Alcoholism” is a rather recent word in our vocabulary and expresses a condition which many persons develop when they persist in drinking liquor.

In the past these people have commonly been called drunkards: the extreme symptom of their condition has been known as delirium tremens, or, colloquially, “snakes-in-the-boots.”

With the increased use and disastrous effects of alcohol as a beverage in our day, various groups, including the distillers themselves, have been setting about to study the problem. Best-known and most influential of these groups is the Yale Summer School of Alcoholic Studies where the approach is purely scientific and objective, while the moral aspect appears to be entirely ignored. The “searchers,” however, having traced the effect of alcohol upon the human body, have produced some very striking films which reveal these effects. Also, they have sought to study and chart the psychology of alcoholics, and have produced some exceedingly interesting, and perhaps quite accurate, behavior patterns of the alcoholic.


It is reported that in the United States there are 5 million “alcoholics,” including all those in the various stages of alcoholism, and 20 per cent of these are women. It is also reported that among the 65 million alcoholic beverage users in the United States, there are drinkers crossing over the line into alcoholism in such numbers that before long there will be an alcoholic on the average to every family.

Alcoholics in the United States now number six times as many as there are cases of cancer, 11 times as many as there are active cases of tuberculosis, and 155 times as many as there were polio cases in the nation last year.

Is it any wonder, in the light of these statistics, that there should spring up all over the country efforts at various levels to do something about the situation? Seminars and workshops on alcoholism are being conducted on local and county levels and supervised usually by recently-organized state clinics and hospitals. Representatives of various organizations are seeking to be heard at meetings of service organizations and other available groups.

Hospitals owned and operated by religious groups are developing departments devoted to alcoholism.

Such an awakening is long overdue. It is much later than we think in regard to combating an enemy that is right within our own nation. The threat of alcoholism is more dangerous and deadly than any danger from the outside.

But what has the church been doing? The church should never have ceased its vigil and crusade against the subtle enemy of alcoholic drinking in American life. Yet practically nothing has been done by the church either to solve the liquor problem or to keep even a proper perspective and correct label upon alcoholism as such.

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The Protestant church has failed to make itself clear on the fact that the use of alcoholic beverages is a moral problem. Roman Catholicism has almost totally ignored the moral issue involved. Temperance organizations have arisen as, for example, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and dry forces which continue to be largely of nonpolitical character. But because alcohol for beverage use is licensed by the state, and the church has projected no solution to the issue, the people of America now find themselves confronted by a problem which they cannot adequately handle politically or religiously.


Largely to the credit of alcoholics themselves, there quietly arose in 1935, with no publicity sought or wanted and without recognized organization, a movement among alcoholics known as “AA”—Alcoholics Anonymous. A few struggling alcoholics, coming into touch with various religious groups whose conduct and faith awakened in them a possibility of hope, followed out their trail of hope and banded themselves together to try to escape further entanglements with alcohol and to help each other. Since its founding, this organization has done and continues to perform a wonderful work and has taken on sizable statistics. The official statement concerning the nature and purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is given in the booklet titled, Alcoholism the Illness (published by Alcoholics World Service Co., Inc.) and is reprinted here by permission.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

The several efforts being made in the study of alcoholism, on whatever level the study is, appear to follow the same pattern and arrive at the same conclusions. First, it is concluded that alcoholism is no moral or ethical problem; secondly, it is stated that alcoholism is a disease, the cause of which is unknown. Whoever the speaker or chairman is conducting the seminar, workshop, or study, he observes in most cases a dogged determination to countenance no suggestion other than this announced conclusion.

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This thesis concerning alcoholism, that it is a physical disease the cause of which is unknown, and that there are no ethical or moral involvements, has been handed down by those professing to be scientific in their investigation, along with a host of superficial, wishful thinkers who have caught the dictum and parrot it to whom they will. The dictum once accepted carries with it a hush-hush suggestion that there must be no “crusade” against alcoholism, which in turn casts a spell on any suggested crusade against the use of alcoholic beverages. Nothing could please the wet forces of the country more than this.

That alcoholism reflects a diseased body no one will intelligently deny. For a long time our dictionaries have given as a definition for delirium tremens, which is a late, unmistakable symptom of alcoholism, these words: “A disease of the brain caused by the excessive and prolonged use of intoxicating liquors.” So this knowledge is nothing new.

But that we may say there is nothing about alcoholism involving the ethical or moral is a dangerous heresy which this modern movement is seeking to popularize. The moral aspect of the use of alcohol was well known in the writing of the Old Testament, when nine Hebrew words of varying shades were used to point out the moral dangers of strong drink, and prophets pronounced woes against the users (Hab. 2:15; Prov. 20:1). In addition there is the positive condemnation by the New Testament of the drunkard (1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10).

