused, compassionate and less judgemental approach to individual and community life. I think this is partly due to the core activities, but also in large part because individuals like yourself have persevered and made it ‘your mission’ as you say, to help communities understand the realities of things like addiction. I really like what you said:

      “We Baha’is are promised that many more people will join our communities in the years to come. They will come from all walks of life. They will be from all kinds of cultures, economic backgrounds, and religions. We welcome that. Many, like me, will come bearing the heavy burden of addiction. Will we openly welcome them as well?”

      I think this is something we can all think about and work on.

      Thanks again Theo!

  36. I just want to say how interesting and enlightening many of your comments are. I really appreciate a respectful blog where people reflect on others’ opinions while sharing their own. Now here are my two cents on this topic…

    As a scientist, the first thing we are trained in doing is to not just read the conclusions of a study, but also to really understand study design and methods of analysis. Many people see an article in a high impact journal and from a credible university, and automatically trust all its conclusions. This, however, is a fatal flaw. I understand many in the general population aren’t trained in the basic science, and hence have no base to allow them to properly read and critique a scientific article. I don’t believe anyone, from a religious perspective, can say alcohol is good or bad in moderation for humans. I say this with my genetics hat on because EVERYONE is different. Although we are all human…we have teeth, hair, a particular gender identity, we cannot be judged as uniform. Why? Simple, genetics! As a neuroscientist and pharmacologist, I see this first hand with contraindications for specific medications for people who are “poor metabolizers” or “super metabolizers” for a given drug. This is clear evidence that due to alternate levels of gene expression for particular liver enzymes or proteins involved in metabolism, different people respond in different ways to specific chemicals. That being said, nobody can tell anyone that moderate drinking, for example, will harm them. But also, we cannot say drinking wont harm someone. Get it? No one size fits all, which seems to be a constant expectation of people from scientific research. As we discover the complexity of the human genome (from person to person even), this becomes a mere fantasy.

    With this in mind I’d like to refer to some commenter’s reference to a study they found that mentioned that even moderate drinking can decrease hippocampal neurogenesis, leading to long-term development defects (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024164759.htm). I checked out the article first hand before having any sort of opinion. First thing I saw was that this study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Great journal! I view the literature in that journal with high regard. I then dived into the findings and the methods employed to do the study, and the first thing I noticed was that the study was done in Sprague-Dawley rats. For those of you who don’t know, this is ONE rat strain that is inbred, meaning all subject have a single uniform genetic background. What’s the issue here? ALTHOUGH a lot can be gleaned from rodent studies, you cannot 100% translate findings to human. As I mentioned to you before, different people respond to differently to specific chemicals in terms of metabolism. This study is similar to doing a study on ONE human…for anyone who is familiar with human studies (in particular epidemiologists) such would NEVER fly. Why? Because we are all different, which not only is from our environment, but also genetics. So my fellow bahais, be careful when telling people why they shouldn’t drink. I do agree that there are many people that should never take a drink, due to their predisposition to alcohol abuse. Also, remember to not judge others and to not hold your ideas as the holy grail. Such is one fundamental teaching, and one that I find MOST ignored by Bahais.

    Thank you!

    Neema

  37. Theo, I can understand your frustration with the statement but it seem so to me that it was intended to be a comment on what Baha’is are ideally not supposed to do. As Naysan has noted, we are all as individuals and communities struggling and striving in varying degrees of development and maturity. There are clearly communities in which individual Baha’is are still struggling to give up old habits such as drinking. For those who are addicts, members of the community may have no clue about the medical aspects of the addiction issue. These problems are like several others in the sense that only those who have suffered from them or professionals who treat these issues can truly know the full ramifications. In this regard, you can be of tremendous service to many Baha’i communities in helping to educate them to understand more about the problem of addiction. A medical professional would not advise that addicts quit cold turkey several different kinds of addictive substances unless this is done in a medical facility under professional supervision. As you may know, such an abrupt cessation can be fatal or very inimical to the health of the individual. So if you could prepare or circulate existing material and/or give talks on the subject it could be very beneficial indeed in helping to educate your own and other Baha’i communities. I have been fortunate to meet a couple Baha’is via Facebook who have been very actively involved in helping those with alcohol and other addictions in their communities. Re your excellent point about people from all walks of life, I would like to add that there are many people who become Baha’is who have suffered from various problems ranging from child abuse to racism as African Americans or Native American Indians. I have noticed that some of these individuals have been able to help Baha’i communities greatly in their work towards healing the wounds caused by these experiences because of their unique insights and perspectives. For example, the dialogue (http://www.manyhoops.com/main.html) initiated by Paul Bidwell (an American Indian) with Lea Gerlach has been wonderful. African American Bahais have also helped each other and their communities to make progress in healing some of the damage caused by racism. The Black Men’s gathering is one example: http://vimeo.com/74769779 Thanks so much for giving your very valuable input.

  38. Personally, I rarely drink and I see the dangers of alcohol on society when mixed with driving. But, I see quite a bit of hypocrisy regarding the Bahai’s ban on drugs. They would think nothing wrong with a myriad of psycho active drugs when prescribed by a physician / psychiatrist, as if these drugs are somehow “better” than say cannabis that has a history of thousands of years of use, and now legal in many states. Who knows what the long term affects of psychiatric drugs will be on the health of individuals and society. Bahai’s think nothing of using caffeine yet the National Inst of Health acknowledges caffeine can be physically addictive and overdoses can result in ‘confusion, dizziness and hallucinations.’ Yet to take small doses of herbs and elixirs with centuries old histories of use like cannabis and alcohol, are forbidden. These substances – again, in small doses – can help with a variety of physical ailments or simply create a feeling of well being, personally, socially, and even spiritually. But Bahai’s are too fundamentalist apparently to accept this yet will succumb to physician prescribed chemical addictions, caffeine, etc… Most are ignorant to the affects of such natural substances and assume all use must be debilitating, grossly mind altering and addicting. It’s narrow minded and hypocritical.

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