Spiritual Heat Sinks

A good friend of mine once related a story I had long since forgotten. While we were both attending BYU, I told him, “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve drunk coffee before.”

He said back, “Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t.”

When I was a teenager, in a fit of fury (I have forgotten since then what I was just so angry about) I bought a frappuccino at Starbucks. I remember distinctly sitting in the coffee shop, drinking triumphantly with that familiar adolescent glee, furtively glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching. My rebellious urges satiated, I walked out, feeling much less stressed out and used by the man or whatever.

A person I know is incredibly angry at the Church right now. She feels betrayed, lied to, manipulated, and used. And so, to distress her parents, she drinks Mountain Dew. Because it has caffeine. You know? Her parents are mortified.

Of course, thinking back, I wonder how ridiculous we must have look. Certainly, out of all the rebellious teenager behaviors I could have committed (running from the silly to the absolute destructive) my action was incredibly benign. And for this person I know, she could have gone out and done much worse things – many disaffected members I know have run off in a passion and committed some very rash actions they later regretted, just to “get back” at the Church. But this got me thinking – could our very strict interpretation of the Word of Wisdom act as a heat sink?

A heat sink is a component (usually in electronic devices) which takes heat generated from the machine and transforms it into a less harmful heat or absorbs it so that it doesn’t ruin the rest of the system. Our “minor” commandments like the Word of Wisdom can act as a heat sink by taking powerful emotions such as resentment, rebellion, anger, fear, or revenge and transforming it into a particularly harmless “sin.” The teenager who wants to assert his own independence from his cultural upbringing in the Church might (instead of, say, experimenting with drugs or sex) begin to watch violent rated R movies. Or maybe the former member, who leaves out of offense and hurt, nurses his wounded pride over a mug of black coffee. Or the member who – because who doesn’t like the initial thrill of sin? – locks himself in the storage closet during an especially stressful day at work and launches into a tirade of profanity mixed with “Mormon” swear words? In the view of the world, they’re not doing anything “wrong” at all; in fact, all of these signs of rebellion might seem a little lame. But for these members (or former members) it acts as a very safe – and yet very real – act of independence which they crave, while preventing them from doing other acts which are by far more self-destructive and harmful to others.

I, for one, might start teaching my future kids the more strict interpretations of the Word of Wisdom, even though I don’t think it’s doctrinal or required for salvation at all, simply because I would rather have my children act out against my position of authority by drinking a cup of coffee or a can of Mountain Dew rather than other more serious actions. And, of course, I’ll pretend to act mortified.



Filed under religion

12 responses to “Spiritual Heat Sinks

  1. How does your religion define the things to avoid? Medicines? Recent studies show caffeine benefits alzheimers patients and helps metabolize sugars. I could point out many foods that have been re-evluated or missed as mind altering. In fact, drinking huge amounts of water produces a intoxicated effect. Just curious. Bdrex

    • Ted

      In a nutshell, the current LDS stance when it comes to our health code (The Word of Wisdom) is to avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, and other harmful substances usually outlined as illegal drugs. The Church has also come out very strongly against abusing prescription drugs. The general spirit of the law is to be as healthy as possible, even if it isn’t outlined in the obvious list of “no’s.”

      Culturally, some people have extended this to no caffeinated beverages (like Mountain Dew). This, however, is not official.

    • bdrex,

      Here’s an enlightening article from our church’s magazine, the Ensign.


      This spells out our church’s stance on the issue quite well; Caffeine does have medical applications and has done a lot to help sick people. However, using it arbitrarily is an abuse of the compound and can seriously harm your body.

      The spirit behind the Word of Wisdom isn’t about avoiding things “just cuz we said so.” the true purpose is to set guidelines as to how to treat your body. Nyquil has alcohol in it, but it’s not bad to take it once in a while when you have a cold. In our family, we interpret it possibly more strictly than most; we eat only whole wheat bread and eat meat only a few times a week. Recent nutritional studies show that such a diet is good for you, anyway.

