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Drinking Habits

What Different Religions Say About Alcohol

February 27, 2024
17 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
February 27, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Exploring Religious Diversity

  • Every religion takes a slightly different approach to alcohol.
  • In Judaism, alcohol is an important part of several rituals. In Islam, alcohol is completely “haram” (forbidden). Some Christian denominations have no problem with alcohol use, while others forbid it outright.
  • The one commonality in all alcohol-allowing faith traditions is that moderation is key.

Everyone has a different relationship with alcohol: some people think it’s an important part of the human experience, others don’t think it’s necessary, and some of us just don’t like it. This diversity of thought isn’t limited to individuals — religions and cultures across the globe take different approaches to alcohol.

Whether it's a toast, a taboo, or something in between, these perspectives are deeply woven into the fabric of the human experience. While the backgrounds may be different, many religions share similar threads when it comes to drinking: moderation, self-discipline, and the moral questions that come with alcohol consumption. 

In this article, we’ll look at what different religions have to say about drinking. As we dive in, keep in mind that no religion is a monolith, and the ideas explored here are not complete or in-depth. Since even faith leaders and scholars often have slightly different opinions about this topic, it’s impossible to give absolute, definitive answers — so consider this a brief overview. That said, let’s start our journey!

Judaism and Alcohol

Judaism takes a complex approach to alcohol. Wine, in particular, is a symbol deeply rooted in ritual, tradition, and celebration. It's an essential part of religious observances like Shabbat and Passover, where the act of drinking wine becomes a sanctified moment marked by prayer.

There’s a whole world of kosher wines produced in strict accordance with Jewish dietary guidelines. The entire production process of kosher wine is overseen by a Jewish faith leader to ensure adherence to these guidelines. This attention to detail symbolizes a deep commitment to faith, tradition, and community standards. And it's not limited to wine alone — Jewish people who keep a kosher diet can enjoy a variety of kosher-certified beers and spirits catering to diverse tastes.

Despite the important role alcohol plays in Jewish traditions, Judaic teachings warn against the moral danger of overindulgence. This approach to alcohol is pretty uniform despite the diversity of the global Jewish community. In Israel, wine is integral to both secular and religious life for Jews. Other communities primarily reserve alcohol for ritualistic use, while more liberal Jewish communities simply encourage mindfulness. Some Jewish people live alcohol-free lives, often using kosher grape juice in place of wine.

Islam and Alcohol

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In Islam, alcohol is expressly forbidden. This is deeply ingrained in long-standing religious doctrine, and it’s reflected in the cultural practices of Muslim communities. This unequivocal view on alcohol is laid out clearly in core Islamic teachings, and the broader Muslim view on alcohol is fairly consistent.

In fact, not only does Islam forbid alcohol, it warns against all intoxicating substances and behaviors in several verses of the Quran, saying “their evil outweighs their benefit” (Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:219). The Quran deems these things “haram,” or forbidden. Why is alcohol haram? Muslims see it as a distraction from focusing on prayer and faith (Quran 5:91). 

Despite this unequivocal religious directive, interpretations of the prohibition vary somewhat among Muslim nations. In many Muslim-majority countries, the ban on alcohol is reflected in local laws. In these places, alcohol is almost never seen in public life. Other Muslim countries make exceptions only for tourists, while more secular Muslim countries have no laws regarding alcohol and leave adherence up to the individual.

For many Muslims, abstaining from alcohol is not just a religious commandment but a facet of cultural identity.

What Different Religions Say About Alcohol

Christianity and Alcohol

Christians’ stance on alcohol varies widely, reflecting the diversity of its denominations and cultural influences. There is no single definitive stance, but we can look at a few approaches.

The Christian scriptures present alcohol, particularly wine, in various lights. It plays a prominent role in many major stories in the Bible. For instance, Jesus famously turns water into wine in the story of “the wedding at Cana” (John 2:7-10), and wine also played a prominent role in the story of “the last supper” (Matthew 26:27-29).

However, these same scriptures also caution against overindulgence and drunkenness. This complexity has led to a wide range of opinions about alcohol in Christianity: some denominations outright forbid it; others offer no distinct guidance. Most simply encourage moderation to different degrees.

Alcohol, nevertheless, is highly symbolic in Christianity. Small amounts of wine are sipped ritualistically in just about every Christian worship ceremony, where it represents the blood of Christ. In some Christian churches, grape juice is offered for those who choose not to drink wine (or for children), while others use water instead.

Buddhism and Alcohol

Generally, Buddhism advises against alcohol consumption. This approach aligns with its foundational principles of mindfulness, moderation, moral clarity, and ethical conduct.

The Five Precepts are moral and ethical guidelines for Buddhists. The fifth of these precepts specifically cautions against intoxication, although there’s debate among Buddhist scholars as to whether this precept refers exclusively to alcohol or to all intoxicating substances. The Noble Eightfold Path sets forth a list of core Buddhist practices. One cannot follow the Eightfold Path without adhering to the Five Precepts: alcohol clouds the sound judgment, thoughtful decision making, and moral clarity necessary to do so.

