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I have a friend who makes artisanal beers for Jesus.
He is devoted to the small and local, to slow food and slow drink. Inspired by Shane Claiborne and Wendell Berry, he named his beer company—if the word company is applicable to two guys making beer in a garage—Mad Farmer Ales, in homage to Berry's famous poem "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front." My friend sees the commitment to the simple and poor, to making things with his own hands, as central to who Christ wants him to be. And beer is a just aspect of heeding Berry's instruction to
Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
… Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
My friend finds affinity among fellow evangelicals. From the growth of "Theology on Tap" discussions in bars, to relaxed policies for faculty and staff at Christian institutions—most recently, the venerable Moody Bible Institute—to anecdotal everyday practice among devoted 20-somethings, one thing is clear: There has been, as The New York Times called it in reporting on the Moody story, a "culture shift" regarding evangelicals and alcohol.
I don't know if my friend has ever considered that generations of evangelical forefathers and foremothers saw not drinking beer as central to who Christ wanted them to be. I do know that for many of his peers, the word temperance conjures legalistic rules ("don't drink, don't smoke, don't chew, don't go with girls that do") and a dim memory of learning in school that Prohibition was a Really Bad Thing: speakeasies, bootlegging, Al Capone.
But temperance has a longer history—and a more surprising one.
Once, long ago, there was Plato. In The Republic, composed nearly 2,400 years ago, the Greek philosopher ...