This is an invitation to any Mormon who reads this and lives by the Word of Wisdom to summarise - in their own words - their understanding the role and rationale of these rules for living in the LDS faith.
(Or,if you prefer, e-mail me personally hklaxnessatyahoo.com).
Fully accepting that the WoW rules are necessary for exaltation - I am asking whether the WoW should best be seen as a necessary worldly expedient, or as something fundamental and permanent (or as something else).
By 'necessary worldly expedient', I mean that these rules are necessary here and now and in the world as it is (perhaps as a foundation?) - but not a deep or fundamental or eternal matter in relation to the Plan of Salvation.
Or is the WoW is something more symbolic, or perhaps deeper than this?
I think the fact that Christ himself drank wine would rule out the WoW's being fundamental and permanent.
Hi Bruce. I've been lurking for a while now on the recommendation of my friends at the Jr. Ganymede blog.
I wrote a post on my own blog a couple of years ago specifically on the Word of Wisdom that may apply somewhat to what you are asking here.
I've enjoyed reading your posts. Thanks.
This would be true if the essence of the Word of Wisdom was about wine. But what if it is primarily about something else, namely wisdom? Wisdom can include advice for our health (D&C 89:18), warnings of danger (D&C 89:4), the value of markers for faith and identity (D&C 89:3), and the value of faithful obedience (D&C 89:19).
Right. My understanding is that the WoW is specific direction to those of us living during this latter-day period, when what in the past may have been comparatively innocuous is no longer, due to the "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men (D&C 89:4)."
Thanks to all who responded - I feel considerably better informed now.
JMW - Thanks for the compliment! - And I have enjoyed things you have written at M*.
I strongly suspect that the major problem of the 21st century will be addiction.
While there are more and more ways to partake of substances of increasing potency, there is also deteriorating family and social bonds that would help hold these things in check. People have worried much about certain drugs being “gateway drugs”. But the only gateway drug I have knowledge of, is alcohol. I suspect that many of us, perhaps even most, could handle is sufficiently well. But at what cost to the rest?
Too often, things like coffee, tea, alcohol, become coping mechanisms. But without them, we are forced to learn better ways to cope with and handle life. In essence, we have to start building a new culture and civilization without one of the things so many take for granted.
A hundred years ago it might have been a small thing. Today, it is a bit more important. But what of 50 years from now, when the pace of life and change is 10 or 100 times faster?
Yes, there are health effects, and it does help separate us from the World. But the biggest effect is our own spiritual health and fitness. It isn't just spiritual fitness in big things. It is a lot of little things, but those little things add up.
I like J Max's blood on the door posts analogy.
Another comparison is Naaman the leper being told to wash seven times in the river. It's just something simple and easy to test and show obedience and faith.
If someone isn't able to make a small sacrifice, then they aren't ready for the big sacrifices.
There are practical worldly reasons too. Cigarettes with their modern additives are much more addictive than plain tobacco was in the past.
Just think of the hundreds of thousands of saints who have had their lives spared from the effects of alcoholism. The reason is that a certain percentage of the human population is pre-disposed to alcoholism, such that if they ever start to drink on a regular basis, they will become full alcoholics.
So the saving of lives of that percentage, who otherwise would have died or ruined their lives, plus the collateral damage of broken families and car crash victims, is worth the small sacrifice of _all_ saints to abstain.
That line of reasoning should be obvious for both alcohol and tobacco. And as far as coffee/tea, I figure the addictive nature and harm of caffeine also makes it worth the sacrifice, or else there is some harm in it that we haven't discovered yet. Or, it could be that the coffee/tea prohibition comes more under the heading of a test of faith and obedience. God doesn't need a practical reason for his commandments. A "Because I said so" or "Just to see if you'd obey" is sufficient.
The rejoinder of Naaman's servant also seems to apply. If we'd be willing to do some grandiose task in order to receive some blessing, there's no reason to argue if we are asked to some lesser simpler task.
