Since starting college in the fall, I have had a number of strange experiences. Among the most intriguing was probably this weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. I am not just talking about being an Italian wearing “proud to be Irish” paraphernalia and seeing all sorts of nutty fellow students at a number of odd parties. I find it interesting that what originated as a Saint’s feast day has turned into the biggest drinking day of the year for young adults, an excuse to get drunk during the day and then go at it again. This day prompted some thinking on my part about drinking and college kids, in this post, I am just going to be sharing some of these thoughts.
For starters, I think that drinks have an important place in the history of Catholicism. It seems to me that Catholics have a very appealing attitude towards drinking. Of course Catholic moral theologians have always taught that it is morally permissible to drink in moderation. St. Thomas recommended red wine as a form of relaxation. Hilare Belloc stated “wherever the Catholic sun does shine, there is plenty of laughter and good red wine.” Monks have brewed beer throughout history. And of course, none of this should come as a surprise. I mean Jesus Himself chose as His first miracle the changing of water to great tasting wine at a wedding. Certainly a festive thing to do. Not to mention the fact that Christ gave us His precious blood in order that He may remain with us under the appearance of wine. Personally, I see this as all very positive. Drinking is a central part of social activity above a certain age and a great compliment to a good meal.
Now, in many states (perhaps most, I am not sure), it is illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 21. I find this to be a ridiculous law for a number of reasons. First of all, people can fight at age 18. It is nuts to think that an 18-year old can be given the responsibility of killing an enemy combatant but cannot be trusted with even handling a bottle of liquor in the store (as is the case around here). What the heck is that about? Moreover, college kids, and high school kids as well, are going to drink no matter what. It is nearly impossible to enforce a law about what people consume especially if that thing is legally sold and bought. I also think that because of the fact that it is illegal to drink under a certain age, some kids are not exposed much until maybe at some party when they have no idea what they are doing and they end up hurting themselves. It is better to have a system in which younger kids are exposed a little to drinking and then when they are in a situation like a party, they have somewhat of a tolerance or at least a sense of what they are doing. As most people know, drinking to some degree is an integral part to a social life in college. It is crazy for the government to make a law which they can barely enforce, restricting something which is not intrinsically immoral, with the knowledge that no one will follow the law, and on and on. But who expects the government to do anything rational these days anyway…I mean, we think dismembering children in the wombs of their mothers is somehow a human right.
I don’t want to make it sound like I think drinking in excess is okay. Getting drunk is actually quite common and a major problem for many people on campus, and I don’t want to defend it. Of course, I am used to people drinking too much and being stupid, etc. so I’m not going to get too worked up about every instance. And in all reality, this is not preventable anywhere at any time by anyone. I do think something needs to be done however about the excessive drunkenness, both in amount and degree. I mean it is one thing to drink too much at a party. It is another thing to try to make it through the week with the intent of “getting smashed” that weekend regardless of what social events are taking place. Alcohol as part of a social event like party can be a fun compliment, but making the entire social life at college revolve around not just drinking but getting sloppy drunk is over the top. I personally don’t see why people like it so much. Also, I think drunk people are often incredibly annoying. More than my own distaste I think that there are other problems with crazy drunkenness on college campus. The reason that Catholic moralists have opposed drunkenness is because it unnecessarily deprives a person of his reason, which makes it more likely he will act in a manner which is harmful to body and/or soul. There are all sorts of possibilities, so this is of course an issue to be dealt with. I am not sure how exactly.
Also, and definitely related, is something that has been on my mind since first coming here. Why do people enjoy this? Why do people love getting hammered. I mean I understand why someone might drink to “take the edge off” or something. I get why people would enjoy a party and if drinking is part of that, I see why they want that too. So I see why there is an attraction to drinking in general, and even drinking immoderately (not that this justifies it). What I don’t get is the extreme. One of the things that strikes me is the lack of creativity in doing things that don’t involve getting drunk. One of the main social events here for freshmen is “dorm drinking” which doesn’t even involve a party scene. Usually there is no loud music, certainly no dancing, no new people, no possible girls to pursue or any of that. Really it’s just sitting in the dorm drinking with a few other people. And I’m not talking about a bunch of friends not having anywhere to go and just hanging out playing games, talking, enjoying each other while having a few drinks. I am talking about sitting in the dorm with one intent, namely to get completely wasted. But what is attractive about this?
I don’t know the answer but I have a few initial comments that I’d like to share. First of all, whatever the mechanism is, this excessive drinking is an attempt at some sort of happiness. It may be a dumb and misguide attempt, but it is an attempt all the same. I don’t know if its just the “drunk feeling” (as some people say) or the ability to be goofy without negative feedback, the funny memories the day after, fitting in, or just saying “remember when I was ****** up?!” But regardless, there is some form of happiness people are seeking here (legitimate or otherwise).
I am going to side track for a moment and talk about something else I saw and relate it back to the drinking. There is this wooden black board with sharpies in our hallway set up by an art student for others to just write whatever is on their mind. It is some sort of project I think. On this board, many people wrote standard stuff like food and sex or made some sort of joke. However, a huge portion of the comments were serious. Among the serious ones, there were almost exclusively in two categories. Either, the comment was about relationships or about purpose in life. Most of them were not happy serious comments. They had a feeling of despair in them. This is apparently on the minds of college students more than everyday conversation would let on. I am not sure how much it actually effects their ordinary lives, but the fact that they put it down makes me think more than one might expect.
How is this related? Well I don’t think there is necessarily a direct sort of relationship like “well, I don’t know what the hell life is about so I might as well get drunk.” But I do think there is a relationship of some sort. When I say that, I don’t mean a causal one necessarily either. I just think that there is some sort of correlation between this perceived lack of meaning and the abuse of alcohol. The reason I think that there is a connection is that people are experiencing a sense of hopelessness without meaning in the world. Now, I am not saying that your average college kid is spending hours depressed. I am saying that there is a cold atmosphere, an almost subtle despair around us. Sometimes, everyone seems to think that there is just a pile of endless work and nothing more. Misusing alcohol is just part of the grand symphony where people don’t see a greater sense of purpose and aim in their lives.
I don’t want this to drag on, so I will leave a few concluding remarks now. This is all mostly reflective, not an argument for anything in particular. I do think something needs to be done. I am not sure exactly what, but people need to start thinking. In all of this though, I don’t think the problem is that people have self-esteem issues. The other day, I saw a teen lent journey kind of booklet which basically made everything about feeling better about yourself. This is the wrong approach. I might talk about this in a future post. For now, I just want to say that it misses the point. If people feel lost and directionless, its because they don’t understand what life is about. Remember always, as we emphasize here at Catholicxray, we were made to know, love, and serve God in this life so to be happy forever with Him in the next. This is why we are here, and everything should be ordered towards this goal.
Anyway, although it’s a little late, happy St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick, Pray for Us!