This cautious stance against alcohol is not just about sticking to a set of rules, but it is deeply entwined with the fundamental goals of Buddhist practice. Alcohol hinders Buddhists from achieving a higher state of consciousness free from distractions, impairments, and attachments.

While some Buddhist communities (particularly those in Western countries) might interpret this precept more loosely, most schools of Buddhism advocate avoiding or strictly moderating alcohol consumption. This allows Buddhists to focus on spiritual growth, moral and ethical behavior, and clear thinking.

Other Religions and Alcohol

Let’s look at how a few other major religions approach alcohol.

  • Hinduism. Hinduism is incredibly diverse, and it doesn't have a unified stance on alcohol consumption. Many Hindu scriptures caution against alcohol and consider it an impediment to spiritual growth and moral conduct. In some Hindu communities, abstinence from alcohol is seen as a virtue. Other groups might not strictly prohibit alcohol but emphasize moderation and self-control. The approach can vary greatly depending on regional practices, individual beliefs, and the specific teachings of various Hindu sects.
  • Sikhism. Sikhism explicitly prohibits the consumption of intoxicants, including alcohol. The Sikh code of conduct, the Sikh Rehat Maryada, advises against any substance that can be intoxicating or lead to loss of control. This prohibition is rooted in the Sikh pursuit of a disciplined, controlled life and maintaining a clear mind.
  • Jainism. Jainism strongly advocates for a life of nonviolence and austerity, and as such, it generally prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol is considered harmful to the body and mind, which goes against the fundamental Jain principle of nonviolence.
  • Taoism. In Taoism, there isn't a strict prohibition against alcohol, but moderation is a core aspect of Taoist philosophy, which emphasizes balance and harmony in all aspects of life. While alcohol is not explicitly banned, excessive drinking is discouraged as it disrupts this balance.

Tips for Navigating Religion and Alcohol

Whether you’re navigating your own relationship to alcohol using the lens of your religious tradition, or you’re reading to learn more about a friend or family member, there are a few approaches you can take to gain clarity on the way different religious communities feel about alcohol.

  • Educate yourself about other traditions. Broaden your understanding by learning about the beliefs and practices of other religions. Even if you don’t come away with scholarly expertise, making an effort and keeping an open mind are ways to show respect.
  • Reach out to someone knowledgeable. The internet is a great resource, of course, but many religious leaders are open to talking with people and answering questions about their faith. You can reach out to a temple or worship center with questions — but keep in mind, no religion is a monolith. If you’re trying to understand a specific person in your life, ask them! They may have their own opinions about alcohol outside of their faith’s teachings.
  • Respect cultural and individual differences. Recognize that interpretations and practices regarding alcohol can vary greatly, even within the same religious tradition. Approach these differences with respect and an open mind, avoiding assumptions about others’ beliefs and practices.
  • Seek understanding, not judgment. Focus on understanding people’s choices and interpretations rather than judging them. Likewise, if you’re exploring your own relationship to alcohol and have found that it doesn’t align with your faith, remember that most religions emphasize forgiveness and atonement — so be gentle with yourself, too.
  • Be mindful in social settings. In social situations involving people from other religious backgrounds, be sensitive to their beliefs about alcohol. Non-alcoholic options are a safe bet for everyone, and they create an inclusive environment for those who don’t wish to drink.
  • Reflect on your own beliefs. Consider your own views on alcohol. How did you arrive at these views? Do they come from religious or cultural tradition, were they passed down to you, or were they developed from personal experience? This reflection can help you gain insight into yourself and the complexity of alcohol’s role in culture.

Wrapping Up

All religions take a slightly different approach to alcohol, but one thing is pretty consistent: moderation and abstinence are the most valued paths to spiritual health. For this reason, many people trying to quit or cut back on alcohol consumption derive strength and guidance from religion. If you have a religious tradition and are trying to change your relationship with alcohol, consider reaching out to a faith leader and using an app like Reframe to nurture you on your journey.

Summary FAQs

1. Can Jews drink alcohol?

Yes. Alcohol is an integral part of many Jewish rituals and observances like Shabbat and Passover. Some Jewish people are careful to identify beverages that are certified kosher in accordance with their dietary traditions.

2. Are Muslims allowed to drink alcohol?

No. Drinking alcohol is expressly forbidden in the Quran, and this view is held pretty unanimously among practicing Muslims. In fact, many Muslim countries do not allow the sale of alcohol.

3. Can Catholics drink alcohol?

Yes. Just like many other Christian denominations, Catholics are allowed to drink alcohol, although moderation is encouraged.

4. Do Buddhists drink alcohol?

Buddhism and alcohol have a more complex relationship, but drinking is generally discouraged if not outright forbidden. Alcohol interferes with the ability of Buddhists to engage in clear-headed moral behavior and ethical action, which are necessary for achieving their faith goals.

5. Is it a sin to drink? When does drinking become a sin?

Each faith tradition has its own answer to this question. Some religions — such as Mormonism, Islam, and some schools of Buddhism — consider any form of drinking to be a sin or an immoral behavior. Others do not have explicit guidance, although an emphasis on moderation is a common theme.

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