Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting moderation on the social agenda

Today the Anglican Bishops and Chief Constables of Wales press launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers and cost to society of binge drinking. Wales is apparently the worst place in Europe for binge drinking. "Enough is Enough" is the slogan. The aim is to encourage people to drink moderately and responsibly, not to renounce booze altogether.

About seventy people gathered in the University Students' Union for the launch. We were addressed by Archbishop Barry, Barbara Wilding, Chief Constable of South Wales, Michael McCabe Chief A&E Consultant in Morriston Hospital, who spoke about the health dangers, and some measures to remedy the problem. Nick Newman of Cardiff's Licensed Victuallers Association bravely defended precautions taken by alcohol retailers, the President of the Students' Union spoke about responsible Union bar policy.

Wynford Ellis Owen, the new Chair of the Welsh Council on Alcohol and other Drugs too the platform last, with a moving and eloquent personal testimony, in which he spoke about his youthful alcohol abuse as a means to fill the spiritual vacuum in his life. He issued a quiet challenge to the church leaders present to work on filling the vacuum as well as trying to campaign on social issues. It was too quietly received for my comfort. I think he's right, but we've somehow lost the ability to address the widening gulf created by ideologues like Richard Dawkins and others, devaluing any common sense understanding of what authentic spirituality consists of.

The major common concern expressed was about supermarket cheap drink sales and the propensity people have for 'front-loading' themselves with alcohol before hitting town for a night out. We had a representative of Morrisons supermarket chain on our discussion table, who told us about their changes in alcohol retailing policy, designed to cut drastically this deadly kind of opportunism. The event launched the promotion of a website where people can register their commitment to moderate their drinking. It can viewed as a barometer of social concern, and people present were encouraged to sign up, and tell people in their networks to sign up so that the message of numbers expressing concern might speak for itself. It's if any readers in Wales want to sign up.

I had no misgivings about taking part in and giving practical support to this event, have lived with the clearing up after the mess of party nights and match days in the centre for the past six years. I was, however, disappointed that it wasn't made into as ecumenical and inter-faith event as possible. Anglicans may be (on a par with Catholics) the largest historic denomination in Wales, but the Evangelical Alliance umbrella covers equally as large a numerical combination of protestant, independent and pentecostal member communities, which are equally making their contribution on this matter.

It's also not a good idea that other faith communities weren't given opportunity to make visible the concerns some members express privately. It would have been a much more prolonged and difficult exercise to prepare - but lack of unanimity weakens the cause and risks division and disarray creeping in. We simply don't have the means to achieve this in the city, and on times I wonder if we ever will, without a major crisis creeping in to threaten us all.

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