Just doing it. Or not.

artisan mocha @ Keans
A huge question for people who no longer believe in the tenets of the LDS church is whether to keep the rules of the Word of Wisdom. The WoW, in a nutshell, states that members are forbidden to imbibe alcohol, coffee, or black tea. They also are not allowed to smoke or use recreational drugs.

Some non-believing members continue to live the WoW because they don't see any need to partake of the forbidden substances. Some abstain because they don't want others to see them with a Starbucks cup in hand and then judge them (yes, drinking coffee is a major sin if you're LDS--it would keep you out of the temple and would probably get you released from your 'calling').

Some non-believing members decide that it's fine to "responsibly" indulge in coffee, tea or alcohol. Some even smoke sometimes or try a bit of pot or X. Believers may see this experimentation as further proof that the unbeliever is under the influence of Satan. They see the forbidden substances as a mechanism for Satan to gain control of their bodies (i.e. if you're addicted to coffee you're losing your self-control, or if you drink alcohol you are more likely to have cloudy judgment which will lead to greater sins).

Mormon scripture on how Satan works:
And behold, others [Satan] flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment (2 Nephi 28:21-23).

So those who are no longer believers, but who desire the trust and respect of their LDS friends, are caught in a bind. Indulging in forbidden substances offers proof to their LDS friends that they are under Satan's influence. The result is that it's very difficult for the unbeliever to retain trusting relationships with believers. So that cup of coffee or that sip of wine or that beer at a football game--while seemingly benign and socially acceptable to almost all Americans...may permanently damage lifelong relationships for those who are or were members of the Mormon church.


JohnR said...

What's amazing to me is just how much (many) Mormons emphasize these mostly harmless but highly visible activities over, say, honesty and compassion. Swearing is another example. I think this overemphasis on the outward appearance (which, ironically, Jesus harshly criticized) is one reason why dishonest business men can be Church leaders and why Utah is still one of the consumer fraud capitals of the US.

It wasn't until I left the church and expanded my circle of friends that I got a better sense of how uncorrelated moral character is with whether or not someone drinks alcohol or swears (the coffee = evil thing always seemed silly to me, even when I followed it).

JohnR said...

Beautiful pic, btw. Perfect colors, perfect composition. :)

jana said...

hey, the pic is only perfect because you helped me set it up (if I remember correctly...)

I was going to bring Jesus into it, but decided not to because everyone uses Jesus to support their own POV. I can't imagine him condemning anyone who drinks coffee or tea or even who responsibly imbibes alcohol. I see him hanging outside with the smokers and not being afraid to reach out to anyone, even those who've inhaled their fair share. But I know that only counts for 'nonbelievers' and not those who 'know better'--at least in Mo cosmology.

Amy J said...

What have you decided to do? My Mormon friend never seems to judge me on my ice tea habits, but I believe it is because I have never been Mormon and am not expected to know better. Do you feel a different standard between yourself and those that have never been members?

Christopher Bigelow said...

The minute some who has left the Church is "caught" breaking the Word of Wisdom, it is VERY easy for Church members to simply say, "Oh, that's the real reason they left the church—they just wanted to drink beer."

Even if the person says, "No, I left for theological reasons," it's easy for Mormons to assume deep down that the person just couldn't hack the discipline, so they were LOOKING for a reason to not believe, even if just on a subconscious level.

And sorry, but I think often there IS some truth to it. But there are always exceptions, and I don't like generalizations. If I ever left the church, I would drink beer but try my hardest not to return to smoking. It would be because I was just tired of the Mormon culture and lifestyle, not because of lack of belief. In fact, if I didn't have a wife and kids, I'm sure I would have drifted away from church activity by now, while still believing in it.

The other day I was talking to a gay guy who I enjoy and respect on many levels. I made a comment that implied that he left the church in order to pursue the gay lifestyle, and he corrected me and said, "No, it was for theological reasons." But I don't really believe him, in his case—I think it's self-deception. He had such a compelling reason to find the church unsatisfactory that OF COURSE he's going to find something to not believe in. I don't blame him—I'm certain I'd do the same thing if I felt compulsive same-gender attraction. But in my opinion it's human error on his part.

When you stay in the church, you've GOT to find explanations for why people leave it. You simply must, at least to satisfy your own inner thinking. Otherwise, why should someone else be able to let go of the rope but not me? The ONLY answer is that they have made a mistake, for whatever reason. And when they start breaking the Word of Wisdom, that's just evidence to support the idea that the flaw is in them.

sarah k. said...

Since I never thought I'd leave the church, I never contemplated whether or not I'd "break" the WoW. I believed them when they said it was "God's law of health" and believed the dogma on it being sin.

Having left the church, though, and having many of my previous ideas shot to hell, I find myself enjoying a cup of coffee nearly every morning, and a cup of tea nearly every afternoon. I even made a full Tea for my family this Sunday (sure to become a tradition, because My! how they loved it).

I don't feel in any way that I've lost any self control, rather that I've gained perspective.

