Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quakers and Alcohol

A F/friend recently posted on facebook that she'd seen another Quaker at a liquor store and thought it'd been a scandal. When I asked who it was, she said she didn't want to tell tales out of school.

Then I thought I didn't want to be a part of a faith community where it was a scandal to be seen in a liquor store. So I thought I'd ask you all what you think about it.

Is this issue one of social class?

At the entrance to the neighborhood were I grew up, there was a liquor store (we called it a "beer garden") where if you did well in school, you could get a free soda by showing them your report card. It stood right next to a deli and a soft serve ice cream spot. You could get free stuff at those other two places too with good grades.


earthfreak (Pam) said...

So, that was me! :)

I chose yes to both, which I wonder if most people would do. On any other day I might likely have chosen "no" to both.

I go into my local liquor store about weekly for boxes, and actually buy alcohol there maybe once a year (maybe less) - but I was shocked to find that I WAS slightly embarrassed to be seen there, even by someone else who obviously had to be there to see me.

I posted that status update because I was amused at myself, but now am not comfortable telling who I saw. I have to say in my defense that's largely because I camped it up as a scandal. I wouldn't have posted it at all otherwise (seeing him wasn't all that amusing, we do, after all, live in the same neighborhood, along with said liquor store, it was hardly a story worth relating, really) but also because there IS an assumption that we dont' drink (maybe kinda sorta, though I would say about half of my quaker friends drink, and most who don't don't avoid it out of quakerism, they're sober alcoholics, or, like me, just not that into it.)

I buy lottery tickets, and I'm ashamed of that. Within the past month I avoided the gaze of another quaker who was in the convenience store while I was buying them, when normally I would surely say hello.

Vonn New said...

I guess for someone to see me, they'd be in there too...

The yes/no answer really doesn't get to the more complex question of alcohol and disapproval. I grew up in a home where alcohol abuse was very present and destructive. In fact, I suffered alcohol poisoning at the age of 2 by downing an 8 oz tumbler of vodka that had been left on a coffee table. As a result, I've never been able to experience alcohol as a pleasant sensation. So, I almost answered 'no' I don't go to liquor stores, then I remembered going in to buy wine for cooking and guests.
Regarding disapproval, I have an emotional negative reaction to drunkeness and alcohol abuse, but I don't feel much concern about moderate drinking. In my Quaker community, beer or wine might be served in social settings with no eyebrows raised.

How this relates to class is another issue but you didn't ask about class in your poll. That would be even trickier.

Laura said...

I answered yes to both--I drink, but I'd rather not admit that in quaker circles. I'm not sure if the frowning upon alcohol started as a class thing. I'm not sure what the class politics of alcohol consumption were when the prohibition or discouragement first entered Quakerism, but I suspect that there would be more tolerance for wine drinking than hard liquor among contemporary liberal Friends, and I think that _is_ about class. I do know that abstinence from alcohol was a common distinguishing mark of both protestant reformation movements throughout the centuries and 19th/20th century anti-catholic and anti-immigrant "urban reform" movements.

As an aside, among my NYC secular jewish relatives, alcohol is very rarely consumed, but when it is it tends to be hard liquor (sherry, etc). Beer and wine are almost never drank except when ceremonial occasions require wine. I always forget that until folks are looking at me strangely because I'm talking about some type of beer I like.

FJPerch said...

I live in Savannah, GA where the first question you ask someone is "what would you like to drink?". At our Meeting potlucks there is not only beer, but (brace yourselves) red meat! I own two cars -- a Lincoln Town Car and a 1974 Cadillac (but I only guzzle gas while sober). And I do not own a pair of Birkenstocks. Yes, I am really a Quaker! But I'm not anywhere close to being embarrassed by being seen in the liquor store.

As I recall, one of the things Jesus did was make sure a wedding party had enough wine, and the only thing he did that raise eyebrows was save the best for last.

Hystery said...

Could be that you're onto something about social class here but it needs developing.

I would be embarrassed to be seen in a liquor store because it would mean that I had relaxed my personal standards and because I like to pretend that Friends have a problem with alcohol (although it is pretty clear that most of them don't). But I wouldn't be ashamed because people might think I was lower class. In fact, it might increase my perceived social status if I bought a bit more alcohol publicly. I live in wine country. We have wine tastings and tasteful live music at our liquor stores. Typically, in my experience, when anyone speaks of alcohol or serves alcohol, it is someone with lots more money than I have.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

I talked to my sweetie about this a bit, and she was completely flabbergasted, at first she thought I was saying that only rich people can afford alcohol, which made a lot more sense to her than what I was actually saying.

she tells me poor people steal mouthwash from Target if they really need alcohol, they don't buy it at liquor stores (I believe she learned this in recovery) - whole new perspective for me!

leftistquaker said...

