Tag Archives: coffee

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.

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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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