I do get all het up, though, because as C.B. above says, Mormons will judge you evil if you do those things, even if they themselves lie on their income tax forms. (Not that I know anyone who does that.)

My solution: I don't hang out with any Mormons. Except my faithful VT who never tries to give me a lesson, asks my advice on gardening, and treats me like a friend. Then again, she's a convert.

jana said...

What's been surprising to me to learn the past few years is how many fully active (even temple-attending) non-believing LDS routinely break the WoW, without feeling much guilt about it. Of course they typically do so behind closed doors--maybe only their closest relatives would know about their indulgences.

Amy: I think most LDS see iced tea as benign. But if you were regularly drinking a Long Island iced tea, your friend would probably be more uncomfortable and/or judgmental. When I was active LDS I found myself unable to have close relationships with people who smoked or regularly drank alcohol because of how deeply I'd been conditioned to believe that such habits were sinful.

jana said...

when we're in heaven (or hell), I truly hope that you're my neighbor. :)

JohnR said...

Another thought: it's interesting to me to see the range of approaches to alcohol among our non-member friends (including teetotalers) and to see that it seems to have no impact on their relationships with drinkers; this doesn't seem to be the case among active Mormons, however.

jana said...

Perhaps I should just make it easier for my LDS family and friends and let them know that I only left because I really really wanted to be able to drink beer occasionally. I can't tell you how nutso that sounds to me...but what's crazy is that most would probably believe it more readily than if I said it was because of unbelief.

Jensie Simkins said...

In my experience, just telling people you won't be attending church anymore isn't enough proof that you're really done. They have to come to your house and see the coffee pot on the counter and the beer in the fridge before it becomes a reality.

I'm also amazed at the way some members justify their own addictions as not part of the WoW. I occasionally drink a coffee or a glass of wine, but my family members who drink cans and cans of Diet Coke everyday aren't sinning like I am? Hard for me to swallow for sure.... Besides, wine and coffee taste much better than DC.

littlemissattitude said...

I don't drink coffee or tea since I left the church, and I don't smoke. But, then, I didn't do those things before I joined the church.

I do have a beer occasionally (and would drink wine, except that I'm allergic to grapes and anything made with them, so that disqualifies most wines)and I don't really worry about what other folks, Mormon or not, think about that.

Christopher brought up an interesting issue when he mentioned that Mormons will immediately assume that anyone who left the church did so because they "wanted to sin", rather than for doctrinal differences with the church.

This is something that has always really bothered me, and I think it stems from what I think of as the Mormon arrogance of certainty. The whole testimonial stance of the church is the "I know" statement: "I know the church is true; I know that there is a prophet on earth", etc., etc., etc.

It isn't enough to believe; the good Mormon must state that they "know" the church and all its teachings are true. That puts them in a position of having to also know that anyone who doesn't know those things is either under the influence of Satan or is being willfully contradictory.

I can't really make myself blame the individual, rank-and-file member of the church for taking such a position. It has been pounded into them from birth (or from conversion), and I think it is a general principle of psychology that in most cases, if you tell someone something often enough, they will internalize it sooner or later. It takes a strong person to break from that.

I can and do, however, blame the leadership of the church for validating and perpetuating that attitude.


Sarah Rose Evans said...

My family operates with the assumption that I left the church because I couldn't help myself from having sex and drinking beer, despite all that research and study into early Christianity. I can understand the mentality, because I shared it once, but it really irritates me that they seem to think that leaving the church means I just didn't try hard enough and that I was faking it all those years. I believed and participated in the church just as devoutly as everyone else, but since I left the church none of that counts. If I mention this period, they tell me that I must not have been paying attention, because I'm getting it all WRONG. It isn't that I don't know the answers to my questions, it is that I realized they no longer satisfied me.

Craig said...

I think that sex & alcohol are good enough reasons to leave the church, if perhaps not the reasons many (perhaps most) do leave.

I've reached the point where I mostly don't care what some Mormon thinks about why I left the church. Many active Mormons will never believe me if I tell them why, so why even bother? I drink coffee, tea, alcohol, and even smoke pot once in a while, and I have awesome, gay sex.

For anyone who wants to, they can find enough reasons there for my "apostasy". And really, the rules against those things are part of why I left the church, if not the main reasons or the only reasons. And I don't think that leaving for those reasons isn't a reasonable thing to do. The prohibition against physical pleasures would be enough at this point for me to leave Mormonism even if I were a straight theist (instead of a gay atheist).

It's easier for many Mormons to believe that we leave to have pleasure, than to believe that anyone could have a theological, moral, or logical reason for leaving the church. They think of their theology and morals as perfect, and can't comprehend of there being any good reason to leave the church. They understand heteropraxy, but not heterodoxy.

So I live my life how I want, and let people think whatever the hell they want. I know why I left, and what place coffee, tea, alcohol and sex have in my life, and why. To me, that's all that is important.

Elissa Minor Rust said...