      You can read the original text on our Church’s official website here:

      • Ted

        Your eating only whole wheat bread and avoiding too much meat is more in line with the original document than no caffeine, so I see no problems there. I’m actually going to write a blog soon (maybe today!) about why I personally follow the Word of Wisdom, and it’s a little bit different than the “health code” reason (blasphemy! I know!). But not that different, really.

  2. Cory

    I drink diet Coke on a pretty regular basis. Maybe it helps to release those rebellious urges I continue to have (even as a 26 year old). I once thought about getting a lip ring figuring I could later take it out, but then I thought that it might leave a scar, or worse yet, not heal!

    Btw, have you/did you ever attend Bellevue 8th Ward. I don’t judge and it really doesn’t bother me, but I noticed a lot of piercings, long hair (on men) and very short skirts. I was just amused the Bellevue Mormons 🙂

  3. I seem to recall reading or hearing something along the lines of ‘anything that has an addictive effect’ being something we are warned to avoid– but that’s a paraphrasing, and I don’t have a source– however, caffeine could be included in that, as could a number of other, non-food related behaviors.

    More to the point– Ted, this is an interesting conceptual representation of an idea I believe has been culturally taught to us as “don’t drive near the edge of the cliff’. If you drive on the side of the road away from the cliff, you have a ‘buffer zone’ to keep you safe, etc, etc. But you take it one step further— and while I don’t think that expressing one’s ‘independence’ needs to be framed as rebellious, I would agree that the misconception is all too common– plenty of people think that thinking for yourself involves running against the grain, or rebelling against the norm– so it functions that way very well.

    • Ted

      I have also learned the anything addictive line of reasoning, too. In my opinion, it’s a good thing to follow. However, I’m not too happy about bishops denying temple recommends and so forth because someone drinks a lot of Diet Coke and gets the shakes when he doesn’t. If we’re denying temple entrance for things that minor, no one would get in, that’s for sure.

      I would also agree that asserting independence is not a bad thing, but in a lot of cases, I think a lot of rash actions upon being hurt by the Church in some way is motivated more out of revenge or to make authority figures mad than asserting independence. In this sense, I acknowledge that the buffer zone is a good way for people to feel like they’re getting their revenge without actually hurting anyone (especially themselves). Just don’t tell them that; it’s like an electron – once you observe it, it fundamentally changes, right?

  4. I’m only remotely familiar with Mormon history and tradition. But finding tablets or writings rings a bell. Here in MN. we have the Kensington runestone. It was thought to be a fake, but recent examination convinced most skeptics it is authentic. Templer runes are on the stone and used to date the stone, which is code. The scandinavian runes above it also date the stone, the dates match. 1397 I believe. Other evidence points to even older voyages coming to the U.S. Does this impact your religion in any way? Bdrex

    • Ted

      I don’t try to base too much of my faith in physical evidence because it can be oh so fleeting. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

      However, the amateur historian in me is interested. I have not heard about the Kensington runestone, but I will wiki it soon. :p

  5. Thanks guys, I checked out the article about caffeine. They quote Paul about the body being the temple . . . . I agree on two levels. The ancient Jews and especially certain sects avoided meat and unpure foods. The Jews who followed Philo and the Gnostic Christians interpreted the body as temple in a spiritual way, and poluting it would have been unpure acts.
    Yet, Paul does also say that what we eat cannot pollute us (somewhere). He was talking about kosher (dietary law), but if we take him at his word there, then it makes me wonder about the body as temple. Of course LDS may have it’s own take or Gospels. bdrex

    • Ted

      Yeah, we interpret it in two levels as well – physical pollution as well as spiritual. This scripture comes up a lot as a warning against things like sexual purity, which has a physical and spiritual element to it as well.

      Oh, those Gnostics. Such lovable rascals. 🙂

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