Americans’ drinking habits vary by faith

Light of truth

In the United States and many other countries, religiously active people are less likely to drink alcohol than those who are not as religious. That may not be a surprise: Holy texts from the Christian New Testament to the Quran and the Hindu Dharmashastras warn against the dangers of excessive drinking and other potentially harmful “vices.” Many religious leaders, including the late Rev. Billy Graham, have urged followers to abstain from alcohol. Despite these teachings, the relationship between religion and alcohol consumption remains a nuanced one, and not all U.S. religious groups eschew alcohol to the same degree, according to a Pew Research Centre survey conducted in 2015.

Half of U.S. adults (51%) who say they attend religious services at least once a month report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, according to the survey. That compares with roughly six-in-ten (62%) among people who attend worship services less often or not at all. Similarly, only 13% of monthly attenders engaged in recent binge drinking – defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more for men – compared with 21% of less frequent attenders.

Christianity played a large role in the U.S. temperance movement. Yet alcohol remains a prominent part of the Christian religion, from the Gospel account of Jesus turning water into wine, to present-day European monks who support themselves by brewing beer, to the use of wine in some contemporary communion services.

Among U.S. Christians, for example, Catholics are more likely than Protestants to say they’ve consumed alcohol in the past 30 days (60% vs. 51%). Adults who don’t belong to any religion, meanwhile, are more likely (24%) than both Catholics (17%) and Protestants (15%) to have engaged in binge drinking in the past month.

(The survey did not include enough Mormon or Muslim respondents to analyze separately, but both of these religious groups teach their followers to abstain from alcohol).

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