Life without Coffee–A Mormon’s guide to survival


Coca-Cola

By: Lani Livingston Jones //

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.

 

17 Comments

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  1. 4
    Sisifo

    I think it’s just one of those things that might be just as much about the faith as it is for our health. We just have to trust Heavenly Father and know that he loves us so much that he gives us rules to follow to keep us close to him.
    Great post!

  2. 5
    andrew

    I think it is a stretch to dismiss (via avoidance) caffeine’s documented beneficial effects in order to support your rightful conclusion that caffeine intake has the potential to adversely affect (e.g. headaches, tiredness from caffeine crash) ones life. But instead of avoiding the stuff entirely like you propose, shouldn’t the conversation be about moderating one’s personal intake? Shouldn’t we be talking about using your free will to choose to consume caffeine levels that benefit and not burden our bodies?

    Just because something “alters our actions and decisions” does not mean it in essence “usurp[es] our free will.” For example, I’ve learned from my past mistakes and those mistakes therefore significantly alter my future actions and decisions because I’ve learned the consequences that come from these actions. This, however, does not mean I have lost my capacity to choose to make these same mistakes again. I retain my free will to make these mistakes, or not, regardless of my past experiences. In my opinion caffeine usage does not have the potential to usurp our free will; the fact that you have the ability to choose whether to consume the stuff or not is proof of this.

    Link to study on caffeine’s effects on the body: https://www.ajol.info/index.php/safp/article/viewFile/48481/34834.

    • 6
      admin

      Hey Andrew. Thanks for the comment! You bring up some interesting points.

      First—what about the beneficial qualities of these substances Mormons avoid? We know wine has been proven to possess certain health benefits, and your PDF showed that Caffeine seems to possess some as well. For us, it becomes a question of the bad outweighing the good. While some of these substances may benefit health, they have also been found to possess addictive qualities. Because our faith places such an emphasis on personal choice, for us the addictive qualities of these substances (the bad) outweigh the health benefits (the good). The Word of Wisdom is as much about health as it is about maintaining our agency, or the ability to make decisions with a sound mind.

      Which leads me to your second point about free will being usurped. Shouldn’t the argument be as much about moderation as it is abstinence? It would seem that exercising free will would mean freedom to partake of caffeine or any of these other substances, wouldn’t it?

      First off, let me clarify that the bit in Lani’s post about free will being “usurped” was more intended towards alcohol, tobacco and coffee than it was caffeine. Surely each substance contains different levels of addictive-ness and surely not everyone who partakes of them is an addict. I have witnessed friends and co-workers who are perfectly able to limit their alcohol intake. But I have also witnessed others set out to limit their alcohol intake and the next thing I know, she’s five margaritas in and I’m pulling her off a creepy guy on the dance floor who I am fairly certain she doesn’t really want to be dancing with. All kidding aside, the risk of losing our ability to make conscious decisions (aka exercise our free will) is the reason we stay away from these substances.

      Do we think partaking of these things makes people mindless robots? No way. Do we think taking one sip of alcohol makes you evil? No sir. It’s simply a set of rules we’ve adopted by commandment to preserve our ability to choose. We want to be able to function physically without our morning coffee and socially without a beer.

      Does that help answer your questions? I guess it comes down to what Lani said in her last paragraph—sometimes God gives commandments that don’t make perfect logical sense to our mortal minds. The fact that we Mormons choose to follow these commandments causes many to accuse us of being boring, mindless, robots. But I’ve found that choosing to follow commandments is something that can only be really understood by living it. Like Daniel-Sun who followed Mr. Miyagi’s instructions to wax on and wax off for days on end, we may not know exactly why God gives us certain commandments. But we have faith in God and we believe that following his commandments will bless our lives. After you see blessings come from living one commandment, you develop the faith to obey others more fully. Ultimately, you become a black belt in karate who is able to beat up the rich bully at your school. 🙂

      If you made it this far, you’re a champ. If there’s still something we can help clear up, by all means send us a note. Either here or at normonquestions@gmail.com. Thanks again for asking. Hope this helped!

  3. 8
    Rachel

    I think this was well put, and very clear. Because you can do thousands of scientific studies on the short and long term affects on caffeine, but you’re going to come up with different answers. Why don’t we have an occasional cigarette? Because you get into a habit, and each time you do it, it gets easier. We Mormons like to stay on the safe side. Nice article!

  4. 10
    Jake

    I think your post and response to Andrew were excellent. It is interesting to me that we often forget verse 3 “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”.

    While Caffeine and alcohol are not only not bad, but in fact healthy in moderation, many of us have bodies that are weak and, as you state, certainly would not be able to limit those addictive substances to a healthy amount.

  5. 11
    SueAnn

    Loved the article, but, where could i find the recently released that caffinated soda was never prohibted? Thanks!
    (although just the sugar and/or chemicals is enough to make me stay away!)
    Happy almost 2014!

  6. 14
    Do Mormons Swear? | NORMONS

    […] My mother grew up in Salt Lake City at a time when let’s just say, Church and State were one and the same. Her parents raised eight children who all played sports and an instrument of some sort–think Brady Bunch minus the second marriage. One day she was so mad at her brother she wanted to call him the worst thing she could possibly think of. She clenched her fists, scrunched up her face, and yelled, “YOU, YOU, YOU…..CIGARETTES AND COFFEE!” […]

  7. 15
    Lance

    Caffeine is a highly addictive drug. I don’t care what the LDS church says, I don’t think it’s okay to drink sodas just because they aren’t “hot drinks.” The problem is caffeine, and it is a problem. So many people can’t start their day without a pot of coffee or popping a Vivarin. They’re drugging themselves, every bit as much as the individual who uses alcohol to wind down at night and go to sleep. I don’t think caffeine is particularly good for you, I don’t think we need it, and I think the LDS church has really dropped the ball on this one.

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