Friday, June 5, 2009

She Said: Caffeine!

It's true--at one time I was a Nazi Word of Wisdom follower.

There are many issues which surround D&C 89, but today Dr. B. and I want to narrow the discussion down and talk about caffeine. One might well wonder why Mormons are known for not drinking Coca-Cola when the relevant statement from our "health code" states:
And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

We all know that "hot drinks" has been interpreted to mean coffee and tea beverages. This interpretation developed from a statement made by Hyrum Smith in 1842.
And again "hot drinks are not for the body, or belly;" there are many who wonder what this can mean; whether it refers to tea, or coffee, or not. I say it does refer to tea, and coffee. (Hyrum Smith, "The Word of Wisdom", Times and Seasons, 1842-06-01, vol. 3, p. 800.)

By 1881 it was being taught that "hot drinks" should be understood as tea and coffee, no matter what form, hot or cold.
I understand that some of the people are excusing themselves in using tea and coffee, because the Lord only said "hot drinks" in the revelation of the Word of Wisdom .... Tea and coffee ... are what the Lord meant when He said "hot drinks." (In Joel H. Johnson (1881). Voice from the Mountains (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office) p. 12; cited in Church Educational System (2001). Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Religion 324 and 325 (Salt Lake City: LDS Church) p. 209.)

From there, the prohibition developed to mean coffee and tea only. Modern Latter-day Saints will readily drink hot beverages such as hot chocolate, spiced cider, and even herbal teas. It's instructive to track the evolution of this. With "hot drinks" narrowed down to coffee and tea, one might reason that they are restricted because they both contain caffeine. So in the early 1900's, when caffeinated soft drinks became readily available, many members figured that they should also abstain from these drinks. Elder John A. Widtsoe taught:
Whenever a drink is advertised to "give you a lift," the "lift" is likely to be caused by the drug which it contains. Such soft drinks are decidedly harmful and habit-forming, even though sold by the millions. Such caffeine-containing drinks, offered by every soda fountain and most eating places, and consumed in large quantities, should be known and avoided. (The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, p.97)

With this in mind, President Heber J. Grant in April 1922 General Conference asked the Saints as a personal favor to him not to drink Coca-Cola. Two years later, after meeting with representatives from the Coca-Cola company, he became convinced that the amount of caffeine in the beverage was harmless and stated that he would no longer speak out against the use of cola drinks. Many other General Authorities since that time have cautioned against caffeinated soft drinks. But they are generally very careful to note that these drinks are not specifically contrary to the Word of Wisdom, because there are just as many GA's who do partake!

I think it is interesting to analyze motivations for members who have decided it is important to abstain from caffeinated soft drinks. It is recognized that it is not specifically caffeine which is against the Word of Wisdom. So why are some members determined not to partake? Those who cite the health risks often consume foods such as jello with food dyes, soups with MSG, processed meats with nitrates or chocolate, which contains mood-altering and addictive substances. They are also apt to ignore the health benefits of eating more grains and fruits in season and limiting meats, which is suggested in the Word of Wisdom.

I often wonder if those members who eschew caffeinated soft drinks are using this relatively simple religious behavior as an identifier to signify their level of "Mormon-ness." Cutting out the Coke is an easy thing to do, and it immediately brands you as a committed LDS Church member.

On the flip side, what does that say about those of us who love our Diet Dr. Pepper? Do we enjoy flouting outward convention? Is it a "safe" way to be just a little bit rebellious?

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading the posts from both of you on this topic. I was raised not drinking caffinated sodas, but I married a man whose family drinks them like water. I have since become totally addicted (but wish I was not). I keep telling myself that when my young children begin letting me sleep at night I will no longer need the stimulant, but who knows if that's true.