Beer, Coffee, Cooking Wine, and the Word of Wisdom

I admit, I’m a very Thomastic theologian. I think the Summa Theologiae is ruddy brilliant and I appreciate Thomas Aquinas’ vast knowledge of philosophy and logic as well as his willingness to subject his religion under its scrutiny. Because of this, I’ve developed what you could call a very precise, almost mechanical way of studying what we could very well call the Law concerning Mormon theology. Commandments, for the most part, must make sense in some way when framed against the natural laws of God in order for me to verify their veracity and importance.

I’m not saying this to pick a fight. I preface what I’m about to say with this explanation so that people might be able to understand some of my thinking processes.

A recent post by Norbert on By Common Consent spoke of beer-drinking Mormons. It’s a fascinating look into non-American, non-Jello Belt Mormon culture. Basically, five faithful, active Mormons high up in the hierarchy had very differing (but what American Mormons would call unorthodox) views on beer drinking. This got me thinking about a recent discussion I had with my wife.

Most faithful Mormons I know grow uneasy at the idea of drinking non-alcoholic beer – on the other hand, most Mormons I know accept sparkling cider as totally Word of Wisdom friendly, even though they both have roughly the same alcohol content. Concordantly, most Mormons I know agree that cooking wine is probably Word of Wisdom friendly because “the alcohol is cooked out,” while most Mormons I know grow uneasy about the idea of tiramisu – a lovely desert made with cooking wine and (horror of horrors) coffee.

Now, I love the taste and smell of coffee. And I’ve wondered for years whether cooking with coffee was okay. Most Mormons rationalize that cooking wine is fine because the fundamental offending ingredient – alcohol – is mostly eliminated in the cooking process. What, then, is the fundamental offending ingredient in coffee? Most Mormons will instinctively mention the caffeine, but this we know is not necessarily true as the Church holds no official stance on caffeine, instead usually evasively answering that any drink with any addictive substance we should be wary of. Otherwise, drinking colas would be against the Word of Wisdom.

I realize that there are still many a Mormon who feels otherwise – caffeine is to be shunned. Fair enough; however, there is very little historical, doctrinal, scriptural, even revelatory evidence that supports this position. Avoiding caffeine I feel we can safely classify as a Cultural Thing.

So, back to the problem at hand. What of cooking with coffee? A story in David O. McKay: The Rise of Modern Mormonism had this interesting anecdote related to the prophet:

When one guest expostulated, ‘But President McKay, don’t you know that is rum cake?’ McKay smiled and reminded the guest that the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alcohol, not eating it.

What, exactly, is the problem with coffee? This becomes much more elusive logically. In the end, we cannot say for sure there is any particular substance in coffee which brings about the current ban; rather, it is simply the act of the heads of the Church saying not to wherein the morality of coffee drinking lies. But, if we are forbidden to drink coffee, are we still allowed to eat it?

Bringing this argument and initial thought to a circular close, what of non-alcoholic beer? Uncooked cookie dough, if it contains vanilla extract, probably has roughly the same or more alcohol content than a non-alcoholic beer. How do we divide the line?

Edit: After talking to my friend Jon, he mentioned that the entire spirit of the law definitely starts to come into play – don’t take addictive substances (and he’s not even Mormon; this is after a brief one minute explanation). This, I think, we should also keep in mind when discussing this issue. On the one hand, it makes the cooking with coffee clear – you could get addicted to tiramisu (I know I could!) and so you should avoid it. On the other hand, it tends to make things really murky. Should energy drinks be against the Word of Wisdom? Cola drinks? Root beer with caffeine? Nicotine gum? How much should we leave this to personal preference? The Word of Wisdom could either become a growing experience as a person learns to distinguish good from evil and exercise his or her agency, or it could become a dangerous exercise of rationalization that leads to worse sins. But aren’t all commandments and moral situations like that?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Beer, Coffee, Cooking Wine, and the Word of Wisdom

  1. I kind of like it the way it is: gray area. I don’t want firm definitions on every little thing. Though if you ask my cousin’s mission president, not drinking any caffeine AT ALL is the “higher” word of wisdom.

    If that works for him, then great! I just have a problem when people with authority try to institutionalize their personal guidelines. Whether those guidelines are on the strict side or the lenient side, just let people do what works for them.

  2. Man. Maybe it’s because I tend to struggle with some of the bigger issues like tithing and fasting and hell, going to church (and swearing). But tiramisu? No one is going to hell for eating tiramisu. And I actually think it makes us Mormons look a little crazypants to get so worked up over it.

    Oh, to have caffeine be the biggest of my concerns…that will be the day.

    Not that this isn’t a valid discussion. I just have a hard time mustering up enough drive to care.

  3. Ted

    @Jamie and Jilly I totally agree that the Word of Wisdom is nice because of its vagueness and that it’s probably not as big of a deal as we make it. I would agree with you that nobody is going to hell over tiramisu (devil’s food cake on the other hand…). However, there is one thing that elevates the Word of Wisdom and that is because it’s a question on the temple recommend. Unwittingly (or perhaps…wittingly?!?!?!!) we have elevated the morality of eating tiramisu to the same level as cheating on your wife and fraternizing with groups that go against the Church.

    But you’re right. Any other person would probably look at a group of Mormons quibbling about whether or not cooking wine is God-friendly would think we were insane.

  4. thegods@arebad.com

    Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today’s modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO, the Chinese Holocaust. They used this Situation to bury Japanese atrocities.
    It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL “Second Coming of Christ”, while the “fake” Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
    What I teach is the god’s true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian “consolation prize” of “1000 years with Jesus on Earth” begins.

    The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
    It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god’s positioning proves they work to prevent people’s understanding.
    How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
    The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
    I believe much as the Noah’s Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for “1000 years with Jesus on Earth”.
    In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine “cures” aging, the “manufacture” of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
    Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to “die off”, literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles, resisting these temptations, will survive the 1000 years. Condemned to experience another epoch of planet’s history for their ignorant pursuit of xtianity, they will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry during history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
    Never forget:::It is not a house of Jesus.
    If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new poulation, the proverbial “apple” of this Garden of Eden. A crucial figure in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.
    Which one is it?:
    One transitions into the other, allowing the gods to wash their hands of obligation to their Chosen One. My personal “consolation prize”.
    And since the gods never committed despite tens of billions in mass media, product development and natural disasters/tragedy they will employ the freedom they positioned into the Situation and CHEAT me out of everything.
    For those who would listen I was used to assist people to rapidly increase their understanding of this system. Unfortunate for me, the gods can claim they never intended this, abjectly disfavored/evil individuals learning and perhaps changing, despite being control freaks who guide everything specifically and have the power to force it with AI, and now they are free to fuck my brains out subsequently. Lucky me.

    Consistant with “reverse positioning” understand the REAL Second Coming would equate with The Matrix’s Anti-Christ, the fake battle of good and evil which will come at the end.
    I have spoken on this issue in years past. Understanding how they use the political encviornment to redefine people’s value system, realize anyone who speaks of the old world and its ways will envoke hatred. So when/if the Anti-Christ comes along speaking of reverting back to what liberalism would consider repressed and immoral it may be the only hope to salvage the god’s favor and keep moving forward rather than begin the 1000 year clock. The fake Second Coming will feed into this political environment.

    There is nothing “peace love dope” about the gods. xtianity does people a grave disservice conditioning them to think this way.

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