Drunkard Nation

Michael Metzger

Two days from now, a new administration will be inaugurated. But let’s not entertain false hopes. After Wednesday, most of the US population will probably remain drunkards.

After four years of Trump histrionics, it’s easy to imagine Joe Biden as a hero. But every new administration ought to remind us of Martin Luther’s insight into human nature. “Human nature is like a drunk peasant. Lift him into the saddle on one side, over he topples on the other side.”

Luther was right. We’ll likely still be drunkards after Wednesday. This includes Christians, Right and Left. As the Biden administration seeks to correct what it imagines are the shortcomings of Trump’s conservatism, many will likely topple over to the other side, to progressivism.

Luther knew firsthand what he warned us against. He was like a drunk peasant who, lifted into the saddle of salvation from a corrupted form of Roman Catholicism, toppled over to the other side by seeking to take away civil authority from the Roman Church.

He was successful. But Luther accomplished this by strengthening drastically the role of the individual over the institutions of church and state. And he confined the mission of the church to service and forgiveness. This limited the authority of the church to spiritual matters only. It has no influence in the governance of the people. Religion became the private sector of individuals, society the domain of the institutions of state and civil society.[1]

It was a dichotomy that, in 1524, set Luther in sharp opposition to the leaders of the Peasants’ War. They opposed the Holy Roman Empire. Luther eventually lent support to the Protestant princes, leaving him with a seemingly ambiguous legacy regarding church and state.

Regardless, his private/public dichotomy endures to this day. Many Protestants see the church as all about grace and forgiveness. It has nothing to do with politics. Others hold to a dichotomy where political parties are divine or wicked. It’s all or nothing, and it all depends on each individual believer’s interpretation.[2] To those in the kingdom of God, their Party is a divine arena where God is at work. The other Party is outside the kingdom and can only be bad.

It’s well documented how these dichotomies invariably lead to people being self-righteous. I’m not on Facebook but I’m well aware of how Christians – conservative and liberal – operate in drunkard echo chambers where God is at work in their Party but not the other.

The way out is to remember that Luther was right, but only about our old, sinful nature (an aspect of human nature he often accentuated). The new nature reminds us that even bad dichotomies can bring about redemptive outcomes. Take Luther and beer, for example.

In Luther’s day, the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on beer production, since it held the monopoly on gruit – the mixture of herbs and botanicals (sweet gale, mug wort, yarrow, ground ivy, heather, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, cinnamon) used to flavor and preserve beer. Hops, however, were considered a weed and not taxed. “The church didn’t like hops,” says William Bostwick, the author of The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer.”

German princes did. Even before Luther, they had been moving toward hops as its many qualities include being an excellent preservative. Luther’s revolt gave hops a boost. With the rise of hops, the Roman Church lost the corner on the market on beer, which I feel is a good thing, for I like hoppy beer (thank you, Protestants) as well as bold ales, a beer Catholic monks gave us.

In a similar fashion, I like some of what the Trump administration accomplished. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’ll likely feel similarly about the Biden administration. My point is, most of the US population will probably still be drunkards after Wednesday. Today’s drunken state will be redemptive if it sobers Christians, Right and Left, to stay upright in the saddle.

 

[1] Richard Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, A historical study. (Hesperides Press, 2008), 57.

[2] John Witte Jr., Law and Protestantism, The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 89.

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7 thoughts on “Drunkard Nation”

  1. Wow! A full-service blog. Politics, the history of beer and organized religion. Where else can one find such a rich blend of discussion? Thanks, Mike.

  2. Hops Along Luther

    I always like how you give us things to think about! We’re reading the same history books? You don’t see “the church” involved in politics since Luther? About Luther, you say that “he confined the mission of the church to service and forgiveness. This limited the authority of the church to spiritual matters only. It has no influence in the governance of the people. Religion became the private sector of individuals, society the domain of the institutions of state and civil society” and yet I think city, local, regional, national, and international churches have been influencing and ruling cities and regions and states and societies for centuries. I’ll try your glasses on to see it your way, but as I do, I’m trying to figure this out: if you want “the church” to be involved in politics, but you seem averse to “individualism.” So, as a person gets involved as a candidate or as an activist in politics, should they a.) identify as a religious person and align with a political part all the same, or b.) identify as a member of a religious group, say Clapham for instance (and equally align with a political part all the same), or c.) identify as part of the largest Venn diagram overlap that they can possibly identify – so a Roman Catholic would identify with the Vatican and the Pope (and a party – or instead of a party?) – which do you mean? Because if you say d.) “none of the above” then where and when and how is the rider sitting straight up in the saddle? When determining the good or the not so good of the party inside or outside of “The Kingdom” it looks like you’re not happy with “it all depends on each individual believer’s interpretation” so what source of interpretation is reliable, to you, in determining an individual’s or a group’s or a denomination’s affiliations and affections? The group is preferred (by vote?) or the denomination is preferred – and by vote or decree? I’m slow of foot and of mind – I’m trying to get on the horse and not slide off to the other side but it doesn’t seem like your guidance is clear – a wee too much beer in me or in you I’m not sure.

    1. Mike, I wasn’t sure where you were going with this. My first thought was this exchange from Casablanca:
      Maj. Strasser: What is your nationality?
      Rick: I’m a drunkard.
      Capt. Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.
      But I appreciate Luther’s analogy and join in hoping we can stay in the saddle.
      I also thought of this: “In heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink it here.” ( I prefer IPAs, but not the fruity, juicy ones).

    1. I appreciate the point made about ability for Christians to go from one ditch, to back on the horse, and then to fall off into the opposite ditch regarding the relationship of Church and state. The middle or third way between conservatism and progressivism is vital. Can we also trace this back to Greek thought and it’s resurgence in the enlightenment and it’s nature/grace dualism? And the fundamentalist “two chapter gospel” will also prove problematic for Christians maintaining their salty presence in the world.

      I’m happy the protestants learned to make good beer with hops. (Try Tropicalia, one of the best IPA’s, from Athens, GA, Creature Comforts brewery.) But I prefer the dark, roasty, and spicy ales of the monks. I associate the Scots with dark ales as well. (Try Wild Heaven Beer’s Ode to Mercy, Monday Night Brewing’s Drafty Kilt, or Oskar Blue’s Old Chub. )

  3. Michael Metzger

    Trent: Man, this is really helpful.

    Uh, talking about the beer. Anything that comes out of Athens, Georgia, sounds good to me. I’ll check them out.

    And yes, you’re correct about belief as well as beer. Greek thought, as well as the “two-chapter” gospel, has undergirded much of this dualistic thinking. It’s enough to drive you to drink.

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