“Beer is Proof that God Loves Us and Wants Us to be Happy”
A common misattribution I have seen spread over the web, and one that strikes a couple of notes with me, is the one in the title of this piece, and is often credited to Benjamin Franklin. The misquote reads:
Not only did Benjamin Franklin never say this (at least not in recorded history), but his original quote had more to do with a naturalistic view of the world, the falling of rain, the growing of grapes and the production of wine, and had nothing to do with beer at all. In fact, it is suggested that Franklin couldn’t stand the taste of beer, but actually preferred wine. The origins of the quote come from a letter Franklin wrote to a French acquaintance named André Morellet, in which he was discussing the “miracle” water into wine as performed by Jesus. The actual quote read:
If you are wondering why I find this topic interesting, as many of you may already know, I am rather fond of beer. I love to make it, I love to drink it, and I love to spend time with friends discussing the finer points of beer-making and its intricacies. So the misquote in question troubles me somewhat, because not only is it not a true quote, but rather a bit-piece that fits well onto a teeshirt that may be worn by a nationalistic American alcoholic, neither is it a true statement, for it presupposes the notion that at an ultra-reductionist level, God made everything, and made everything possible. His actual original quote makes this quite clear, even if it is about wine rather than beer.
Apart from the quote being a fake, I disagree with the premise of the necessity of a god for the crops to grow in order to make wine. What this does, apart from making the presupposition that god is required for physics to work in the universe (a standpoint which is unprovable and comes from a place of belief, not of fact), but it ignores the tireless efforts of mankind, the chance discoveries made and the ingenuity of our early forebears to make such a discovery as beer and wine making. It’s a denial of the importance of mankind’s contribution to our own history, and while it is poetic, it’s simply a statement without proof.
Beer-making, like any perfected human activity, is not something that simply sprung into existence without precedence. It took much trial and error to get to where we are now, in much the same way as we have built upon old technologies to create computers and aeroplanes. While the accidental fermentation of wheat or grain in a storage vessel is very likely the origins of domestic beer-making (probably caused by rainwater filling the vessel, and a wild yeast forming on the surface of the water), I can assure you the first “beer” tasted awful, and was only ingested so as not to waste the precious food-source. However, the production of alcohol is not something that only occurs in controlled environments. As the first accidental fermentation of grain shows, all it takes is a bit of bad or good fortune for fermentation to occur. In nature, there are many examples of fermentation of fallen fruits, some causing the intoxication of wild animals that eat them. See this example of a moose who, after too many “naturally occurring ciders” in the form of fallen apples, found himself tangled in a tree in Sweden. (It turns out the most famous example of this, footage of African animals on the savannah eating fermented fruit from 1974, was actually staged, and all the animals were artificially sedated to produce the rather comical, if not ethically unsound, spectacle).
Controlled examples of alcohol production by humans date back as far as 7000BCE in China, and the first documented case of ale-making dates back to about 5oooBCE in ancient Egypt. It is also speculated that beer may have been developed independently in different locations worldwide at different times. While this shows that the laws of nature, human tendencies and nature, and the laws of physics are the same all over the world, it hardly points to the existence of a deity.
By the same token as the original statement (and the bastardised misattribution), that god loves us and wants us to be happy, we could say that, due to the existence of nuclear weapons, god hates us and wants us to suffer horribly in a thermonuclear fire. Or we could say, due to the existence of heroin, god wants us to all become junkies. What, then, do we say of the naturally occurring diseases, parasites, natural disasters and horrible technologies that mankind has developed for the killing of others? Does the existence of the bot-fly prove to us that god wants us to have live grubs burrowing within our eye-sockets in a terribly painful fashion? Or is god only attributable for the good things in the world, and the rest is all the work of the devil?
Of course, this is all an overly-simplistic view of the world. We live in an incredibly complex world, one where environments and the creatures that dwell within them, are all interactive and co-dependent. We are seeing that the degradation of our planet’s natural environments is spelling doom for many species on earth, and maybe, eventually, our own. The human-centric view that god has blessed us with alcohol to make us happy is along the same lines that the dominionists use to attempt to back the wanton abuse of natural resources, with the view in mind that god placed them on earth for us to use.
But I digress.
Beer is the perfect combination for me of science, food and enjoyment. It is testable, repeatable and drinkable. Not only do I get to experiment with flavours and textures in my own kitchen, measuring grams of hops and steeping grains for my mash, but I get to drink this wonderful concoction after several weeks with my friends and family. For me, beer-making is the closest thing on earth to alchemy, only the gold I seek is in liquid form. If there were a god, and I wanted to thank him for something, beer would be high up on the list.
And as the famous Australian writer Henry Lawson is attributed as saying, “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer.” I think there’s something for us all in that statement.