College Sots, or College Saints?


I was recently interviewed by the Cardinal Newman Society about drinking on Catholic college campuses (for the article, click here). What I said can basically be boiled down to three points:

1. College drinking, Catholic colleges included, is a serious problem. You can check out the alarming statistics here.

2. Catholic colleges are in a tight spot. They are inheriting problems created by high school drinking, and they are being pressured by secular forces to view excessive drinking as a problem merely because it is a public safety issue and an issue that, on account of date rape and other forms of sexual assault linked to it, violates mutual consent between two adult sexual partners (which is pretty much now the only form of adult sexual activity of which our society disapproves). Binge drinking and the like are public safety issues, and sexual assault is wrong, but Catholic colleges and universities should be viewing and treating college drinking through the robust lens of Christian morality and not simply this pale and reductionistic lens.

3. Thanks to the current legal age limit, one resource that is not available to colleges–at least with respect to most of their underclassmen–is teaching the youth how to drink properly. Odd as this may sound, it is better than the current alternative, namely, leaving the youth to learn from each other, which is the clearest case of the blind leading the blind that one can possibly imagine (aside from imagining two people that are literally blind, of course). By contrast, I was once told that when my alma mater Santa Clara University in California was an all-male institution, the Jesuit fathers would open up their bar to students every Tuesday for a happy hour. Their goal was not to spread vice but to teach virtue, that is, to have responsible and conscientious priests show their students how to practice the moderate art of drinking in combination with enjoyable and intelligent conversation. For they knew that like any other skill or moral excellence, a person learns best when imitating the right actions of a mentor. But back then, the legal drinking age was eighteen.


I am not saying that we should necessarily return to the eighteen-and-older law on alcohol consumption, but surely there are ways that we can pop the destructive bubble of the college drinking culture and replace it with a higher, more sacramental mode of drinking. I recently learned that the word “sot” currently means drunkard but originally meant fool. Is there no way to teach today’s poor college sots, in both senses of the word, to eat and drink wisely unto the glory of God? (1 Cor. 10:31). Or will the concern at Christian institutions go no further than worries about legal liability and whether or not consent was soberly obtained before acts of fornication?

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