Maybe my meeting is just so far out liberal that this question seems like another planet. Heck, a few of us openly smoke weed.

We all drink, unless we are in a sobriety program (can't think of anyone who is at the moment).

I don't drink that often. I buy soft drinks and hard lemonade at the local liquor store, but no other Quakers shop at that one. My closest Quaker neighbor is 9 blocks away, pretty close actually for a big city.

Peace! Charley

Chronicler said...

I am shocked by the response thus far. I don't know what proportion of the respondents come from FGC meetings, though several have indicated they do. It seems clear though that another Quaker folkway is disappearing among FGC folks. This is sad.

In Ohio Yearly Meeting, we still have the old Query that asks "Do we avoid and discourage the use and handling of intoxicants, tobacco, and the improper use of drugs?" It is a sub-part of the Query on our bodies being the temple of the Holy Ghost and the need to keep our bodies pure. From the answers over the past 20 years, it appears that of our active members in Ohio YM, we only have about five people who use alcohol as a beverage in our entire yearly meeting.

Alcohol has hit me twice through other people, breaking up my family growing up and then my marriage. Having experienced the ill effects of this substance, I am amazed that there is little concern for how this foul-smelling drink is ruining the lives of thousands of people each year just to line the pockets of brewers and distributors.

Michael Bischoff said...

The people in my extended family (and my ancestors) with working class backgrounds tend to be socially conservative religious people. Many of them were (and are) morally opposed to alcohol use.

My understanding is that Evangelical Quakers in the U.S. (and the rest of the world) tend to be much more anti-alcohol than liberal Quakers. My impression is also that Evangelical Quakers, as a whole, include more members from working class backgrounds than liberal Quakers do.

So, I also think the relationship between alcohol and social class is complex. I think working class cultures include a mix of integrating alcohol into living, and of conservative opposition to alcohol.

I don't drink alcohol, for several reasons, one of which is my parent's socially-conservative religion that seeped into me. My impression is that the tendency in the liberal Quaker groups that I'm a part of is light and moderate alcohol use.

Irene said...

CindyP from Philly here. I picked yes/no. But I very rarely go to liquor stores (which here would be PA State stores)--maybe once in the past 10 years. I more often go to beer distributors, but I rarely drink myself (1-2 mixed drinks a year, only if the opportunity arises--for example if it is FREE and I am not driving--see, Quaker THRIFT in action!) and tastes of my husband's beer. I don't enjoy most alcohol and am affected by even a small amount.

I figure if I see a Quaker at the liquor store, they are just as "guilty" as I am, if guilt there be!

I was very moderately surprised to see wine brought to a Friendly 8s dinner (but not shocked or disgusted) associated with our Meeting, and would be much more surprised and not particularly happy to see alcohol brought to a function AT the Meetinghouse. But that has to do with community-building and would be for the same reasons as it is not acceptable to drink at, say, FGC Gatherings. I would not judge Friends for personal alcohol use in moderation and would not feel it was a Quaker (or a class) issue, just a human issue, if a Friend were struggling with alcohol addiction.

The first poster mentioned lottery tickets. I would be much more surprised and internally perturbed (although hoping not to show it externally, nor to judge) at seeing another Friend buy lottery tickets. They wouldn't see me doing it, because I don't.

Hystery said...

Sorry to pop up again! I wanted to add that when I say "typically, in my experience" I don't mean that my experience is typical. I do think that the context of our attitudes regarding alcohol is important in this discussion and I also want to add as others have already commented, there is a strong Protestant, anti-immigrant historical context for lots of anti-alcohol sentiment. But there's a lot more to it too.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

I have to say, this isn't resonating much with me. I really dont' think it's a social class issue. For the following reasons

- I am MUCH more ashamed to be seen buying lottery tickets than alcohol, which is perhaps a class issue (smart people and financially secure people tend not to, becaues the odds suck, and at some point you don't need to fantasize about just being able to not stress about money for a while)

- I am pretty sure I would not have had the same reaction had I seen a non-quaker neighbor, say the woman I went to college with who lives on my block. I am more sure that she's college educated (cause I saw it) and don't think she would think twice about seeing me buy liquor

- Funny, Jeanne, you mentioned Surdyk's as an example of where I might have seen him and Haskell's as an example of somewhere you go (in off-blog chat). Both of those (and I think only those) are places that, if you told me you saw someone there I would automatically assume they were college educated with a good income, and that they were buying something of "quality" that would reflect well on them (good wine, or whatever) at least in terms of class perception.