The claim that no one knows the cause of alcoholism is a subterfuge so thin that it can be answered by saying that everyone—the simpleton, the drinker, and the alcoholic—all know it, and no one denies the cause except those who wish to evade, cover up, or becloud the issue. If the language of the doctor who says that alcohol is the cause of alcoholism is “oversimplification,” then to say that no one knows the cause of alcoholism is a thousand times overcomplication. The cause of alcoholism is so well and so indisputably known that we have named the result “alcoholism” after the cause alcohol. Where there is no alcohol there is no alcoholism. Plenty may be said and written about the physical and psychological traits and behavior of pre-alcoholics and alcoholics, but the fact is that there is only one scientific cause for alcoholism which is alcohol.

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Even alcoholics themselves are being spiritually betrayed in this handling of their situation, and there is evidence that they sense it and are resenting it.

From the booklet, Alcoholism the Illness, a cutting is included by permission of the publishers from an address delivered by “Bill W.” before the New York Medical Society, May, 1944.

That there is a moral and ethical aspect to alcoholism, despite attempts to deny it, is eloquently and repeatedly enunciated by this representative of Alcoholics Anonymous in his comparison of what “Medicine says” and “Religion says.” Without decrying the physical or psychological aspects of alcoholism, this experienced exponent of alcoholism found a moral aspect at every turn of the alcoholic’s condition and need.

This quotation from an authoritative source within the organization of Alcoholics Anonymous does not satisfy an evangelical on what religion says, but it is quoted to prove that the victims of alcohol know and confess that alcoholism is not a disease only, but a moral and ethical matter for which the alcoholic is personally responsible—in spite of what the professed scientist, their would-be comforter, says.

We can readily see that it is high time we awaken to the predicament in which the American people find themselves with regard to alcoholism. In the face of this regrettable number of alcoholics, plus millions more who are daily crossing the subtle line into the ranks of alcoholics, false prophets before our very eyes are beclouding the issues, making the moral nonmoral, and intimidating every effort to stay the deadly march of physical and spiritual death. They would have us hurry in our efforts to mop up the results of alcoholism, yet leave wide open the root of the problem which is the continuous traffic in beverage alcohol.

The Church, temperance societies, and all good people ought to throw off the intimidations imposed by superficial, would-be authorities on the subject of alcoholism, and get back to preaching the gospel of Christ with its power to save from all sin, even that of the use of alcohol. Churches and temperance societies should again inaugurate their crusades against the use of alcoholic beverages, and again prosecute vigorously the now nearly abandoned total abstinence pledges of both youths and adults. Then a great crusade should be set in motion to deliver the brain-washed American public from its false stupor concerning alcoholism, its cause and its cure. Unless such an awakening comes soon, America is alcoholic doomed.

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The Methodist Church is setting for us a splendid example. Not fearing the intimidation of those who decry “crusades,” The Methodist Church, under the leadership of the Council of Bishops and at the direction of the General Board of Temperance, is conducting annually, on a definite and uniform date, what they call “Commitment Sunday.” On this date all Methodist Sunday schools and churches are asked to invite young and old to sign or even re-sign the pledge of total abstinence.

No one can evaluate the results of pledges made, particularly on the part of the young, to abstain from all forms of alcoholic beverages for life. The testimony of an octogenarian recently came to my attention. This man, reared under Christian influences, promised his mother on her deathbed that he would never touch alcohol. Although he was not an unbeliever, he unfortunately has never identified himself with any Christian church; but though in business and commercial life he has been severely tested by those who practiced the use of alcoholic beverages, he testifies that the total abstinence pledge which he made to his mother has kept him from drinking throughout his long life.

Children and young people today are targets for the liquor industry, and constitute the ranks from which the alcoholics of tomorrow will come. Shall we continue to be unconcerned and unalarmed while the cause of alcoholism, which is alcohol, goes on ignored and unindicted?

Next Issue: The Trend In Britain

The July 31 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY will be devoted to a comprehensive survey of the present spiritual situation in Great Britain. The survey has been projected from CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S recently opened London office under the guidance of Dr. Philip E. Hughes, British Editorial Associate. Facts and figures concerning the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and the Free Churches reveal a situation that is both alarming and challenging. The great cities, the country districts, the schools and universities, and the industrial community are to be surveyed, as well as trends in crime and delinquency. This will be an issue of unusual significance, realistically describing the mission field that is Great Britain today. It should be studied and prayed over by all who have a concern for the spiritual virility of the Western world.

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The contributors are men ably qualified to define and assess the spiritual problems and needs which confront the Church in Britain at the present time.

The London office of CHRISTIANITY TODAY is located on Fleet Street, a few blocks from Smithfield (scene of the burning of many Protestant martyrs). London Manager is Gervase E. Duffield, graduate in theology of the University of Oxford, who formerly was Secretary of Tyndale House and engaged in research studies in Cambridge. CHRISTIANITY TODAY has a growing role in stimulating the evangelical witness and molding the theological thinking in Great Britain as well as in other lands at this strategic moment of history.

Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.

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