Tuesday, March 15, 2011

All Or Nothing: A Short History Of Abstinence In America

By Jessica Warner
McClelland & Stewart, 2008

Abstinence has been a mainstay of public debates and private discourse for two hundred years now, and in All Or Nothing: A Short History Of Abstinence In America Jessica Warner gives us a brief overview of its origins and the first century of its development.

Beginning with early attempts to curb the use of hard liquors at a time when their consumption was much higher than today, it quickly came to call for the abstention from all stimulants, including caffeine, drugs, and even spicy food. Armed with an optimistic outlook towards individual achievement and Jacksonian anti-intellectualism, the movement “had an almost morbid fear of leisure” (p. 27). It appealed to middle class Northerners, particularly those who had few vices to give up in the first place, but it made few inroads towards curbing the vices of those who did. Soon it moved from advocating moral suasion to calling on legislative solutions. It’s a pattern that continues today.

If I had a complaint about this book, it would be that its too short. Yes, it is call a short history, I know, but too much is left out or left unaddressed. Warner links the movement to Wesleyan perfectionism and the later Holiness movement, but doesn’t really explain what they were, or how their intellectual underpinnings could lead to an abstinence movement. She correctly notes that “moderation went from being a virtue to a vice” (p.37), but gives scant attention to why this shift should be so consistent and so powerful. Her discussion of the past century, the activism that effects us most today, is restricted to an eight page epilogue. Again, I know it’s a self-described short history, but as far as I know she wasn’t working under any page restrictions.

Also, she seems to be taking backhanded shots at Catholics. For example, the YMCA’s rationalization for distributing cigarettes, but not alcohol, is described as “Jesuitical.” She does this several times. Is she trying to be ironic, given views on Catholics at the time? Could it reflect views of the author? I don’t know. Its strange.

The abstinence movement is an important one and impacts us, both from the left and the right, every day. It deserves a serious, popular history. Maybe someday Warner will finish writing it.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

No Christian Foster Parents

Britain's High Court has ruled against a Pentecostal couple from Derby, saying that their Christian views on homosexuality made them unfit to be foster parents. Its important to note that no one at any time has accused the Johns of actually discriminating against anyone. Indeed, a 2008 assessment of the couple, who had been foster parents since the 1990s, described them as “well-meaning... kind and hospitable people who would always do their best to make a child welcome and comfortable”. But the same assessment quizzed them on their beliefs about homosexuality and based on their answers it was decided that they should not be allowed to continue caring for foster children, ages 5-8.

Again, its important to reiterate that the Johns have not discriminated against anyone, nor have they been accused to discriminating against anyone. Theirs was a thought crime.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Christian Lawmaker Murdered In Pakistan

Anti-Christian violence continues in the Islamic world:
A leading Pakistani Christian lawmaker who had campaigned for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws was shot dead on Wednesday, adding to concerns the government is unwilling or unable to check Islamic extremism...
Someone asked me yesterday where I stood on the Tribulation. I think its far easier to believe we're in it, than on the eve of it.