Faithful Mormon intellectuals vary between thinking that the Word of Wisdom is almost entirely a shibboleth, and thinking that it has health benefits. I can't rule out that there is some kind of eternal principle involved regarding what kinds of interactions with the outside world that induce internal feelings are licit and what kind aren't, but I'm not certain what the contours of that principle would be and I'm not sure how the principle would apply in the eternities. Christ drinking wine is probative for me, but not dispositive. My own best understanding of the Word of Wisdom is that its an act of collective solidarity and noblesse oblige to help out the weak--those who are prone to alcoholism or other forms of addiction, and the young (who probably aren't mature enough to be responsibly making decisions about lifelong addictive habits, plus alcohol is the solvent of chastity in young women and of self-discipline in young men)
@Adam - Prohibitions on drinking alcohol are quite familiar in Britain - for example the Methodists; but also among atheists such as Bernard Shaw.
What seems unique to Mormons is prohibiting hot drinks - including tea.
Tea drinking was for a long time the focus of English social interaction, a national obsession, almost especially among Christians. The first thing I ever heard about Mormons (The Osmonds) was that they did not drink tea.
(Nowadays this has been supplemented and substantially replaced by coffee.)
Fruit juices were rare and expensive until the nineteen eighties, so abstaining from alcohol, tea and coffee meant drinking only water (and milk) - which really was an extreme deprivation.
I see the Word of Wisdom as a standard to help us avoid addictive substances and as a guide to help us know what foods will help us maintain optimal health.
The promise for living it is to have health, strength, stamina, and to be able to think more deeply and make greater discoveries. I have seen this in my life.
For now, I see the Word of Wisdom as a worldly expedient. If I personally extrapolate from stories of Christ’s resurrection in the New Testament, I suppose that when we are resurrected we will still be able to eat. (Christ ate a fish and honeycomb.) Whether eating will be necessary or whether there will be instructions about what resurrected bodies should or should not eat, I don’t know.
I grew up only drinking water and milk, and I never experienced any deprivation, but nothing around here has the cultural status that tea had (and still has?) for the British. As always, I admire the British Saints and others who have had to sacrifice more for the Kingdom than I have, and am grateful to my parents and grandparents who made it easy for me.
Like others here, I feel the main purpose for the Word of Wisdom is obedience. We are promised great blessings of wisdom by adhering to it. Thus, I'm of the opinion that it is a necessary worldly expedient. I'll give some of my own speculation as to why I believe this is so below.
J. Max Wilson sites Isaiah 40:28-31 in his post. What stands out to me is the phrase "the Lord shall renew their strength." It seems to me that the things which are prohibited in the Word of Wisdom are things people often rely on to get some form of strength that they could get from the Lord. Coffee for alertness, alcohol for comfort, etc. I suppose you might say the Word of Wisdom makes us more reliant upon the Lord for strength. Max Wilson's talk does a far superior job of expressing this point then I did here.
An additional benefit of avoiding alcohol or other substances that lower inhibitions is that it helps to adhere to the Law of Chastity. Morality by and large seems looser than it was in the past. You can imagine that many Latter Day Saints would be more likely to compromise their values after a few drinks have lowered their inhibitions.
Furthermore, I think alcohol has become a kind of idol worship in American culture. If you want to make a crowd cheer, just say "beer". It seems to work at every concert I've been to. I see a definite obsession with alcohol. For instance, I was just looking through the forums of a mountain biking site and there were a number of threads dedicated to beer. No other beverages were represented. I'm sure I'd enjoy beer if I drank it regularly, but the level of fixation on it and other alcoholic beverages seems silly to me. I'm happy to avoid that.
There has always been 'some' health code in the gospel. We have one made for the modern age, especially the prohibition against alcohol. In past times, the chronic problem drinkers would be known and dealt with in their family or neighborhood.
Now, we are less connected to our neighbors and operate killer machines daily(cars). This seems to be the wisdom of this age.
I usually think of it as a necessary rule for living in a day of factory-produced vice.
Maybe 10% of the time, I imagine that Mormons are sort of like the biblical Nazarites; if you want to join our merry band of freakishly wholesome Christians, there are a few extra rules we follow to keep ourselves really super-duper unspotted from the world...
I think that too, but maybe a little more than 10% of the time. It's pretty standard sociology/anthropology that if you want to be part of the religious elite, you have to accept some unique restrictions.
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