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.