“The Search For God and Guinness,” by Stephen Mansfield

I recently read Stephen Mansfield’s new book, “The Search For God and Guinness.” The title is perhaps a bit of an overstretch. But it does attract the kind of reader who is interested in the history of beer and a business like Guinness from a Christian perspective.

I wouldn’t say “The Search For God and Guinness” is a must-read. But for someone like me who wanted to read something fun while on the beach of Lake Michigan on vacation, I was not disappointed. I particularly enjoyed reading about the history of beer in general, and from a Christian-historical perspective, as well as how a long-standing business like Guinness (it was established by Arthur Guinness in Dublin, Ireland in 1759) is such a good example of how a successful business and increasing family wealth can be used to accomplish so much good in society. And so much good for the spread of the gospel as well. (You can purchase a hardback copy here. I read mine on my Kindle, and that version can be purchased for $10 here.)

I’d like to share some of what I thought were the more interesting highlights from this book. Just according to my opinion, of course. Stop reading whenever you start losing interest, but I found all of these excerpts below to be both historically informative and theologically thought-provoking.

The first excerpt will need some explanation. The author is admitting that he never really liked beer himself, but he was raised the son of a military officer and so has, I think, an interesting perspective of beer through the eyes of a child watching his parents enjoy beer.

Having given that one explanation, all of what follows are all Mansfield’s words from “The Search For God and Guinness.”

I recall watching [my dad] as he transformed from warrior to easy-going Dad. There was something about those moments alone with his newspaper and beer that seemed to me a liturgy, a mystery of manhood my father had mastered and that I hoped I would one day understand. It seemed to symbolize all the other moments in my father’s life when beer played a role. Beer seems ever-present in military life and I had watched my parents drink it with friends at the officers’ club and at battalion picnics and after rounds of golf. There was always the teasing and the laughter and the adult conversations that my young ears longed to understand and all of this was associated with the beer. Somehow I knew early on that the presence of beer changes human interaction, that it gentles the soul and brings about a less guarded state. My father was a different man when he drank a beer and not because he consumed very much of it—he never did—but rather because the beer seemed to give him permission to relax, to stand down and find a human connection to those nearby.

Beer, well respected and rightly consumed, can be a gift of God. It is one of his mysteries, which it was his delight to conceal and the glory of kings to search out. And men enjoy it to mark their days and celebrate their moments and stand with their brothers in the face of what life brings.

I find it interesting, given the controversies over alcohol that would eventually erupt in the history of the Christian church, that the arrival of Christianity in the world and its eventual sway over the empire did not diminish the Roman love of beer. For the early Christians, drunkenness was the sin—as their apostles had repeatedly taught—and not the consumption of alcohol. After all, their Lord had miraculously created wine at a wedding feast, the fledgling church drank wine at its sacred meals, and Christian leaders even instructed their disciples to take wine as a cure for ailments. Clearly, beer and wine used in moderation were welcomed by the early Christians and were taken as a matter of course. It was excess and drunkenness and the immorality that came from both that the Christians opposed. Many historians have noted that this positive Christian perspective on alcohol probably even encouraged brewing, because it both sanctioned a temperate love of beer and welcomed beer as an alternative to more high-alcohol drinks. This theory is supported by the fact that beer is so intertwined with the history of the Christian faith that it is tempting to believe that Christians discovered it. Perhaps in its holy and moderate use, they did.

As Christians captured the Roman world with their ideals and then took their gospel to non-Roman lands, beer was very much a part of the story. For example, around the turn of the fifth century, the revered St. Patrick introduced the Christian gospel to the wild and pagan land of Ireland. Always at his side was Mescan, the great saint’s personal brewmaster. It seems that Patrick understood godly hospitality and captured many an Irish tribal chieftain with his tasty beer before he won the man for God. In other words, yes, beer played a role in the winning of Ireland for Christ.

Historians Will and Ariel Durant have written in The Story of Civilization: The Reformation that at the time of Luther, “a gallon of beer per day was the usual allowance per person, even for nuns.” This may help to explain why beer figures so prominently in the life and writings of the great reformer. He was German, after all, and he lived at a time when beer was the European drink of choice. Moreover, having been freed from what he considered to be a narrow and life-draining religious legalism, he stepped into the world ready to enjoy its pleasures to the glory of God. For Luther, beer flowed best in a vibrant Christian life. …He did not suffer fools lightly and could barely stand those who feared moral excess and so retreated from everything that might tempt them in the world. “Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused,” he once wrote. “Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”

Luther spent much of his life in the taverns of Wittenberg and not just because he loved to drink beer. He often mentored his students there, studied there, met important visitors there, and, upon occasion, even taught classes there. The time he spent in taverns and inns gave him a chance to look out onto the world as it was in his day, to experience and to observe. He surely chatted with prostitutes, helped carry drunks out the fair door, and may have mediated more than his fair share of spats between tipsy husbands and wives. The tavern was where Luther learned of the world he was called to reform with the gospel of Christ. …He viewed drink as good for the body, an aid to social life, and a gift of God.

In his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote, “We are nowhere forbidden to laugh, or to be satisfied with food . . . or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine.” The great Genevan reformer also wrote, “It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but also to make us merry.” …In his little classic, The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, Calvin developed the case that God has “made the earthly blessings for our benefit, and not for our harm”: If we study . . . why he has created the various kinds of food, we shall find that it was his intention not only to provide for our needs, but likewise for our pleasure and for our delight . . . . For, if this were not true, the Psalmist would not enumerate among the divine blessings “the wine that makes glad the heart of man, and the oil that makes his face to shine.”

