Human prohibition having produced nothing good, unless you count seeing small-time contraband crooks turning into big-time organized crime bosses, what about the divine prohibition invoked by religions?
Hinduism and Buddhism: The First Steps Towards Widespread Prohibition.
The eating of animal flesh results, first and foremost, from a deliberate act of killing. Hinduism, in its “highest” form, forbids the old ways of finding food, practiced in the days when we gathered a herd of animals in quest of easy food, or when the first mammoth to come along was good to put on a spit. Although consuming a chicken egg may be considered theft of progeny in the Hindu divine high court, ingesting the fermented fruit of the vine is a matter of censure for those who wish to attain high spiritual elevation. To summarize hastily, as this is supposed to be a very brief history of prohibitions and not a manual of theology, a great soul will abstain from drinking, but a fellow who wants to be reincarnated as a dandelion or a greenfly can souse himself liberally, although he will have to be prepared, when the time comes to move from one life to the next, for hand-to-hand combat with Shiva.
Buddhism, wrongly considered a variant of Hindusim, suggests the same principles of life: a healthy mind in a healthy body; fermented drinks are forbidden to those who wish to attain “awakening.” However, the rule seems somewhat vague: “Drinking fermented drinks must be revealed.” So, a penchant for the bottle must be confessed, in order to receive the suitable moral correction, although this may be exile from the community, which is the most terrible punishment for the disciple, who is thus deprived of spiritual support. Nonetheless, in Eric Trombert’s study on the subject, it is observed that a large part of the budget of the Dunhuang cloisters was used for buying alcoholic drinks … it might be wondered if sometimes, isolated as they were in their great arid and chilly desert, some forbidden drunkenness might not have relieved the monks of the monotonous lethargy of the long, lonely keening, and if it is possible to remain a good disciple of Buddha even if the monastery suddenly takes on the appearance of a tavern.
Judaism and Christianity: A Single Consecrated Wine
In their common Bible, Jews and Christians share the same idea about the consumption of fermented drinks: “Let us drink a little, but not too much.” The drunk is generally castigated, but without punishing him too harshly. Furthermore, wine is a drink possessed of a certain divine essence … much as beer was for the Mesopotamians. Wine, for the Jews, practically has a liturgical value because of the libations in the days of the Tabernacle and the temple of Jerusalem, before the destruction of the latter by Titus in 70. Christians would go further, hijacking the primary sacrificial meaning (of the libation of the product of the vine), by conferring a new metaphoric value on it. Thus, wine would become, during the Easter rites, the blood of Christ, martyred by those idiot Romans, die-hard pagans, shameless drinkers of posca.
However, the Talmud does inject a little satanic venom into the holy drink, in coming up with a juicy anecdote. According to the most sacred Hebrew text after the Bible, Noah, organic farmer and builder of a floating zoo, first saviour of humanity and father of all nations, Noah planted the first vine as the first act to mark a new beginning after the great universal drowning. The devil himself, sworn enemy of humankind, decided to corrupt the holy plantation by slitting the throats of three poor creatures, only just saved from the flood, being, in order, a lion, a monkey, and a pig. So it is that today, we can drink a little and feel as strong as a lion, imbibe a little too much and begin to monkey around, before finally, as all drunkards on earth do, falling into the mire of immorality and the muck of porcine indecency.
Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, acknowledged as the true organizational thinker of the Christian “sect,” prescribed a little wine, in his epistles, as a lining for the stomach, while shouting down the epicurean leanings of some of the Corinthian flock, who did not truly believe in the Resurrection. As for the Master, Jesus the Messiah, who changed water into good wine, he himself passed, according to envious scribes and other jealous Pharisees, “for a drunkard and a glutton” and, anyway, had he been a good ascetic, like his cousin John the Baptist “neither eating nor drinking,” he would have inherited the title of being possessed by evil. In those troubled times, moderation was not lacking in the consumption of wine, but in human hearts
Islam: Between the Word of God and the Practice of Men
The problem (or the genius) of Islam is that there is no hierarchy … no priests, no clergy, just humankind and the one God, who was not begotten and has not begat either. Even the “guides,” that is, the succession of Prophets holding humanity’s hand from Adam to the son of Abdallah Ibn Al-Muttalib, cannot interfere in the relationship between God and His “lieutenant” on earth. Although the divine word contained in the Koran seems to promote moderation in all places and at all times (except in the case of war, where you will be required to fight until the first white flag is raised), it is not surprising to learn that this area of absolute free will has been gamely appropriated by a cohort of experts in exegesis, some more scrupulous than others. If God Himself asks his servants to stay away from gambling and fermented drinks, not to come to worship in a state of drunkenness, but to consider that, even so, there is some good to be found in alcoholic drinks, these injunctions will primarily be seen as wise and informed pieces of advice and not the laying down of formal interdictions. Drunkenness existed, therefore, in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who was saddened by it and condemned it as any spiritual guide would have done. Except, like any religion that meddles in public matters, inadmissible excesses seem to have led those in charge to interpret the scriptures more strictly, conferring on them the character of total prohibition, a definitive ban on making, selling, importing, exporting, and consuming alcoholic drinks. The drunkard, caught red-handed in his sin on the public highway, would thus be punished with a blow of the regulation baton in the name of an all-too-human law … which would be systematically associated with the supposed words of the Prophet. This ban would be applied to a greater or lesser extent depending on the place or the time. It will be noted that Arab literature about wine can be very wordy: there are countless poems praising and extolling the virtues of the accursed beverage; of course, poetry can allow itself some licence, and anyway, isn’t the forbidden drink supposed to flow freely in divine gardens? The supreme book says so: it would be a rare wine, of high quality … proof that drink is one of the ultimate rewards of the afterlife and that tasting it before the bell tolls is to allow oneself a little piece of heaven.
To close this quest for prohibition, what could be better than to drink in these few clumsily translated verses by Abou Nuwas, an eighth-century Arab poet, half-mad, half-genius, a pimp and a pederast, but a bard of good living and good wine:
“Spread out before us, the laughter of the green and glistening young shoots of the apple trees. We drank, alone, a secret beverage known only to the cupbearer. The ruby-red liquor had the colour of gold in the silvery glimmer of our cups. If a fruit should have known the lips of my love, I hastened to bite into it to steal a kiss of my own. She finally cast off the veil of her modesty, her eyes betraying an impudent languor. The aroma of the wine clouded her mind and coloured the pearly sheen of her cheeks. She forgot the cord of her robe, tightly fastened at her waist, and I undid it with a deft move; she who balked so at offering me her lips did battle no more. She allowed herself to be possessed by a benevolent spirit, who knew what path to take to guide the first steps of my beautiful lover towards love’s heady intoxication.”