In her novel Though Waters Roar (2009), Lynn Austin tells the story of Beatrice “Bebe” Garner through the eyes of her granddaughter Harriet Sherwood. She marries Horatio Garner, an alcoholic who suffers nightmares from his days in the Civil War. Instead of overseeing his father’s tannery, Horatio often comes home at 2am, drunk. Inspired by Carrie Nation, Bebe decides to start a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Its activities include educating churchgoers, signing temperance pledges, listing saloon customers in newspapers, and chopping up saloons and alcohol shipments with an axe. The women sing and pray outside these saloons, hoping to deter their male customers and close them. Bebe even takes Horatio to their cabin, in order to get him away from saloons so he won’t be tempted to drink.
Does this flurry of activity sound familiar? The WCTU isn’t what it used to be, but the pro-life movement has successfully taken its place. Through articles and posters, websites educate people about the evils of abortion and euthanasia. Some men and women stand outside abortion clinics with pro-life signs. Others sing and pray. They should be like Carrie Nation and use axes! Still other people fight cigarettes, guns, drugs, alcohol, pornography, nuclear weapons, inadequate education, racism, and poverty. As horrible as some of these things are (especially the substance abuse), they’re not the problem – just red herrings. The real problem is sin.
Horatio Garner’s real problem isn’t alcohol. It isn’t his adulterous and non-attentive father either, although Horatio likes to blame him. They’re just red herrings. No, Horatio’s problem is sin. It manifests itself in selfishness and an evil eye toward his illegitimate half-brother Neil McLeod, a humble Christian and the foreman of their father’s tannery. Horatio just drowns his sorrows in alcohol. If he’d lived today, he might have snorted cocaine instead. Horatio dies a sober hero, having saved thousands of people from a Johnstown-like flood, but he doesn’t die a Christian.
At the end of the novel, Bebe finally realizes she’s “been fighting the wrong battle,” i.e. alcohol instead of Satan (Austin 424). Writing and passing laws doesn’t produce obedience, since Prohibition (1920-33) didn’t eliminate the problem. The truth is that “only God can change people,” so a Christian’s duty is “to bring people to Christ” (425). However, good legislation is still vital for law and order. It and evangelism help fix society’s problems. They go hand-in-hand.
I wish Bebe had seen this truth in time. Then she would have spent more time fighting Satan, praying for her husband’s salvation. I wish more pro-lifers would see this truth as well. Then they’d spend less time fighting abortion and more time fighting Satan in prayer. It’s amazing what God can do with pro-choice people. Their politics always change after conversion!
I live in a wet county. It has no bars (saloons), but alcohol is sold at some restaurants and most grocery stores and gas stations. I’m sure Horatio Garner would have loved the place. Unlike him, I don’t drink. I certainly don’t buy alcohol, so I rarely go to the “wet” restaurants. Although I can’t avoid the grocery stores and gas stations, I don’t add alcohol to my shopping cart or fill-up. The crucial difference between Horatio and me is Jesus Christ, or at least a Christian culture (church, etc) that my parents and I have chosen to saturate ourselves in.
People love to blame families, situations, and environments for all their problems. They love to point outside. Sometimes, like Horatio’s father and the Civil War, other people and situations cause real problems that we must overcome. However, they’re still red herrings and we’re still playing a blame game. Most legal, moral, and social problems we see in our culture today don’t stem from that culture. They stem from sinful people instead. People create culture. If there were no people today or only devout believers who wrote and obeyed good laws, then things like abortion, pornography, alcoholism, murder, and racism would not exist.
Adam and Eve were the first people to play the blame game, the first to point to a red herring. After they ate from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the couple hid from God. When he asked them what happened, Adam pointed to his wife: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate” (Genesis 3:12, NKJV). Then Eve pointed to the snake: “The serpent deceived me and I ate” (3:13, NKJV). They were right! They didn’t lie about what happened, just deflected blame from themselves. God knew that the real problem was sin – disobedience – and he judged them accordingly.
Our real problem is inside us and it’s called sin. We have to stop pointing at other people as the cause of our mistakes, failures, and situations and start pointing at ourselves. We have to identify the problem as sin, repent, and turn to Jesus Christ. Only he can fix us.