This likely comes as a surprise to those who confuse biblical Christianity with the antisaloon leagues and prohibitionism of later history. The truth is that most post-Reformation Christians believed as their first-century fathers did—that drunkenness is sin but that alcohol in moderation is one of the great gifts of God. Thus, John Wesley drank wine, was something of an ale expert, and often made sure that his Methodist preachers were paid in one of the vital currencies of the day—rum. His brother, Charles Wesley, was known for the fine port, Madeira, and sherry he often served in his home; the journals of George Whitefield are filled with references to his enjoyment of alcohol. …The revered colonial American pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards viewed alcohol in much the same way. According to biographer Elizabeth D. Dodds, Edwards grew up in the home of a father who “turned out a locally famed hard cider in the orchard behind his house.”

I understood for the first time that beer had a noble history and that it had been intricately interwoven with the Christian faith for nearly seventeen hundred years by the time Arthur was born. I understood also that brewing had long been a respected profession and this was due in part to the positive contribution it made to society. Men drank beer rather than harder liquors, improved their health as they did—the B vitamins of beer being particularly important in times of meager diets—and in the post-Reformation centuries did so with a specific sense of offering their joys to God, as Calvin and Luther had taught them to do.

Edward Cecil Guinness, great-grandson of founder, Arthur, expressed a foundational company conviction when he said, “You cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you.” Accordingly, the Guinness brewery routinely paid wages that were 10 to 20 percent higher than average, had a reputation as the best place to work in Ireland, and, as important to many employees, allowed workers two pints a day of their famous dark stout. Moreover, the benefits the company gave its employees surpass those even envisioned by modern companies like Google and Microsoft. Consider the snapshot provided by a Guinness company report in 1928, not an exceptionally enlightened time for corporate treatment of employees. Guinness workers at the brewery in Dublin enjoyed the attention of two fully qualified doctors who staffed an onsite clinic where any employee, wife, or child could receive treatment. These privileges extended to widows and pensioners, as well. The doctors were available night or day, made house calls, and would consult specialists on their patients’ behalf if necessary. There were also two dentists available to employees, two pharmacists, two nurses, a “lady visitor” who assured healthy conditions in workers’ homes, and a masseuse. Hospital beds were provided both at the Guinness plant and at a “sanatoria” in the country, intended for patients recovering from tuberculosis. This was only the beginning. Retirees received pensions “at the pleasure of the board,” without having to make contributions of their own. This benefit extended to widows as well. If an employee or an employee’s family member died, the company paid the majority of the funeral expenses. To improve the lives of their employees, the company provided a savings bank on site and contributed to a fund from which workers could borrow to purchase houses. To make sure that life in these homes was all it could be, the company also sponsored competitions to encourage domestic skills, with cash awards for sewing, cooking, decorating, gardening, and hat making. Concerts and lectures were provided for the wives of workers, in the belief that the moral and intellectual level of a home would rise only to that of the mother or wife who lived there. This same philosophy led to the company’s sponsorship of guilds and associations of every kind. There was an association for the keeping and breeding of “Dogs, Poultry, Pigeons and Cage birds,” for the cultivation of vegetables and flowers, and for the “encouragement of Home Industries.” An athletic union was founded that sponsored competitions in Gaelic football, cricket, cycling, boxing, swimming, hurling, and tug-of-war. Beyond this, hardly a skill essential to brewing was not represented by a guild or professional development society, all sponsored by the company. The educational benefits were also more generous than most modern corporations provide. Guinness paid for all its employees between the ages of fourteen and thirty to attend technical schools in Dublin and even funded more advanced education for those who were qualified. There was a lending library at the plant, a musical society, and “Workmen’s Rooms”—which were lounges that allowed a hardworking man to read or just to think, to focus his mind on something beyond his labors. There were also classes in wood carving, cage making, fretwork, sketching, photography, cabinet making, handwriting, music, singing, and dancing. The generosity of Guinness seemed unlimited. Every year, every employee was paid to take his family into the country for an “Excursion Day.” Train fare was paid and money for food and entertainment was provided. Single men were allowed to take dates and, again, the company paid the bill. On the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, Guinness paid every employee an extra week’s salary.

• More than ten million glasses of Guinness are consumed each day worldwide. This is nearly two billion pints a year. • In 1759, Arthur Guinness founded the Guinness brewery in Dublin by signing a lease for the famous property at St. James’s Gate—a lease that gave him rights to that property for nine thousand years! • Arthur Guinness founded the first Sunday schools in Ireland, fought against dueling, and chaired the board of a hospital for the poor.

• A Guinness worker during the 1920s enjoyed full medical and dental care, massage services, reading rooms, subsidized meals, a company-funded pension, subsidies for funeral expenses, educational benefits, sports facilities, free concerts, lectures and entertainment, and a guaranteed two pints of Guinness beer a day. • During World War I, Guinness guaranteed all of its employees who served in uniform that their jobs would be waiting for them when they came home. Guinness also paid half salaries to the family of each man who served.

• In 2003, scientists at the University of Wisconsin reported that a pint of Guinness a day is good for the human heart.

• In the 1890s, Rupert Guinness, future head of the brewery, received five million pounds from his father on his wedding day. Shortly after, he moved into a house in the slums and launched a series of programs that served the poor.

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