The 18th Amendment had been ratified in 1919 and went into effect the next year, making national prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages the law of the land.
It was an unrealistic, naive approach to a real social problem -- an approach pushed hard by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In this case, however, the word Temperance was misleading. It didn't mean tolerance. Rather, it meant abstinence.
Any religious group, of course, has every right to support public policies in harmony with its beliefs. And some of those beliefs do not constitute doctrine peculiar to a single religion. For instance, I would include a prohibition against murder and theft as common sense and reflective of universal human values rather than just religious dogma.
But when the body politic is swayed to create public policy that reflects the views of adherents of just one religious group, trouble almost is certain to come.
Prohibition, for instance, created lawlessness, to say nothing of unsafe but still widely available booze manufactured in dangerous ways. I think there are parallels between what happened in the period of Prohibition and what was going on in secretive ways prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling abortion to be legal. Women desperately seeking back-alley abortions died in terrible and unsafe conditions.
None of this is to say that alcohol doesn't cause tremendous problems. Its misuse can and does. But the answer is not a constitutional amendment. The answer is for people of faith who belief alcohol is destructive to seek to persuade others (including their own members) of their position so they will voluntarily give up drinking alcohol. (That, plus close regulation.)
So every time a faith community wants to make its theology or its doctrine national law, we should proceed with great care.
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THE MORALLY COMPROMISED NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, writing in the aftermath of the murder-suicide involving a Kansas City Chiefs' linebacker, has it right when he says that "to be an N.F.L. fan these days is to feel morally conflicted, even morally compromised." He calls the N.F.L. "a world of tortured souls and crippled bodies." Can the sport be redeemed? Is there some deep blood lust that makes ordinary people cheer for injury, for car crashes on race tracks, for fights at hockey games? And what good can be said about a business decision to play the Chiefs-Panthers football game less than 30 hours after a team member commits both murder and suicide? Yes, the Chiefs players handled it marvelously well, as did their coach and owner. But as far as I can see the play-today decision had everything to do with money and almost nothing to do with respect for human life. When I watch any pro football today I feel like a gawker staring at a train wreck out of curiosity.
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P.S.: I mentioned the other day that Pope Benedict XVI will be tweeting as @Pontifex soon. Well, the funny Paul Rudnick already has figured out what some of his tweets might say. To read The New Yorker column about that, click here.