It was, in fact, East Lake Liquors, and if I see someone there I assume they live in our neighborhood, and reflect those demographics, almost definitely middle working class. (ie: not owning class, not poor - they have jobs, likely, but not definitely, own their homes, but probably aren't retiring early, if at all - whether they are college professors or construction workers is less significant somehow) Although my last girlfriend LOVED that store for its good selection of funky microbrewed beers - a pretty uppity sort of drink.

I'd also like to thank Chronicler for commenting, My personal perspective is that it's not unreasonable to eschew alcohol, and encourage others too. I feel similarly about lottery tickets. There were valid reasons that people chose not to do those things, and I think they are still valid. As someone who just doesnt' really want alcohol (I'm a lot like you CindyP) I don't feel like I have any right to get all preachy on someone who would actually have trouble giving it up. As someone who occasionally needs the delusional dream of winning the lottery to keep me going, I'd appreciate it if no one goes all preachy on me, but at the same time, they're topics worth struggling with.

Su Penn said...

I don't go to liquor stores because here in Michigan you can buy your booze at the grocery store. We keep beer in the house because David likes it, Kahlua and Bailey's Irish Cream because I like them in coffee. Sometimes I go through a phase--I went through a gin and tonic phase once, and not long ago a margarita phase, and then I buy the stuff for that.

I think a lot of Quakers consume some kind of alcohol, just because most people do. But it is interesting to me that we don't have alcohol at group events at all. I still think a summer afternoon party should have one garbage can full of ice and beer, and one full of ice and pop, and neither of those is likely to happen at a Quaker party.

Friendly Mama said...

I grew up working class Midwest Baptist raised by absolute tea-totling parents (my dad did 5 years in the Navy as a young man and has never had a drink of alcohol in his life). Both of my parents had older family members who were alcoholics so they both had a serious reason to eschew alcohol long before they became born-again and had religious justification for doing so.
So, I was never around alcohol growing up. Once a year we'd visit my alcholic aunt who lived in Chicago but that was always such a weird, out of context of my real life trip that it certainly did not normalize alcohol. My best friend growing up was Catholic and her father was a Polish Falcon. I'd go to the Polish Falcon's club with her and that experience of being near alcohol just made it seem more depressing (smokey old men sitting around talking about the Old Country).
I drink now, but very infrequently-maybe a glass of wine a month. I don't like to be around people who are drinking at all. I am a total extrovert but I actively dislike parties if there's going to be much drinking. I would be embarrassed if someone saw me in a liquor store but only because I know nothing about buying wine and would be wondering the store with a clueless expression on my face because I felt so out of my element and would feel naive and inexperienced. I don't think I'd be the slightest bit bothered by being seen by anyone as a Quaker, though.

Robin M. said...

I go to liquor stores, but only to buy junk food. I'm slightly embarrassed to be seen eating the junk food, but not to be seen in the store.

In California, you can buy alcohol almost anywhere. I don't know if they sell it at Target, but probably. Drug stores, grocery stores, corner stores, and big box retailers all carry alcohol.

In my family, I grew up with the impression that drinking was something grownups did but they didn't really enjoy it.

I used to drink regularly but not excessively, well past becoming a member of the RSoF, until I decided it wasn't a useful part of the kinds of intimate relationships I want to have with my family, my friends or God. The hardest thing has been learning again how to dance at concerts, but I think this is good for me. I don't want to need alcohol to have a good time, and I don't.

But mostly I don't drink alcohol because the query that speaks to me is, "Is your life so filled with the Spirit that you are free from the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs?" And if not, why not? I don't think this is class-correlated.

Lone Star Ma said...

I don't drink as there is lots of alcoholism in my immediate family and I feel pretty certain that I am genetically predisposed to it and should not give it an opening. Also, the grocery stores here sell beer and wine so I doubt my needs would ever be exotic enough to require a trip to the liquor store anyway (although I went to one once to try some mead someone had recommended when I was much younger). My Quaker friends serve beer and wine when we have Quaker get-togethers and I don't think I would be embarrassed to be seen by fellow Quakers at the liquor store. However - I do sometimes buy lottery tickets and that would embarrass me.

Bright Crow said...

My "recovering" Southern Baptist partner (from South Carolina) says Baptists have a simple solution to this issue. They go to liquor stores in the next county and pretend not to recognize each other.

