You may not know what Mormons think about life after death, but you have most likely heard about our health rules: no alcohol, no smoking, no coffee. We don’t take anything with cream and sugar before work, and we don’t throw back a Bud during…well…ever. So how do we Mormons even live!? I promise you we do just fine. But why all the restrictions?
This health direction comes from revelation in a book of scripture known as the Doctrine and Covenants, or the D&C. In it, God revealed a “principle with a promise” to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1832. This “Word of Wisdom,” as it came to be called, warns us to stay away from certain harmful substances while encouraging consumption of healthy foods. In return, the Lord promises us health, energy, and wisdom when we follow the counsel.
The “Word of Wisdom” restricts consumption of wine, liquor, excessive meat intake, and “hot drinks” (interpreted to mean caffeinated tea and coffee, regardless of temperature). I know, I know…your jaw is on the floor. But following these guidelines does not totally suck (as many college-aged coffee lovers might assume), it’s actually something I’ve come to appreciate, even during those long, cold finals-week nights in the law library.
One of the things I love about being Mormon is that my faith places tremendous emphasis on individual choice. Our choices reflect our true priorities and reveal who we really are. Each of these substances that we avoid has the potential to diminish our capacity to choose. Whether through addiction, intoxication or other physiological impairment, some of these substances can literally alter our actions and decisions, in essence usurping our free will. To us, it makes sensethat God would tell us that we need to say “no” to anything that could potentially take away this agency.
Now, you may think, “Okay, alcohol obviously alters your state of mind and tobacco is addictive, but what about tea and coffee? And isn’t a Big Gulp full of Mountain Dew just as unhealthy as the other stuff on the list?” Great question, not so simple an answer. For a time, many people (members included) thought that the common denominator was caffeine — in fact, if you visit BYU, you won’t find an ounce of caffeinated soda sold on campus. And let me tell you, as a recovering member of Diet Coke Anonymous (8 months sober!), having to trek all the way to 7-11 to get my 32 oz. was such a burden. But recently the Church released a statement clarifying that caffeinated soda was never prohibited after all. So now we’re back at square one, wondering why some substances are prohibited but not others.
You know what? To be honest — I don’t really know. In order to go into the temple or hold the priesthood, members need to follow the Word of Wisdom. But nobody is getting kicked out of the church for drinking a grande soy vanilla latte. Nobody is barred from heaven solely for smoking a cigarette. It’s not that simple. But we do believe that many blessings are predicated on obedience. I trust that the Lord has His reasons for giving us the Word of Wisdom, even if that reason is teaching us how to sacrifice things that the world tells us we can’t live without. Regardless, I follow the Word of Wisdom for two reasons: 1) I believe the Lord has commanded it and 2) I have enjoyed the health he has promised because of it.
On that note, contact me for info on my 12-step diet soda addiction recovery program.