Alcohol, Movies, and Other

Alcohol, Movies, and Other "Toxins"

Geoffrey Botkin
March 19, 2010

I am frequently asked questions about the wisdom of training Christians to produce movies. Is it right? Is it merely trying to “Christianize” the things of the world?

One sincere critic recently wrote in (via the technology of the Internet) with a comment. He compared Christian involvement in filmmaking to this: walking into a room of alcoholics and giving them a list of rules on how they should drink. Then he posed this perfectly legitimate question:

“Why bother fooling around with alcohol or movies at all? We do not need them. Rather than trying to copy the culture around us, would it not be a better witness to follow the directions in 1 Timothy 2:1-4?”

In attempting to formulate an answer, I was reminded of a story of a great entrepreneur who once “fooled around” with alcohol in the same way I am working with media. This young entrepreneur believed it was possible to turn the poisonous custom of binge drinking against itself, creating a replacement culture from a lawful institution.

Arthur Guinness

His name was Arthur Guinness. The setting was mid-18th-century Ireland. Arthur was a young Christian who was deeply concerned that alcohol consumption was killing his nation. Men, women, and even children of Ireland were poisoning themselves on a daily diet of whiskey and cheap gin— devoid of nutrition as well as toxic. The culture was disintegrating. The culture was not only addicted to alcohol, it was drowning in an addiction to drinking. Because of the pub culture, and what was being consumed there, the nation was experiencing death by starvation and death by poisoning, simultaneously.

Guinness grieved over this. According to one Irish author, “Guinness was once walking the streets of Ireland crying out to God, ‘God do something about the drunkenness on the streets of Ireland.’”

Guinness had some knowledge of agriculture and brewing and determined to solve the problem through the very industry that was killing his nation. He would not copy the disintegrative culture around him, he would attack it. His plan was to "make a drink that men will drink that will be good for them." He devised a recipe for a beer he referred to as “a meal in a glass.” His ambition was to turn the habits of a drinking nation into a replacement culture. His first step was to get the drinking population to consume different ingredients than the poisons that were represented in their breakfast, lunch and supper. His vision was to so change the culture of his dying nation that no one would ever habitually drink whiskey as part of a staple diet.

He knew the enterprise would take a long time. He knew he would be up against steep competition from 70 competing breweries which dominated the pub market with cheap gin and whiskey. But he was determined and took a risk. He took a big risk. On the last day of December 1759, at age 34, he rode through the gate of an old, dilapidated ill-equipped brewery sited on a small strip of land on Dublin's James's Street. He had just signed a lease on the property for 9,000 years at £45 per annum.


“It’s in a state of decay,” he wrote in his journal, “but I believe there is potential. The city teems and heaves with it. We have 9,000 years and many lifetimes ahead.”

This is vision. His friends shook their heads in disbelief.

At that time, beer was almost unknown in rural Ireland where whiskey, gin, and poteen were the alcoholic drinks most readily available. In spite of this and the poor quality of beer available in larger centers like Dublin, Arthur arranged for rural ingredients to come in, and began brewing his thick “liquid bread.” He called it Guinness.

He brewed the deep, rich beverage so well that he eventually ousted all imports from the Irish market, captured a share of the English trade and revolutionized the brewing industry, and later the steam industry, the electric industry and the gas industry. It was hard work, and he battled competitors, petty bureaucrats and even petty Christians, but he succeeded in changing his nation with a replacement industry. The very special brewing skills of Arthur's brewery remain at the heart of every one of the 10 million glasses of Guinness enjoyed every day across the world.

But how could beer become a solution to the Irish alcohol problem? How can alcohol sales guide a nation in a healthy direction? Can common beer serve as the fuel of cultural regeneration?

Guinness had a vision for creating something much better than common beer. Writes one Irish author, “You can still get it on the National Health Service prescribed to you when you're pregnant because it's so good for you. My wife drank it throughout her first pregnancy. Guinness is exported from Ireland as a food because it is so full of minerals and natural trace elements. It has incredible qualities to it. So Guinness made men a drink that was good for them. He was an entrepreneur and, believe it or not, people started buying it and drinking it. And now it's the national drink of Ireland. Irish men don't go and drink much whiskey; they go and drink Guinness. And its almost impossible to get drunk on Guinness because its so heavy, so full of iron that you feel so full you can't drink more than a couple of pints. It has a fairly low alcohol level.”

The BBC reported a few years ago that Guinness can be beneficial to the heart. Researchers found that "'antioxidant compounds' in the Guinness, similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, are responsible for health benefits because they slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol on the artery walls."

Liquid Bread

The Guinness family business, descending from Arthur’s 21 children, is now 250 years into the patriarch’s 9,000 year plan. It is reported that the Guinness family quietly poured much of their profit into Protestant missions activity around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today the brewery, in the same location, using the same Irish water source and Irish barley, brings in some two billion pounds per year.

Can we take a lesson from the legacy of Arthur Guinness? Here is a man who took initiative to wean an addicted population away from poison by modifying and using an alcoholic beverage to do it. He changed the culture with faith, initiative, creativity and vision, combining the arts and sciences of brewing.

What might our contemporaries do with the arts and sciences of cinema? Can common movies serve as the fuel of cultural regeneration? No, but uncommon movies can reach a suffering, addicted people who obtain all their theology and worldview from the medium of motion pictures. We can get Western viewers off the poison and false doctrine and onto something more nourishing.

This approach to business is based on a belief that all forms of media and aesthetics from books, to print, to video, to music recordings, to film are valid, potentially helpful and God-glorifying tools to be used to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. It is unwise to abandon aesthetics and technology to pagans. I want Christians to learn how to wisely, and with holiness of execution and methodology, use media to advance the Crown rights of Jesus Christ.

Do Christians need movies or alcohol? No. We are not on earth to amuse ourselves, or divert ourselves with those things that dull the senses. We are here to be as alert as we can be, to wage war with the sharpest attention to the needs and afflictions of the perishing. When entire cultures are enslaved to corrupt institutions and customs that can be overturned, or turned to Christ’s advantage, we must not flinch where we can set captives free. The question becomes “who needs us?” not “what do we need?”

It is not a good “witness” when believers, who have a world-changing gospel, retreat from opportunities to engage the culture and cultural institutions that seek to maim, kill, and destroy.

Martin Luther once said, "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest expression every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace, if he flinches at that point."

There is a difference between leading a tranquil and quiet life, and leading a life of surrender. A life of “mere flight and disgrace” is not tranquil and quiet. There is nothing tranquil about shrinking away from complex challenges involving institutions that have addicted men to poison and are throwing nations into rebellion and destructive apostasy.

Dominion men learn how to seize every lawful institution of man, turning those domains to a disciplemaking advantage, and sometimes a powerful financial, kingdom-honoring enterprise. Disciplined leaders will do this with today’s poisonous and corrupted cinema traditions and technologies. This is not merely “fooling around” with movies. If done carefully and well, with the right ingredients, changing cinema will change culture and change history.

Questions for Geoff Botkin may be sent to questions AT westernconservatory DOT org

About the Author

Geoffrey Botkin is a cultural analyst, political consultant, veteran filmmaker, husband, and father. He currently serves as a senior consultant to the Western Conservatory of the Arts & Sciences.


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