Poisoning America

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A disturbing trend has been observed in the United States in recent years – the lowering of the average life expectancy.  With no major war, continual improvement in medical technology, decreasing popular acceptance of cigarette smoking, the use of seatbelts and air bags in automobiles, how can life expectancy be declining?

An article in The Washington Examiner suggests that a dramatic increase in deaths related to “misuse of alcohol” may be a contributing factor.  Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 1999 to 2017 alcohol related deaths increased nearly 46 percent.  These are death caused by alcohol poisoning, alcohol related liver disease, cirrhosis, etc.  The number does not reflect deaths from accidents people have while under the influence of alcohol such as traffic fatalities, drownings, or deaths by fall.  Add to this statistic the sky rocketing number of deaths connected to opioid overdoses, and it is fair to say that increasingly Americans are poisoning themselves to death.

Nearly a century ago, in 1920, the 14th amendment to the constitution was ratified making the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquor illegal in the United States.  Have you ever wondered how such an amendment could become law?  Based on today’s cultural attitude to toward alcohol, it seems utterly fantastic.  The 14th amendment did not pass in the dark of night, or as the result of some political chicanery by one particular party.  It came about as a result of a popular movement.  What became known as Prohibition happened largely because of religious revival.

Recently I completed the biography of 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody by his son, William.  Moody viewed the growing temperance movement as a positive thing, and saw it as a direct effect of evangelism.  Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in their increasing zeal for holy living, Christians pledged to “get on the water wagon.”  And seeing the ruin liquor consumption brought to individuals, families, and society in general, they worked to restrict the sale and consumption of beverage alcohol.  The eventual result reached beyond local communities to the federal level.  As much as increased church attendance, rescue missions, and Bible institutes, Prohibition was an outgrowth of revival.

Of course, just as revival does not last, neither did Prohibition.  The high unemployment rate brought on by the Great Depression, media attention to violent organized crime, the difficulty of enforcement, and unwillingness by a large part of the American population to live by Christian convictions all led to the 21st amendment repealing Prohibition in 1933.  (It is worth noting that repeal did little to increase employment. Nor did it diminish the crime rate.  On the contrary, the crime rate increased after repeal.)

Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said, “I consider alcohol the elephant in the room when it comes to drug abuse issues that have been surfacing.”  I would suggest a more imposing problem exists.  Just as temperance was an outgrowth of revival, the increased popularity and legalization of all sorts of intoxicants is also the result of religious influence – but religious influence of a different kind.  Rather than striving to be salt and light in a decadent and dark world, too many Christians today seem focused on self-indulgence and license.  The moral distinction between professing Christians and unbelievers is evaporating even as the overall morality of American culture declines.  The result is diminishing influence for Christ which only encourages society to go its own way.  The elephant in the room related to the growing drug abuse problem in America is not so much alcohol, but the lack of positive effect by Christians on individuals and society.  There are few things more poisonous than a poor Christian testimony.