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Vasu Murti

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Krishna Consciousness and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
A Guide to Interfaith Discussion

Social Issues

Consider the spiritually debilitating effects of alcohol, or any other form of intoxication—such as caffeine or tobacco—which only serves to reinforce bodily consciousness.

Alcohol, for example, is the most abused drug in the United States. There are an estimated eight million known alcoholics in America, and the number increases by 450,000 every year. One survey reported that 75 percent of all crimes and 60 percent of all divorces have drinking in their background. The National Safety Council reports 50 percent of all traffic deaths are caused by drunk drivers.

According to Dr. John MacDougall, over seven percent of the adult population in the United States suffers from alcoholism, resulting in decreased productivity, accidents, crime, mental and physical disease and disruption of family life. Excessive consumption of alcohol leads to liver disease, cancer, birth defects (fetal alcohol syndrome) and multiple vitamin deficiency diseases.

A report by the World Health Organization states that "Alcohol is a poison to the nervous system. The double solubility of alcohol in water and fat enables it to invade the nerve cell. A man may become a chronic alcoholic without ever having shown symptoms of drunkenness." The conclusion of the report is that nobody is immune to alcoholism and total abstinence is the only solution.

In biblical times, all fruit of the vine was called "wine," even if unfermented. Thirteen different words in Hebrew and Chaldee, and four in Greek were all used for wine. The common word in Greek was "oinois," in Hebrew, "yayin" or "yain," in Latin, "vinum," and in English, "wine." According to Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University, the Hebrew word "yain" does not refer to liquor, but to a thick, grape syrup which was boiled in order to be preserved. It was referred to as "new wine," even though it was merely grape juice.

The process of making grape syrup or mixing it with water to produce a grape drink is described by Solomon in the Bible and by the Roman writer Pliny. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for grape juice is translated some thirty-three times into the Greek word "oinos." The word "oinos" is even used to refer to other beverages, including lotus, fruit and dates.

Moreover, explicit condemnations of alcohol and drunkenness can be found throughout the Bible. The ancient Hebrews regarded alcohol as both a blessing and a curse. God was praised because "He causes the grass to grow for the cattle and fruits and vegetables for man to cultivate that he may bring forth food from the earth. Wine to gladden the heart of man..." (Psalm 104:14-15)

On the other hand, alcohol was also an instrument of His displeasure: "Thou hast made Thy people suffer hard things; Thou hast given us wine to drink that made us reel." (Psalm 60:3)

Wine was permitted for medicinal use. (Proverbs 31:6-7; I Timothy 5:23). At no place in the Bible is alcohol (or any other drug) explicitly forbidden. Drunkenness, or the excesses of alcohol (and presumably all other drugs) is condemned, but not the drug itself.

Total abstinence from intoxication, however, was considered a sign of holiness and consecration to the Lord. God commanded His priests to be holy and pure before worship. "Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou nor thy sons with thee, when you go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a perpetual statute for ever throughout your generations." (Leviticus 10:9)

God also established the order of the Nazarites. The Nazarites distinguished themselves by never allowing a razor to touch their head, abstaining from alcohol, and by their piety before God. "When either a man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite....he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes..." (Numbers 6:1-21)

Samson was a Nazarite (Judges 13:4), as was Samuel (I Samuel 1:1). Similar ascetics are described in chapter 35 of the Book of Jeremiah. The prophet Daniel was a vegetarian who abstained from alcohol. "Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food, or with the wine which he drank." (Daniel 1:1-15)

Wine drinking was equated with sexual immorality and worshipping other gods: "Go, ye, adulteress, according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine." (Hosea 3:1) "Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart." (Hosea 4:11)

It appears that wine was never intended for kings or political leaders, because of its intoxicating effects. (Proverbs 31:4-5) Excesses of alcohol amongst religious leaders were also denounced in biblical times: "the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are confused with wine, they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in giving judgement." (Isaiah 28:7)

According to the Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopalian priest in New York, the drinking of wine was frowned upon in biblical times. "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." (Proverbs 20:1) Intoxicating beverages were known to be habit-forming (Proverbs 23:35), resulting in violence (Proverbs 4:17) and distracting their imbibers from God (Amos 6:6).

It is said in the Bible, " is treacherous; the arrogant man shall not abide... woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink." (Habbakuk 2:5,15) And: "Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without course? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine, those who try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder." (Proverbs 23:29-32)

Zacharias, the priest of Abijah, and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist. They are described as "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." They had no children, and were both advanced in years. Elizabeth was barren. The angel Gabriel appeared before Zacharias and told him his wife would miraculously bear a son. His birth would be cause for rejoicing.

"For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb...he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord..." Elizabeth is said to have been related to Jesus’ mother, Mary. This would make Jesus and John relatives. (Luke 1:5-16,36) Jesus was born about the same time.

John told the multitudes, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandal strings I am not fit to untie. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit..." (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16; John 1:26-27)

Jesus told the multitudes: "John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine..." (Luke 7:33) Indeed, Jesus said, "among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28)

Jesus taught his disciples to remain in grace and holiness to receive the kingdom of God. "Be on your guard," he warned, "so that your hearts are not overloaded with carousing, drunkenness, and worldly vigilant and pray unceasingly." (Luke 21:34-36) Referring to Proverbs 23:20, Jesus condemned one who "eats and drinks with the drunken." (Matthew 24:49; Luke 12:45)

Simon (Peter) equated alcoholic excesses with the gentile practices of idolatry and sexual immorality. "For we have spent enough of our past in doing the will of the gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties and abominable idolatries." (I Peter 4:3)

Many Christian saints and monks have abstained from flesh and wine. According to church history, Jesus’ brother James (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19), was holy from birth; a lifelong vegetarian who never drank alcohol.

