The Catholic view on alcohol and drugs

An anonymous visitor asked this in the Q&A section of this blog:

Hi, I am a Baha’i who would like to know some more about Catholicism. The Baha’i Faith has clear, strongly worded teachings against alcohol, psychoactive drugs and tobacco. I’m not aware of Catholics having any code of conduct in these areas. If I’m wrong about that, can you please quote Bible and Catholic teachings on these subjects, so that I can quote those teachings to my Catholic friends to help them to improve themselves.

Unfortunately most members of the Catholic Church neither know nor care what the Church teaches. The Church is a “big tent” that includes many people whose Catholic identity is no more than an extension of their family or ethnic identity. So what the Church says may or may not matter to your friends.

There are many references to alcohol in the Bible, mostly wine. The upshot of it all is that wine is okay to consume in moderation, but one must never become drunk.

I’m not aware of the Bible saying anything about psychoactive drugs, and tobacco was not yet in use when the Bible was written.

As you probably know, the Catholic Church does not base its teachings solely on what is written in the Bible. We believe that God entrusted the Church to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, which protects it from teaching error and allows it to apply the principles of truth to new circumstances as societies change.

We understand there to be seven fundamental virtues, upon which all virtues are based. Three have to do with God and our relationship with him (faith, hope and love), which we know about only through revelation. The other four (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) are earthly virtues accessible to all mankind through reason.

We believe that to indulge in alcohol, tobacco or drugs in a way that causes harm to one’s body transgresses the virtue of temperance. (Temperance is the virtue of moderation in all things.)

We also believe that the Ten Commandments are actually categories of sins, and every possible sin falls into one of these ten categories. Harming one’s health is a violation of the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”.

If you need a reference, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2288–2291. (The Catechism’s section on the Fifth Commandment may be found online on the U.S. bishops’ website and on the Vatican website.)

Abortion and the Faith

The Baha’i Writings say that human life begins at conception. During my eight years as a Baha’i, though, I never heard anyone express concern over the practice of abortion.

In retrospect, that seems strange. Baha’is make a big deal about some aspects of human rights, like racism and sexism. But if a person begins life at conception, then isn’t abortion a human rights issue too? Why doesn’t it get the same attention that race unity does?

I’d like to hear what Baha’is have to say about this. What has been your experience in the Faith with regard to abortion? How do the members of your local community feel about it? Do they ever discuss it? Has abortion come up in firesides or in institute? How was it handled?