Tag Archives: Word of Wisdom

The Cohab Standards Week

General Conference has come and gone, and all that goodness got me thinking – what exactly do we mean when we talk about “standards?”

Mormons who grew up in the Church know what I mean; every once in a while, the bishopric or some other form of ward leadership will gather the youth together in a fun-filled fireside romp often titled “Standards Night.” Usually, the firesides came in the form of a good old-fashioned pulpit thumpin’ sermon about the length of our skirts, the age of our dating, and the beverages we drink. We talk about all the no-noes in our religion – alcohol, smoking, drugs, immodesty, heavy petting and necking (whatever that means), exclusive dating, the works.

Well, we’re not gonna pound the war drums against texting in church or flip-flops (thank goodness), but for the next week the Cohab will discuss some of the more particular ideas of what standards mean in our Church, inspired by some recent personal experiences and some excellent talks in last General Conference. So without further ado, the schedule:

Where Do Standards Come From? – We’ll open up the interesting question raised by Elder Oaks’ talk about priesthood lines of communication and personal lines of communication. Should we derive standards from personal lines or priesthood lines? Are standards derived as a form of Church administration, or personal worthiness? Is it a mix of both? How can we tell which is which?

The Best Standards Night Ever – My bishop as a youth gave a standards night one month that left everyone rolling in the aisles with tears of laughter. The next month, my bishop announces another standards night which every youth attended, hoping for a repeat performance. Instead, I was bored out of my skull. He never cracked a single joke about drugs and didn’t bring up sex even once. When I mentioned this to my dad, he rebuked my sharply, saying it was the best standards night he’s ever attended. As I grew older, I began to understand why.

Boys will Be Boys – In the same talk, President Gordon B. Hinckley urged young women to only wear one pair of earrings, and for the young men to please, please, pleease pull up our pants and stop wearing them five sizes too big. The next General Conference, speakers talk about boyfriends who break-up with girlfriends who didn’t pull out their extra pair of earrings, but how come we never heard about girlfriends who dumped their boy-toys who refused to stop wearing baggy pants? Is there an unfair advantage for one gender over the other?

Sleep-overs and Video Games Some General Authorities spoke disagreeably about video games and sleep-overs, talking about the general malfeasance inherent in them. But for me, sleep-overs and video games kept me clear out of trouble and squarely in the Gospel. Dare I say, they even helped my testimony from burning completely out. How flexible can standards be before we start our mental gymnastics into apostasy?

Standards, Culture, and Commandments – The Church continues to work eagerly in sending missionaries to China (as does every other proselyting religion). Friends confide in me that because of the presence of our humanitarian missionaries, we already have a large, underground base of support in China, and when the bamboo curtain finally rises, entire swathes of China will baptize overnight. However, even if such rumors are true, we overlook one incredibly important part of Chinese (and most of Asia’s) culture – tea. Where does the Word of Wisdom lie – culture, standards, or commandment? Is there even a difference?

Keep the Flock Safe, Starve out the SinnersWhile I understand the scriptural basis of the practice, denying the Sacrament to those who aren’t “worthy” of it never sat right with me. The Sacrament is a powerful symbol of God’s redemptive and cleansing power. It’s one of the few physical symbols we indulge in as Mormons on a regular basis. What does it say about us when we deny God’s redemptive and cleansing power only after we’ve already become clean? Don’t those who are sick need that power more than the healthy? Do standards prevent us from ministering to the spiritually needy, or do they keep the plague out of the already healthy flock?

As you can see, we’ve got quite the lineup. I hope you stick around for standards week, and bring your copies of the Book of Mormon to place between your partner for the youth dance afterwards!

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Kosher laws and the Word of Wisdom

My last post detailed a theory of mine that maybe commandments like the Word of Wisdom can create a healthy effect on our very strict, orderly religious society by scandalizing substances that are, for the most part, inherently harmless, in order to diffuse very strong feelings of rebellion and revenge towards an institution. This had me thinking, of course, why I follow the Word of Wisdom personally. I fully admit that I don’t usually subscribe to the same program used by the orthodox establishment, but I feel my story has some merit nonetheless and so I share it with you.

I couldn’t tell you where I picked up this story, but I remember hearing about a rabbi asked why God forbade the eating of pigs and prawns when they don’t really pose that much of a threat to your health. The rabbi responded that kosher laws (or any of the commandments for that matter) did not really have much a practical, worldly value.  The purpose of kosher laws, he taught, was that it forced us to think of God in everything we do.

Dang it, even the Jews get to have more fun than us?! I'd gladly give up bacon for wine and coffee.

Dang it, even the Jews get to have more fun than us?! I'd gladly give up bacon for wine and coffee.

Kosher laws are erroneously thought of as just prohibitions on what to eat. However, kosher laws deal with everything from how to prepare food to how it is grown/raised. In other words, from the time you plant your wheat to harvesting it to using it for food is laced with commandments to help us remember God. In this way, every action in your life helps you remember who it is that provides everything we have.

I like that interpretation. Some Mormons I know try to make the Word of Wisdom into a super-huge prophesy given by Joseph Smith to prove he was indeed a prophet. They say that during his time people drank alcohol like crazy and smoked like chimneys. They drank coffee and tea by the gallon, and because of this, health in those days sucked. However, we know this isn’t necessarily true – people then knew about (and belonged to) temperance movements long before Joseph Smith’s utterance of the Word of Wisdom. People also knew that tobacco wasn’t exactly the best thing for you. Joseph Smith even drank wine before his martyrdom while Joseph Smith Sr. had developed several beer brewing recipes (this, I think, we need to re-discover and capitalize). And as time has marched on, science has shown that coffee and tea, when consumed in moderate, reasonable amounts, can actually help improve health.

Like I mentioned in the comments on my previous thread, I don’t like basing my testimony on physical evidence anyhow, because it can so easily be yanked out from underneath you as new information comes along. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord. So the Word of Wisdom bothered me for a long time – what was it really? A cultural practice enforced to create a sense of community? Misinterpreted scripture? A wresting of the original intent of Joseph Smith’s suggestion?

Nowadays, it’s turned into a full-blown important commandment (admitting to drinking a cup of Earl Grey every morning, for example, can keep you out of the temple). And so, I think I’m going to follow the Jewish interpretation of our own kosher laws. Perhaps the Word of Wisdom is more for us to remember God in a world where it’s so easy to forget Him. Every time we take pause to eat, we think of Him. When we plan our meals and walk through the supermarket, we think of Him.  And when we live our entire lives following the Word of Wisdom but still get afflicted by some kind of health problem while our friend who smokes a pack a day and drinks like an unemployed Russian mafia hitman can outrun us on the racetrack, well, then we don’t feel so bad anyway because it really never was about that, right? After all, our health (like everything else in life) comes from the Lord, and the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

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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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