I did not grow up among beer drinkers, yet I was not surrounded by people who preached against beer either. I had a grandfather who like his beer, and I tasted it when I was pretty small…didn’t really like it! My other grandparents were pretty strong Christians, and that grandmother belonged to the WCTU, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Somehow, in the midst of those extremes, I probably was not far from thinking a lot like my forebears in Ireland.
By college, I was going to a Baptist church that opposed all alcoholic beverages, which was no big deal since I didn’t drink anyway. When I visited Europe on a tour with a singing group, I tried Swiss beer in the Alps which I thought was wonderful. Obviously, my more than half German blood recognized its heritage; besides the dark beer we drank was low alcohol, dark, and very different from what I’d ever tasted back in the U. S.
Nevertheless, in time, I became a Baptist pastor although I never shared their strong anti-alcohol bias. I taught what the Bible says, emphasizing the prohibition of drunkenness. With all that as a backdrop, I guess it’s no surprise I’d pick up a book like The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World, especially with such a provocative title.
For someone living in the United States where excessive beer drinking has become a think of frat parties and dissolute living, it is hard to imagine beer as a force for anything positive. Author Stephen Mansfield appropriately devotes his first chapter, “Before There was Guinness.” As he admits, and I agree, the history of beer is a remarkably positive one but one unfamiliar to most of us. Because water was often unfit to drink, beer’s low alcohol content killed germs in the water, making it a healthful alternative. What a surprise it was to learn that the Pilgrims and Puritans loved and needed their beer!
The story of the Guinness family is more than the story of how Guinness beer became world famous, making the Guinness family wealthy. It is also the story of a generous family who success, in part, arose from their caring attitudes for their workers, long before unions or the sense that the lower classes were also human beings. It came, too, from a love for their city and country where they invested in helping those in need beyond their own family or employees. Then, for some Guinnesses, their wealth enabled them to become pastors and evangelists for Christ.
The Search for God and Guinness is the story of an Irish Christian family whose faith avoided the clashes between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, thus bringing glory rather than shame to the name of Christ. In a day when some scorn both wealth and success in business or regard the accumulation of wealth as a matter of “luck,” this story shows both the ups and downs that the Guinness family faced through its history—the ravages of illness, the destruction of war, and family misfortune—and how the faith and determination of the Guinnesses overcame it all.