Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke

Perhaps nothing outwardly sets Mormons apart from the rest of society more than our adherence to the Word of Wisdom. And for insiders, as someone once said on this site, the Word of Wisdom just *feels* important. I’m far more likely to offend the Sabbath day, forget a fast, skip hometeaching, use inappropriate language, break the speed limit, or commit dozens of other sins of omission and commission than I am to join my friends sipping tea at a Chinese restaurant.

As a missionary, one of the big issues of contention between the mission and stake leaders was how long a prospective convert needed to be following the Word of Wisdom before baptism. The bishop would counsel us to make sure it “takes” — to put off baptism until the investigator has quit smoking for at least a couple weeks. The missionaries would respond that the investigator needed the gift of the Holy Ghost to have the strength to abstain. It was always a major disappointment for everyone when a new convert slipped back into old habits soon after baptism. Of course, many eager investigators didn’t even make it that far because of Word of Wisdom issues. There are doubtless many people that would be members of the the Lord’s church but for the fact that they are addicted to nicotine, or coffee, or alcohol.

This is all to say that the Word of Wisdom is quite important in the our current culture and practice. This is somewhat odd, given the fact that what is now section 89 was basically irrelevant to most Mormons (or at most, a “principle with a promise”) until the early 1900s, and even then there was never a specific revelation transforming it into a commandment. I won’t recount the history and confluence of forces that led to our current understanding of the Word of Wisdom; for that, see Thomas Alexander’s concise account in _Mormonism in Transition_. But it is undeniable that what was really a fringe principle has swiftly and surely been made an integral part of the lives of the Saints.

I’m curious about everyone’s views on how and why the WoW seems to be so important to us. Nate, and others, have accounted for the WoW as “a reminder or an instantiation of the covenant that I make with God.” Following some of Jim’s writing, one might say it is a way we always remember God without consciously recalling Him at all times. I think I agree with that account. But I wonder how it came to be that this particular principle became so emblematic of and central to our covenant. Here are some very preliminary guesses:

–The WoW replaced polygamy as something that sets us apart and makes us a peculiar people. Feeling like an outsider is, in some ways, integral to Mormon culture, and WoW adherence fosters this feeling.

–There is a perception that the WoW vindicates Joseph Smith’s status as a prophet and seer. It is often the missionaries’ exhibit A when someone asks, “well, what did Joseph Smith prophesy that came true?” Making the WoW central shows that we give concrete value to the content of continuing revelation.

–Because the WoW does not have scientific justification for each of its prohibitions, we exemplify the priority we give to faith over rationalism through adherence to its teachings.

Please enlighten me. Do we make a fetish of the Word of Wisdom? And if so, why?

56 comments for “Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke

  1. Have you considered the Nazarenes? Maybe giving up drink and other pleasures as a way of showing devotion has a long pedigree not entirely explicable in terms of the vagaries of early-20th century mormonism (although I’m open to that view, too).

    I see the Word of Wisdom as a sort of prolonged fast. One has a sense of personal triumph, just as in fasting, and a sense of shared triumph because others too have made the sacrifice.

  2. If you think about it, Nate’s, Jim’s and Adam’s comments, plus your first and third suggested explanation, are all iterations of the same idea. God is not of this world; to have a covenant with a being not of this world demands an orientation that constantly calls us, situates us, outside worldly things; such an orientation will (and should) appear peculiar to those who do not feel its call, and will (and should) not be something that can be reduced to a simple “worldly” scientific or utilitarian justification; it must be simultaneously mundane (because if it was something bizarre or outrageous we would focus on the act itself, rather than allowing it work its power of rememberance upon us from the background) yet hard (because if it wasn’t, its power of rememberance could be sublimated by us entirely). Behavioral markers, such as marriage patterns, dress, speech, eating and drinking habits and so forth, serve all these purporses quite well, and have been present in numerous movements that (I believe, at least) God has established covenants with over the millenia.

    The idea that the WoW proves Smith’s prophetic stature, on the other hand, has always struck me as rather lame.

    In the eternal scheme of things, I really suspect the WoW adherence is quite irrelevant. Obviously God wants us to treat our bodies well, but recommendations to avoid corn syrups and not take stress-producing jobs could have worked just as well. I don’t object to the “fetishizing” of the WoW (at least, not too much), since I think it serves a legitimate moral and spiritual purpose. But at the judgment bar, I’m quite comfortable with the idea that the Lord will include unrepentant pipe smokers and drinkers of beer and wine among the saved.

  3. Irrelevant? Not the word I would use to describe a commandment from God.

    Judgment bar disobedience forgotten? Um…see Pres. Kimball’s comments on this re: whether or not a cup of coffee would keep an otherwise good member of the Church out of the Temple and the Celestial Kingdom.

    No, I don’t have a WoW fetish. I have an agency fetish. Violating the WoW has practical consequences for the exercise of agency/magnification of talents. [Russell, please feel free to dispute the following]: If nothing else, breaking a known commandment of God willfully separates the offender from the Spirit of God. That is the biggest cause for concern…forget the substance of the commandment…but placing one’s will above God’s usually has fatal consequences for personal spiritual growth and any capacity to build up the kingdom of God; i.e. honor covenants/magnify talents. Just a thought.

    Feel free to write it off [as my comments usually are] as just a “freak doctrine” that the “wisdom of men” turned into a major defining part of LDS doctrine. However, i don’t think the prohpets think in terms of what will keep us a ‘peculiar people.’ Nor do I think that we can know the mind of God as to the Why’s of the Wow.

  4. Lyle,
    I think the Grey Fox means to say, if I may wax legal, that moderate drinking, etc., is malum prohibitum, not malum in se. So ‘disobedience’ may be forgotten at the judgment bar because breaking a law malum prohibitum is only wrong if one is aware of it, which most people aren’t.

  5. Greg,

    Yes, it’s certainly interesting to read about early accounts of saints’ lives and the relative lack of importance attached to the Word of Wisdom. Some of the more fun moments from Mormon Enigma (since that’s whatI just finished and have fresh in mind) are where Joseph decides to build a bar and tavern in the Nauvoo mansion house (where he was living) since he wanted to make that a popular hotel and all hotels had bars, and the instance where Joseph accused Emma of poisoning his coffee. (Both episodes post-WOW).

  6. Lyle, Adam’s gloss on my post is correct. I should have been more clear. If you have covenanted with the Lord to abstain from tobacco, then I believe the Lord will most certainly call you up on that abstaining at the time of judgment. But if you were not so covenanted (because you lived in a different dispensation, or lacked knowledge, or simply happened to have been a Mormon around, say 1880 when the WoW was neither taught nor “enforced”), then I suspect now one will object if you want to bring your pipe along with you into the resurrection. (But not chew. Because man, that stuff’s just plain gross.)

  7. Betraying the remnants of my freshman year Marxist phase, let me posit a theory: I think that abstaining from coffee, tobacco, and alcohol helps members keep from participating in some of the most destructive means of production, inequitable distribution, and immoral profit-taking that exist in the 20th century–we don’t have the blood of starving Colombian and Vietnamese coffee farmers on our hands,* and we are not responsible for the wholesale ruin of large parts of the American South (see Wendell Berry), etc. Now if only we’d take seriously the counsel to eat meat sparingly…

    *this is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned, only that we are not _directly_ contributing to the problem

  8. