Monday, 6 February 2012

Britney, Booze and the Bible

The other week, in a rare moment of acting-like-a-musician, I went to a concert.
The first half was not great. The violins were weedy, the sackbuts were torpid - and no one likes a torpid sackbutt - and none of it was terribly inspiring. The squibs, in short, were damp.

The second half, on the other hand, was incredible. The music was clear and refreshing, the performances engaging and clean, the intonation dazzling - even the sackbuts raised their game.

What brought about this incredible transformation?  Did the orchestra receive the mother of all pep-talks at half time?  Did the theorbo player overhear me and my friend complaining and then run backstage to tell the assembled musicians to pull their socks up?  Had some beautiful enchantress cast a powerful spell upon the Queen Elizabeth Hall and all who lived there that would only be broken if the conductor could learn to love another, and earn her love in return, before the last down-beat fell, and during the interval, against all expectations, he fell in love with a beautiful French peasant girl whose ability to see through his grizzled, hairy exterior broke the spell and freed all the players from the musical bondage they had been labouring under for so many years?

No, on balance I think it was the two free glasses of wine I had during the interval. Turns out that early Baroque music is just better when you've had a few.

Well, this startling discovery set me to thinking, and, to cut a long story short, this is what we've ended up with: My Three-Part Guide To Booze In The Bible. (Yes, three parts. And it took some ruthless pruning to get down to three, so count yourselves lucky.) You might not be interested in what the Bible has to say about booze, but stick with it, because it involves a load of fun stuff, including incest, vomit, death, hilarious mix-ups, prostitution, and Britney Spears. (Okay, Britney's not actually in the Bible per se, but I love her, so she's staying.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not a Bible study. If you heard someone sing "I'm only living for the day you're home to stay, so it might as well rain until September", you could deduce that it's not September right now - and if you were trying to work out today's date, that might be useful. But it's not at all the point of the song. The same applies to the passages we're about to look at - alcohol features, but in most cases the main point of the passage is not to talk about booze. If this was a study, and not just a bit of a laugh and an excuse to show pictures of Britney, then we'd want to take care to establish exactly what point the passage is making. I say this because there are enough idiots out there mishandling the Bible and waving hate-filled placards at American soldiers' funerals as it is. Do the studying before you write the placards, okay?

Regular readers may be wondering what happened to the long-awaited final instalment of the Whitney Wisdom series. Don't worry, there's a plan. It's all going to come together. Like J K Rowling, I have the whole arc mapped out. Exciting, huh?

But for now let's press on with Part One: The Case Against. (Don't worry, Part Two will be the Case For, and, just so you know where I stand on this, I'm currently sipping a large glass of Creme de Cassis*.)

1) Drinking Too Much Can Lead To Unfortunate Nudity

(I was going to illustrate this with a photo of Britney clambering drunk
and commando out of a limo, but this is a family blog.)

We all know about Noah, of Noah's Ark fame. Big beard, flowing robes, good with animals, a penchant for surviving global environmental catastrophes through the propitious deployment of giant floating zoos... that guy. What they don't often go into at Sunday School is what happened immediately after the flood:
Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. (Genesis 9:20-21)
Yup, this is Noah, the godliest man on earth, getting drunk and splashing his bits around. There was no Facebook in those days, so Ham couldn't take a picture with his mobile and upload it for all the world to see, but he did the next-best thing and told the entire male population of the world. Which didn't go down too well with Noah when he finally woke up. Oops.

2) Drinking Too Much Can Lead To You Having Sex With People You Really Shouldn't Be Having Sex With

(I was going to illustrate this with a picture of Britney and K-Fed but that just seemed a
bit mean, and besides, you may need a cute photo to prepare you for what's coming.)

  Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
  The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. (Genesis 19:30-38)

Not much to say about that except "Ewwwwwww". If you are currently living in a cave with your two broody daughters, and there are no eligible guys around to take them off your hands, probably safest not to drink anything they offer you.

3) Drinking Too Much Can Lead To You Marrying The Wrong Person

(I was going to illustrate this with a picture of Britney and that random guy she married in the middle of the night after a massive party in Vegas, but it would be totally unfair because as we all know they weren't actually drunk, it was just a completely sober joke that got slightly out-of-hand, in a totally sober fashion, and which they sensibly anulled the following day when their non-hangovers cleared up.)

Here's a bit of good old Biblical romance for you. Meet Jacob, who will eventually be the father of the guy with the technicolour dream coat, but who is currently on the lam, hiding out at Uncle Laban's farm, after cheating his brother out of his birthright and blessing. (Cheating runs in the family, as you'll see.)

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. (Genesis 29:15-20)

Sweet, huh? Well, when the time comes, Laban throws them a big old marriage feast, which I think we can safely assume must have involved a reasonable amount of wine, because when Jacob wakes up the morning after, who do you think he finds himself married to...? Yup, you guessed it: "Behold, it was Leah!"

He's allowed to marry Rachel a week later, but he has to agree to work for another seven years in exchange. I think the word we are looking for here is "pwnd".

