Why Don’t Baha’is Drink? – BahaiTeachings.org

“Why don’t Baha’is drink?” I asked my friend as I took another gulp of my beer. I felt really torn – at 16 years old, and already a heavy daily drinker, I was deeply attracted to the spiritual Baha’i teachings.

“Hmmm. Good question,” my friend said. “Let’s look it up.” He pulled one of the volumes from his shelf of Baha’i books, consulted the index, and read me this quote from Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith:

Beware lest ye exchange the Wine of God for your own wine, for it will stupefy your minds, and turn your faces away from the Countenance of God, the All-Glorious, the Peerless, the Inaccessible. Approach it not, for it hath been forbidden unto you by the behest of God, the Exalted, the Almighty.

RELATED: How the Baha’i Faith Helped Me Get Sober

As a teenager, I had never come across one of those words before – “stupefy.” We looked it up, and learned that it means “to produce stupor, bewilder, make groggy or insensible.” Bingo. Adolescent alcoholics know that feeling well. I certainly did. In fact, at that point in my life, I probably drank with the distinct purpose of stupefying myself, to avoid, deny, and forget my problems.

Hearing that passage from the Baha’i writings and trying to understand it marked the beginning of a dawning realization for me – that alcohol was not my friend, that it would not serve me well in the long term, and that it not only made me stupid but also had a stupefying impact on my soul.

More than a century ago, the Baha’i teachings advised all people to avoid the use of alcohol – not only for their spiritual health, but for the physical health, as well. In a letter to a California Baha’i who asked the same question I did, Abdu’l-Baha said:

Regarding the use of liquors: According to the texts of [Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book], both light and strong drinks are prohibited. The reason for this prohibition is that it leads the mind astray and is the cause of weakening the body. If alcohol were beneficial, it would have been brought into the world by the divine creation and not by the effort of man. Whatever is beneficial for man exists in creation. Now, it has been proved and is established medically and scientifically that liquors are harmful.

Of course, my friend told me, this was all a voluntary decision on my part. No one was forcing me to become a Baha’i, and only Baha’is need to follow the Baha’i principles and laws. But soon enough, I recognized the wisdom in those principles, and made the decision to stop drinking on my own, with help from friends and AA meetings. I became a Baha’i two years later. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, saving me from the hard, hard road so many others had taken.

Lately, I’ve realized that my decision wasn’t just a spiritual one – it was a scientific one as well.

Despite the overwhelming scientific and societal evidence of the physical harm alcohol produces, for decades everyone in Western societies heard a common, repetitive refrain: “A few drinks a day won’t hurt you – in fact, they’re good for your heart.” This claim, recent research has proven, is bunk.

We now know, scientifically, that even small amounts of alcohol harm your health – and Baha’is believe in the agreement of science and religion.

The World Health Organization’s current report, issued in January of 2023, concluded that “We cannot talk about a so-called safe level of alcohol use. It doesn’t matter how much you drink – the risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage.” That statement, from the W.H.O.’s Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges, focuses on the known cancer-causing effects of alcohol consumption, even in those defined as so-called “light” or “moderate” drinkers.

Unfortunately, the official government guides, at least in the United States, haven’t yet caught up with that knowledge. Still today, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend alcohol consumption “limits,” regarding more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women as “excessive.”

RELATED: A Spiritual Case for Embracing Sobriety

But here’s a brief survey of some of the latest evidence, reported by Dana G. Smith in a January, 2023 article in The New York Times:

  • Research published in November [2022] revealed that between 2015 and 2019, excessive alcohol use resulted in roughly 140,000 deaths per year in the United States. About 40 percent of those deaths had acute causes, like car crashes, poisonings and homicides. But the majority were caused by chronic conditions attributed to alcohol, such as liver disease, cancer and heart disease.
  • More recent research has found that even low levels of drinking slightly increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, and the risk goes up dramatically for people who drink excessively. The good news is that when people stop drinking or just cut back, their blood pressure goes down. Alcohol is also linked to an abnormal heart rhythm, known as atrial fibrillation, which raises the risk of blood clots and stroke.
  • … alcohol is also a potent carcinogen. According to research by the American Cancer Society, alcohol contributes to more than 75,000 cases of cancer per year and nearly 19,000 cancer deaths. … few people realize that alcohol is known to be a direct cause of seven different cancers: head and neck cancers (oral cavity, pharynx and larynx), esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

As The New York Times reports, this recent spate of clear medical evidence has led scientists to conclude that consuming any alcohol will harm your health by actually weakening your DNA’s ability to protect your individual cells from becoming cancerous – as Dr. Marissa Esser, who leads the alcohol program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed out:

When you drink alcohol, your body metabolizes it into acetaldehyde, a chemical that is toxic to cells. Acetaldehyde both “damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage,” Dr. Esser explained. “Once your DNA is damaged, then a cell can grow out of control and create a cancer tumor.”

Because our societies accept, normalize, and even encourage drinking, we may have lost sight of the fact that the ethanol in alcohol is a drug, a poison, and a central nervous system depressant. If you drink a little, it will harm you. If you drink a lot, it will kill you, either gradually or quickly.

The Baha’i teachings advise us, I’ve learned, to act in ways that will protect our bodies and our souls.

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