I usually go to Gospel Essentials rather than Gospel Doctrine just because the way reading through the scriptures is typically done in most wards doesn’t excite me much. (There’s the usual assumption that no one read the reading assignment. Ever in their life. Then there’s the idea that everyone needs help figuring out what you should have figured out by doing the reading assignment.) Gospel Essentials is just more interesting to me.
Today we covered the Word of Wisdom though. I have some questions and I thought I’d throw them out to everyone.
So far as I can tell there is absolutely no justification given for why we abstain from coffee, tea or alcohol. The closest we get is verse 4 where we are told that it us “in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” While it’s hard not to look at big tobacco when reading that it’s also hard to apply that to the modern use of coffee, tea or alcohol in moderation.
My sense is that verse 3 gives us a clue when it talks about “the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints.” That is I think a lot of what is said is due to the recognition that a minority of people have trouble with the “moderation” bit. Science says that low doses of alcohol are actually beneficial. But how many drinkers drink in such moderation? The specter of college binge drinking and drunk drivers immediately raises itself.
I’m not sure what to make of this. Without going and looking up what it meant in contemporary sources (yeah, I’m lazy today) my guess is that at one time wine was doctored. I know that was often true in England in the 19th century. Yet I also know that the brethren in their private sacrament service used wine into the beginning of the 20th century. Further, while wine is lower in alcohol than many spirits it’s hardly without. (Typically it is 12% alcohol) Also people tend to take hard alcohol in shots while drink wine in larger glasses. Which tends to balance the actual alcohol consumption out somewhat.
I do know it wasn’t grape juice either in early LDS sacrament and probably not the scriptures.
I kept my mouth shut during most of this. But a few people did raise the caffeine issue. I’ll just say that I see no evidence that the reason we are told to avoid coffee or tea is caffeine. Yes people who drink a ton can get a very mild addiction. No it’s not much of an addiction. (Sorry, even if you get a headache a few tylenol will solve it – appealing to how bad the addiction is just seems unbelievable to me) I do think the carbonation and sugar in pop is far more harmful than the caffeine. But of course judging by everyone’s waist lines in Utah the “don’t eat so many carbohydrate” suggestion isn’t taking. And I think there’s far more justification to ban fast food from your life than diet Coke. But that’s me.
The recent Ensign article on sports drinks came up. I agree with a lot of it. (Including the weight gain – I have a suspicion that my weight gain after having kids came in part from lots of diet Coke to try and have some energy and alertness after chronic sleep deprivation) And if you’re trying to be fit simple carbohydrates and the carbonation of pop is bad. I’m less inclined to attack caffeine simply because I think a solid weight loss regiment ought to involve a combination of aspirin, caffeine and so forth. But that’s assuming you are eating carefully and exercising regularly and heavily. If not then it’s almost certainly hurting.
A few brought up the “is there caffeine in chocolate” issue. Lots of chocolate makers, including Amano chocolate, discuss that. Basically you need 1 pound of milk chocolate (and perhaps 1/4 pound of dark) to equal one cup of coffee.
Utah has a lot of “health food advocates.” There are a ton of those sorts of companies around and at least several are less than honest. In Canada they finally got so frustrated with supposed natural supplements and herbs that they have started regulating them like drugs. Why? Well they just aren’t all safe. They have different interactions with drugs and with each others yet the people who sell them aren’t willing to do studies to find out what those consequences are. Further quality control is rather lax at some places. The doses listed on the label aren’t always what you get. (Sometimes you get more, usually less)
What gets my gripe are people based upon anecdotal evidence who push herbs or the like as cure alls. What it reminds me of are the snake oil salesmen of the 19th century who seem like a perfect example of the conspiring men of verse 4.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not attacking herbs. I just think that there is at least as much danger there as there is help. Further far too many people treat it as almost a pseudo-religion – especially in Utah. It becomes a false priesthood to many people. To almost scary levels.
Needless to say that my comments there didn’t go over that well. But it truly strikes me as odd to get a little fixated on caffeine while swallowing the camel of the health food industry and its claims. Remember that verse 12 says that they are to be used “with prudence.”
This wasn’t that controversial in our class. It has been in past wards. I think there are two things to keep in mind. First in the 19th century food preservation was pretty iffy at best. There was nothing like a refrigerator. That said I think it undeniable that Americans (including me) eat way, way too much fatty red meat. I actually went vegetarian for about six months just out of curiosity. I quit because it’s just too hard to do as a practical matter and plus I really like hamburgers. But I did feel much better. I’m thinking of trying something like that again. Seriously, cutting out pop and seriously reducing my meat consumption is something I can really acknowledge does improve your health. It’s just really hard to do when you’re always on the run and fast food for all its health issues is often your only chance to eat.
Likewise fresh vegetables really, really are under consumed and significantly increasing the percentage in your diet is a good thing.
The Destroying Angel
I really don’t know what to make of verse 4 combined with the destroy angel in verse 21. The allusion isn’t to some dietary law that would be justified by science. (And as I mentioned science seems to suggest that alcohol, coffee, and tea in moderation are actually good for you) Rather the allusion appears to me to be to the children of Israel being asked to do the silly illogical act of putting blood on the upper door post of your house so the destroying angel would pass by your house. (See Exodus 12 especially verse 13)
If I’m reading the allusion right (and clearly most don’t agree with me here) then we shouldn’t assume there is some 1-1 corollary between our health and what we are asked to do. Further the chapter lays a lot of emphasis on conspiracy theories as much as it does general health. I tend to find the all too common tendency of Mormons to assume it’s all justified by health to be unfortunate. It makes it easy for some to excuse themselves from the commandments or even leave the faith over it. Rather it is a trial of faith. Don’t look for scientific justification for D&C 89, even though some aspects certainly have some. Rather consider it as something you were asked to do. (And let’s be honest, asked seriously only around the 1930’s)