4) If You Are A Bad Dude, Drinking Too Much Is A Sure Sign That You Are About To Get Your Comeuppance

It's a bit like saying "I'll be right back" in a horror movie. It tends to sit in the middle of that pride-comes-before-a-fall formula. Selfish, stupid Nabal gets drunk to celebrate his verbal kicking of King David's butt, then dies of shock when he discovers how close he came to getting his entire family killed. (1 Samuel 25Elah, one of the Kings of Israel, gets slaughtered in the house of Arza, and then gets, er, slaughtered, by his servant Zimri. (1 Kings 16:8). Haman is enjoying a nice glass or two of wine with the King and Queen Esther when his death warrant is signed. (Esther 7) And this famous incident: 
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king's color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.
was brought on after a bout of boozing in which King Belshazzar insisted on drinking wine from the cups that his father had stolen from God's temple in Jerusalem. He's dead before the hangover hits. (Daniel 5)

If you are up to no good, my friends, don't throw yourself a massive drunken feast to celebrate how awesome you are.

5) Drinking Too Much Can Make You See Phantom Fifties Torch Singers

Okay, so the Bible doesn't actually specify that you will hallucinate Julie London in a giant frock singing Cry Me A River. But for something that was written centuries ago, it does provide an incredibly accurate depiction of drunkenness (trust me on this, I've been to music college).

Who has woe?
Who has sorrow?
Who has strife?
Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long over wine;
those who go to try mixed wine.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a serpent
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your heart utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.
“They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I must have another drink.” (Proverbs 23:29-35)

6) Drinking Too Much Can Stop You From Being Able To Do Your Job

(I was going to illustrate this with a video of Britney's disastrous come-back
at the MTV Video Music Awards, but that just seemed a bit cruel, so here's a picture
of her doing an excellent job as a stewardess / spy / whatever she is supposed to be.)

These also reel with wine
  and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
  they are swallowed by wine,
  they stagger with strong drink,
  they reel in vision,
  they stumble in giving judgment.
For all tables are full of filthy vomit, with no space left. (Isaiah 28:7-8)

This passage is prophecy, not narrative, which means the priests and prophets here might be real, or they might be a metaphor for something else. The wine likewise. But if it's a metaphor, it's one that only holds because drinking too much will make you better at staggering and reeling and vomiting than at doing what you are meant to be doing.

Incidentally, I've heard it said that wine in "Biblical times" was much weaker than wine now. Right. Because you get reeling, staggering and a table full of vomit from drinking Shloer.

7) Drinking Too Much Will Make You Vulnerable

I'm not saying she was drunk, but sober people don't normally
a) fall into open sewers and b) look so happy about it.

The other day, I saw a woman tottering alone towards a slippery flight of steps in forty-seven-inch heels on a dark rainy evening in a skirt that didn't allow for a great deal of freedom of movement, and with her sense of balance severely compromised by what I can only assume was the consumption of a huge quantity of Lambrusco, or Baby-sham, or vodka and coke, or whatever the smart crowd drink these days. This woman, amazingly, turned out to be a mind-reader, because no sooner had I thought "Wow, can she really walk down these stairs, that drunk, in those heels?" than she answered my question by plummeting ass-first down the whole flight, sending limbs, bags and dignity flying in all directions. We scooped her up, I used my encyclopaedic knowledge of human anatomy to check that there wasn't a gaping hole in her head from where she clonked it, and then we inexplicably sent her back up the same stairs to find herself a taxi. As I write this I'm starting to wonder whether we could perhaps have helped her a little more than we did. Anyway, the point is this:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21)

Paul, who wrote this, is not talking about the walk down the stairs to Bank tube station, he's talking about the Christian walk - basically a metaphor for life. But, like Bank, it's not a nice, straight, well-gritted, nicely-cushioned, safe path through a well-lit, upper-middle-class suburban neighbourhood. The days are evil, says Paul. There are open manholes. So keep a clear head. The job is too hard and the terrain is too dangerous to get away with having Captain Jack as your co-pilot.**

Well, there's a bunch more to say on this subject, but that'll do for now. Getting drunk can lead to embarrassing nudity, marrying the wrong person, terrifying inbreeding, tables full of vomit, foolish boasting, staggering, seeing odd things, making terrible mistakes and getting stabbed. I suspect this isn't exactly news to most of us - but maybe it is news to see how down-to-earth and realistic the Bible is about this stuff.

And, as I said, in the next post (unless I get sidetracked and end up devoting the whole thing to describing, in painstaking detail, just how grumpy I get around Valentine's Day***), we will look at the flip-side - so don't pour your Cava down the sink just yet, because the Bible has a lot to say in praise of alcohol. Hurrah.

See you next time.

PS: I really wanted to have a section called "Drinking Too Much Can Lead To You Shaving Your Head", but I've scoured the relevant passages and there is nothing about Delilah getting Samson drunk. So I guess I have absolutely no reason to include this picture:

Good night all. Don't have nightmares.

* Which I bought by accident a few months ago thinking it was cherry brandy.
** That's Jack Daniels, the whiskey, not Captain Jack from Torchwood, or Captain Jack Johnny Depp Sparrow. Though the same logic probably applies.
*** "Very" would be the one word summary.


  1. I was enjoying the preamble so much, I didn't want to get as far as the amble. Fortunately you didn't disappoint when you got there.

    1. I had to cut a lot of the preamble. It was seven chapters long in the original manuscript. I had to cut the amble a lot too, regrettably including another reference to drunken nudity, and also the most horrific description of what happens when you spend too long drinking and not enough time looking after your concubine - Judges 19. Not to mention the juicy stuff in Revelation 17 about the whore of Babylon getting drunk on the blood of the saints... Ah well.

  2. Fantastic, as usual - it took a large dose of effort not to laugh out loud sitting here in my Oak Hill study (would have been distracting to the other punters).

    And somehow I do not think that I had ever noticed the way that Ephesians 5:18 fits with the verses before (so, though it was not not a Bible study, it was still beneficial).