Dr. MacDougall writes that excessive consumption of caffeine leads to an elevated heart rate, irregular heart beat, increased blood pressure, frequent urination, increased gastric secretion, nervousness, irritability and insomnia. Caffeine is known to cause birth defects in animals, and may do the same in humans. Caffeine stimulates the growth of breast cells, causing benign lumps.

Excessive intake of caffeine may cause a rise in blood fats. Cancer of the urinary bladder has been linked to caffeine use and it contributes to loss of calcium from the body. Moreover, the body actually becomes physically addicted to caffeine. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, drowsiness, tension and anxiety.

"But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
---John 4:14

Paul, who called himself an apostle to the gentiles, opposed sinful behavior: drunkenness, fornication, homosexuality, adultery and idolatry. (Romans 1:23-27; I Corinthians 5:1-2, 6:18, 7:1-38; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3,18; Colossians 3:5; I Thessalonians 4:3-4) Paul did not forbid wine. Instead, he advocated temperance, or moderation.

"A bishop then, must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous." (I Timothy 3:2-3)

"Likewise, deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money." (I Timothy 3:2-3,8) For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled." (Titus 1:7-8)

Since its founding in the 1960s, the Hare Krishna movement has received numerous commendations for getting young people off drugs. "The combination of our medical care, and the spiritual care from the Hare Krishna philosophy, has resulted in a very powerful tool indeed for the treatment of drug addiction and for this we are very grateful," wrote Fraser McDonald, Medical Superintendent of the Parnell Drug Clinic, in Auckland, New Zealand.

Similarly, Addictions magazine, the magazine of the Washington, D.C. Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Inc., reported that "Krishna Consciousness is 100% successful in stopping drug use among those who voluntarily enter the program." New Orleans welfare director Morris Jeff said, "You have done good work in establishing a workable alternative to the problem of drug addiction and alienation."

Dr. Gertrude Speiss, a national senator and former mayor of Basel, Switzerland concurs: "The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is very much engaged in the fight against drugs and assists those who have been harmed by drug use. I, therefore, wish this society all the best."


Consider also the immorality of gambling. Although gambling is not explicitly forbidden in the Bible, it does prey upon the individual’s desire for worldly riches. This desire for immediate wealth and self-aggrandizement is contrary to the spirit of New Testament teaching. Jesus taught the multitudes to seek the eternal treasures in heaven rather than pursue temporary, earthly gain. He insisted upon the self-sacrifice and renunciation of earthly possessions and family ties and duties. (Matthew 6:19-21, 6:24-34, 8:21-22, 10:34-39, 19:20-21,29; Luke 9:57-62, 12:51-53, 14:25-26,33; James 5:1-3)

Jesus had no interest in worldly disputes over money and property. (Luke 12:13-14) He taught that life is meant for more than the accumulation of material goods. He condemned those who lay up treasures for themselves, but are not rich towards God. (Luke 12:15-21) In his parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus expressed concern for materialistic persons (Luke 16:19-31).

Jesus taught that it is difficult for those attached to earthly riches to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:16-24; Mark 10:17-23; Luke 18:18-25) His apostles lead lives of voluntary poverty; sharing their possessions with one another. Those amongst the brethren who did not do so were condemned. (Acts 2:44, 5:1-11) "He who loves his life will lose it," taught Jesus, "and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life...For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25; John 12:25)

In Paul’s words, "Piety with contentment is great gain indeed; for we brought nothing into the world and, obviously, we can carry nothing out. When we have food and clothing, we shall be content with these. Those who are eager to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into numerous thoughtless and hurtful cravings that plunge people into destruction and ruin. "For the love of money is the root of all evil. In striving for it, some have wandered away from the faith...But you, O man of God, shun these things and go after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness." (I Timothy 6:6-11)

Gambling preys upon those who can least afford it—the people of lower income. The National Commission of Gambling estimated in 1983 that there were over a million compulsive gamblers nationwide. The Commission predicted that as gambling gradually becomes legal across the country, this figure will eventually reach three million.

The first treatment center for compulsive gamblers was built outside Baltimore, Maryland, in 1982. Compulsive gamblers often run into enormous financial difficulties—borrowing or even stealing from others, including their own families.

Heavy debt becomes a hard fact of life for compulsive gamblers. They sleep poorly, and become indifferent towards eating and affection. Tense and irritable, they often drink, and may even consider suicide.

Since the advent of legalized gambling, per capita crime in the Atlantic City area has tripled. A police check of records at different casinos there wound over one million dollars loaned to 25 underworld figures—some used the money to finance drugs and prostitution.

One survey of police enforcement of gambling laws found that 80 percent of the police believe profits from illegal gambling are used to finance other illegal activities, such as loan-sharking and drug dealing. In half of the cities surveyed, local independent criminal organizations were said to control gambling operations.

Conservative Protestants have traditionally taken a stand against gambling. The Puritans of Massachusetts enacted America’s first law against gambling in 1638. In 1682, the Quakers in Pennsylvania passed their own law against gambling and "such like enticing, vain, and evil sports and games." During the period from 1830 to 1860, lotteries were banned across America. By 1908, nearly every state in the nation had banned horse racing.

Gambling is condemned in the Vaishnava tradition, both as a form of worldly-mindedness, and as a social evil. Given the teachings of Jesus and his apostles on money, greed, possessions, and material self-aggrandizement, as well as sociological studies documenting the ill effects of legalized gambling, one can only hope all of Christianity will also draw the same conclusions.


Go on to:  13 - India’s Gift to the World

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