Recently sages studying the frequency of binge drinking revealed the drunkest cities in the U.S. Wisconsin sports eight of the top 10. College towns predominate. High, not higher education? The best communities are often ranked on affordability, quality health care, edu- cation level and opportunity, employment, crime rate, etc. College towns also rate high on these. One list of the worst cities found the leaders within a 400 mile east-west span: Detroit, Flint, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Birmingham, Memphis, and Albany, GA. Longitude seems to matter.
Our new suburb has feeder highways and sub-divisions with no through streets. Churches abound. They’re sprawling structures on large acreage with ample parking lots. But I see few nightclubs or road houses. Some bars, often sports bars, are wedged into strip shopping cen- ters, but that’s about it.
The ideal community should have a proper ratio of churches and bars. Too many churches and sanctimony chokes life. Recall Geneva under John Calvin and Massachusetts under the Puritans. The latter even hanged Quakers, the least violent people. The over reaching principle seemed to be that anything fun was sinful.
Sodom and Gomorrah were not nice places and old west towns like pre-Earp Dodge City found violence spreading from its saloons. One listing of the world’s wickedest cities suggested we visit them, probably not on a pastor-led tour.
Compare churches and bars. Churches need bars to provide fresh sinners. Some, after church, really need a drink. Churches are larger, with hundreds of seats. Bars count their seats in dozens. Churches are open only a few hours per week. Bars are open daily. Churches close early; bars don’t. So you can attend both. Church decor features stained glass and statuary; bars neon beer company signs. Most churches require an application and screening. Bars will serve almost anyone. Church officials dress up while bar maids often reveal skin.
Clergy provide valuable counseling, but no one has heard more woe than a bartender. The proffered remedy is immediate and goes down easily. Both institutions offer music. Some churches have guitars, but I have yet to see bar with a pipe organ. Church congregations sing in unison. Drunks sing spontaneously. Perhaps one day a bartender will shout, “Turn to page 28 in your song books and join in singing, ‘I Want A Beer Just Like The Beer That Pickled My Old Man.’ “ A subdued hotel cocktail lounge may be as a quiet as an Episcopal congregation during the sermon. Snoozing occurs in both places. A holy roller hymn shout, even sans snakes, can compete for noise with a sports bar on a college football Saturday.
Fights in bars are more overt and over quick- ly. The weapons are most often curses and fists though guns and knives have been seen. It’s a few hundred years since Christians killed Christians of contrary persuasion as well as Jews. Remember the Cathars. Huguenots fled Catholics to St Augustine and Catholics fled Anglicans to Georgia. Sound like the the Shiites and Sunnis? Now, fights in churches are drawn out and feature backbiting and sniping. United Methodist is, after all, an oxymoron.
In the conservative evangelical temperance congregation in which I was raised, the preacher decided to move the pulpit to one side of the platform and put a table with a gold cross in the center. Acrimony ensued. “It’s Papist!” some nearly shouted. Angry words followed. The con- flict was drawn out. Friendships were destroyed. Feelings were hurt irreparably. People left the church. A few quick punches might have been better.
But the overarching question remains unan- swered. Just how many bars per church? Join me in urging our think tanks to move from trivial issues like nuclear war and global starvation, to this vital question.