Since leaving the church almost three years ago (after being active my entire life and even in the RS presidency--shudder), I have tried my damndest to like coffee and I still can't stand it. DH and I think we must have missed a crucial "window" for developing those taste buds. :) But I can't live without my Chai Lattes and I absolutely adore a glass of wine a few times a month.

It is true that breaking the WoW solidifies your inactivity for people. You would be amazed the drama and pain a picture of me with a glass of wine on Facebook caused--this three years after last stepping foot in an LDS chapel.

What is also true is that the farther you get from it, the more and more ridiculous it looks.

Eric D. Dixon said...

On one level, it's an easy answer -- if you don't believe these particular church teachings are inspired, there's no reason to follow them arbitrarily. There's the social aspect to consider, but I haven't found that any of my formerly Mormon friends who smoke or drink now become objects of scorn. Part of that may be that they just see fewer Mormons on a regular basis, and the ones they do see regularly are perhaps a self-selecting type that wouldn't let tobacco stand in the way of friendship. Part of it may also be that I've always lived outside Utah (except for my few years at BYU), so I have less of a bead on dominant cultural pressures there.

But JohnR is right -- church members place a disproportional amount of emphasis on a doctrine that is relatively inconsequential in the scheme of things. Drinking coffee may keep you out of the temple, but it's probably one of the easiest things you could ever repent of, and probably not something God would care much about outside of the general Mormon tendency to emphasize "obedience."

Even if you grant that the Word of Wisdom has some pretty good ideas about health and avoiding harmful substances, it's worth pointing out the concept of "hormesis" -- the poison is in the dose:


Remember that the Word of Wisdom wasn't originally revealed as a commandment -- "not by commandment or constraint" -- and wasn't meant to be applied universally. It was a general set of health guidelines "adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints," in part a way to help those with addictive personalities who were unable to moderate their own usage of items that may lead to unseemly habits. It wasn't until years later that Brigham Young decided to codify the Word of Wisdom as a churchwide commandment, to serve as an example to the rest of the world. And it didn't begin to be strictly enforced for temple recommends until the 1920s.

A cup of coffee or a glass of beer is not likely to hurt anybody (and I think evidence is good that the WoW's recommendation of using barley "for mild drinks" refers specifically to beer, which would not have been considered a "strong drink" in Joseph Smith's time).

I point all this out not because I partake in any of this stuff -- I've never tried an alcoholic beverage, coffee, tobacco, tea, pot, any of it -- but because the Word of Wisdom should really a minor consideration for most people, in the scheme of things. Members of the church focus on it so much because they're image-conscious, and the few WoW items that are strictly prohibited are an easy way to measure image. In other words, it's easier keeping track of the motes in everyone else's eyes.

angryyoungwoman said...

After I left the church I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned having coffee with a friend. Immediately afterward my sister either called or wrote (I don't remember which) and freaked out, afraid her 11 year old would read my blog and hear about me "breaking my temple covenants" (I don't know why her 11 year old son would be interested in a blog about feminism or why his mom would let him read it, when she is the arch-antifeminist of all time, but . . .). My mom also called, heartbroken that I would drink coffee and tell the whole world about it. More recently, my mom found a book about mixing drinks at my house when she was visiting. She became convinced that I've abandoned all my values and I was on the road to alcoholism. I had to reassure her over and over that I hardly ever drink, I haven't had alcohol since before New Years, I'm not becoming an alcoholic, etc.

I couldn't get her to see that I find no reason to keep the rules of an organization I don't belong to. Of course she told me I may not believe it now, but some day I'd come to believe it.

Crazy crazy crazy.

Anonymous said...

Another factor to consider is the lack of alcohol education recieved my Mormons. Non-mormons (of all ages but mostly teenagers and young adults) who choose to drink learn quickly of the alcohol consumption continuum. On one end you have one drink to relax, on the other end you drink enough to vomit and pass out.

As a brand new ex-Mormon, I was still under the impression that everyone drank all the time to get drunk. Not understanding those nuances adds to the black-and-white view that consuming alcohol is a sin.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I live the WoW better now than ever. Go figure. But not because I'm avoiding sin: I have other reasons to do so, none of them involving guilt.

Andrew S said...

I second Jonathan Blake's comments and the other person who pointed out that coffee just doesn't taste good.

That's enough to keep me away. I don't need to tie morality or righteousness or spiritual fitness to it.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about your beautiful picture and remembering a picture I shot last week that looked a lot like this. I went back today and looked at the date on my picture file and discovered I took it on March 4, the date you posted this. Made me think of that blog--3191 or something?

I'm posting about tea parties this week, not sure when exactly. But in the meantime, you can see the pic on my blog photo album titled "food photography."


Even though my belief in the church has departed I haven't yet departed from the W.O.W. mostly because I've kept it for over 40 years, never cheating! I think I just don't want to mess up my record. I also want to live a health life style and I don't feel the desire for new vices. I'm also cheep, I don't want to pay for cigarettes.