Monday, October 29, 2012

A "word of wisdom" from & for the Mormons

One bizarre teachings of Mormonism is the so-called "Word of Wisdom" which was a revelation that Joseph Smith received and recorded in the Doctrine & Covenants, section #89. This is considered inspired Scripture to Mormons, and all good Mormons today follow the "Word of Wisdom". The heart of the text is as follows:
4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation

5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him. 6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.

7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies. 8 And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill. 9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— 11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; 13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.
This "divine revelation" is the reason why Mormons don't drink alcohol, coffee, or smoke tobacco. This is the extent of what most good Mormons know and are encouraged to follow in regards to this Word of Wisodom. But the person who reads the entire section (particularly the parts I highlighted in red) will see that there is more to the Word of Wisdom than what most Mormons care to follow - despite the fact God is allegedly giving these commands.

Notice how the text plainly says only those fruits and herbs in season should be used, meaning all canned fruits and packaged herbs are technically forbidden. And the same is true for meats, which in this case man is commanded to use "sparingly," namely only in times of winter or famine. What Mormons do you know of who follow this teaching? I don't know of a single one, nor have I ever heard them write or speak on these 'forgotten' parts of the Word of Wisdom.

To add to this confusion, Mormons have said caffeine is included in these prohibitions, yet I see nothing in these prohibitions indicating that. While "hot drinks" most likely does refer to coffee, I don't see why this also wouldn't exclude hot tea, hot milk, hot cider, etc, nor would it exclude 'cold drinks' with caffeine like sodas. Another interesting oddity is that in verse 17b it says "mild drinks" that are grain based are allowed, which logically would allow some mildly alcoholic beers, yet Mormons shun these as any other alcohol. There doesn't seem to be any objective standard to judge this.

As a tangential note to all this, despite the fact the Word of Wisdom clearly says wine can be used for the Communion service (v5b), the LDS have officially abandoned even this, and now exclusively use water instead of wine for their worship service. Note what the LDS site that welcomes seekers even says: "We partake of the sacrament (communion), which consists of prepared bread and water, blessed and passed to members of the congregation by priesthood holders." This is because another of Smith's revelations in 1830 (Doctrine & Covenants, section 27) states God doesn't care what elements one uses for Communion, what matters is the heart and intent when partaking. This means one can use anything from pizza and milk to cookies and water. This only feeds into the Mormon 'fear' of alcohol, again despite the fact Smith officially taught it was ok.

So the question is, are the Mormons really being wise about their own teaching? Does the Wisdom of God include picking and choosing what commands and advice to obey or ignore? I would say the answer to both of those questions is "No". This is aside from the fact the Bible nowhere forbids these things or puts such restrictions, aside from the commands to avoid gluttony and drunkenness. That Mormons would even put this kind of teaching forward as something necessary to be saved or be a good person in God's sight is more foolishness than wisdom.

P.S. This post has nothing to do with the health benefits of avoiding tobacco or alcohol, but rather whether such words really came from God and whether Mormons are actually obeying God's commands.


Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

The confusion in Mormon teaching about food and drink is very similar to that of the Seven Day Adventists. Both faiths in their early forms placed a great deal of emphasis on what was called heath reform. A lot of the so called "reform" was simply theories and speculations borrowed from various health crusaders that were popular during Smith and Mrs. White's lifetime. The only difference is that Smith and White passed off their health teachings as gospel and made it a part of their cults.h 2 erviep

Nick said...

That's a very good insight. I knew the SDAs were vegetarian, but upon looking at their official Statement of Faith after you mentioned this I see they indeed have fallen into a form of the Judaizer heresy:

Quote: "Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well."

We already know the SDAs have embraced the Sabbatarian error, but this quote raises the stakes so much further. To say Christians are to "abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures" is to subscribe to the Levitical dietary restrictions, despite the fact the Gospels say no food is unclean. And they also include the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco, despite the fact these are not forbidden in Scriptures. I like how they are against only "the irresponsible use" of drugs, as if they are in favor of "responsible use"? I would almost call Seventh Day Adventism "Cafeteria Judaism".

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Another thing that influenced both the Mormons and the SDA was a thing called the Restorationist movement. This movement called for a return to 'primitive' Christianity. What this meant was a rejection of the historical creeds, an overemphasis on the Old Testament, and a feeling that the second coming woud be soon. A good Wikipedia article that explains the movement can be found here.

littlema said...

I am a Mormon. I'm not an expert. I'd just like to answer a few of your questions. First off, the Word of Wisdom was given as revelation, but "not by commandment or restraint" (v2). Members are free to choose for themselves how well they will live any of God's commands or advice, just like everyone else I know.
Mormons believe in continuing revelation, so the specific guideline of no coffee or tea was presented at a later date. That's also why water eventually replaced wine, and why no alcohol is allowed, even though in 1830 there were exceptions.
There is not an official injunction against caffeine. Many mormons simply know that caffeine affects the body negatively, and choose not to partake of it in large doses, like in a caffeinated soda. No one forbids chocolate.
Also, eating things "in season" simply means eating them while they are fresh and nutritious to eat, rather than old and spoiled. Back in the day, that usually meant eating the bulk of them when they were harvested, but today's preservation options, including canning, freezing, and drying, make it possible to eat nutritious fruits and herbs (which simply means plants) all year round. Mormons do not preach vegetarianism; rather, using meat when it is needed for nutrients. Which isn't three times a day. In 1830, many folks had meat at each meal.
The basic idea of the Word of Wisdom is to eat good, wholesome foods, to avoid that which impairs your judgment or health, and to practice temperance in all things. Any person who chooses to follow these basic guidelines will enjoy greater health and vitality.
Thanks for letting me chip in on the conversation.

Steve Martin said...

Our Lord said that, "It is not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles him, but what comes out."

"All things are lawful. But not all things are profitable."

Mormons are merely Protestantized Jews. Looking to what they do, or don't do, to make them acceptable in God's eyes. "They have a zeal for God but lack understanding."


Nick said...

Hello LittleMa,

I've heard it on reliable sources that the Word of Wisdom is pushed very much in Mormonism, and no good Mormon would dare say it's just good advice that's optional. I dare any Mormon to go to their congregation with a coffee and say "I'm just having this one drink, and since I'm not addicted and the Word of Wisdom is optional then I don't see anything wrong". I did a simple search for "coffee" on the lds webpage and the resulting articles showed it was something strongly shunned.

The issue of meat though is the main sticking point, since I know of no Mormon who follows this. The revelation says 'sparingly' and only in times of winter/famine. There is no way to spin this to allow the levels of meat consumptions Mormons intake.

And if the Word of Wisdom was simply restricted to science/technology of the time (e.g. ways to keep food preserved), then this means the WoW is actually outdated and should not be a guide at all. At best, a new WoW should have been introduced by now.

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

There was a lot of Jewish influence on early Mormonism from the Jewish Kabbalah. Alexander Neibaur, a Jewish convert to Mormonism, was very close to Joe Smith during the last years of Nauvoo. This article goes into great detail about Neibaur's kabbalistic knowledge and it's influence on Smith So Steve Martin's description of Mormon's as "Protestantized Jews" is on target.