I don't know if this is a class issue. As a former alcohol/drug counselor, my concern is temperance in the true sense of the word: not abstinence but temperate use of mind-altering chemicals...

...unless you happen to be one of the unfortunates with genetic or acquired addiction. Then abstinence is the only solution. And that means abstinence from the social context in which you abused. THAT aspect of recovery might be compounded by class issues.

Thanks for the query,

Carolyn H said...

I don't know if this is a class issue, but it may be. I think there are regional dimensions (I'm from the midwest and live now in New England, so can see differences there). FUM, Conservative and Evangelical Friends will almost certainly, in general, have a different profile on alcohol than FGC Friends.

In my liberal, unprogrammed New England meeting, alcohol is served (wine, typically) at many of our home-based gatherings, including those for committee meetings, and gatherings which invite everyone in the meeting to attend. In my household, and those of our close f(F)riends' households, alcohol is served as a matter of course, with other options obviously available for those who choose not to drink or who cannot.

I don't know anyone in my meeting who objects to alcohol strictly on religious grounds, though there may be some. Health and diet issues are something else. In my meeting, serving red meat is a bigger ethical/spiritual 'hmmm' moment than alcohol, and being seen at a market buying large animal body parts might prompt more discussion. (we do serve leg of lamb and all other manner of meat in my house, but I'd say that's not the norm in my meeting).

Robin M. said...

A Friend in my Meeting wrote a wonderful Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Friends and Alcohol: Rediscovering a Forgotten Testimony. It gives a good overview of the historical reasons for Friends' testimony against alcohol and contemporary reasons for maintaining it.

Jeanne said...

For posterity, the poll results, before I delete it:

3 of you (5%) said you'd go to liquor stores and would be embarrassed to see another Quaker.
38 of you (70%) said you'd go but wouldn't be embarrassed to see another Quaker.
7 of you (12%) said you wouldn't go to a liquor store and don't think you'd be embarrassed to see another Quaker.
5 of you (9%) said you wouldn't go, and you'd be embarrassed to see another Quaker.

Jeanne said...

Thanks everyone--this is enlightening.

My working class family didn't have much alcohol in the house. There was one bottle of Southern Comfort the whole time I was growing parents would have a shot each in a whiskey sour once a dad would occasionally have beer. But our neighbors drank regularly, and did so on their front stoops. My uncle drank a lot. Our current neighbors drink and get drunk when they do so in their back yards.

I enjoy some alcoholic drinks--the fruity kinds, mostly.

Pam's posting and the conversation we had made me wonder because Quakers are good at admonishing people when they don't follow our testimonies, and not very good about having compassion for people whose hearts have not been transformed yet by Spirit. I thought maybe there was something in this about class.

There is, I think, but it varies so widely regionally and by religion that it's hard to pin down.

I'm holding in the Light the eight of you who said you'd be embarrassed. Clearly, from the conversation, you needn't be. Lots of Quakers drink.

I'm also looking forward to reading the pamphlet Robin suggested. Pamphlets have never changed my heart about something--only Spirit has. But maybe I will see new Light when I read it.

Thanks everyone for chiming in.

James Riemermann said...

Hey, Jeanne,

"Is this issue one of social class?" is a fair question, but I think the answer is "no." In America, most upper-class people drink, most middle-class people drink, and most lower-class people drink. A fair minority of all those classes drink to excess. They differ mostly in the brands they buy and the glasses they pour it into, or whether they bother with a glass.

I think the instance you speak of mostly reflects a religious culture in transition. There is a strong anti-alcohol thread in Quaker history and culture, which has largely but not entirely faded in liberal Friends, and is still quite strong in other branches. In fact, if there is a class element it mostly runs in the opposite direction: the branches of Friends most condemning of alcohol tend to be those furthest from the upper classes.

I drink a little and feel no guilt about it at all. Mostly expensive beer and cheap wine. I've got a ten-dollar, five-liter box of burgundy in the kitchen right now, which I've been drawing down for about two months. I've been served a beer or glass of wine in a number of Friends' homes, and gone to the local bars with several others. When I go to FGC I always make a point of finding some Friends to hit a local bar on at least one night. I also know some Friends who make a point of not being around where alcohol is present, for a variety of reasons, and I respect that.

One of my favorite t-shirts is from East Lake Liquor, which, as a neighbor, you probably know is our local, decidedly working class liquor store. I've worn it to worship, to FGC, to clearness committees. I occasionally get compliments on it, which I think are mostly based on the fact that, unlike most message t-shirts Friends wear, it is not earnest. I think we tend toward the over-earnest. That might be a bit of a class thing.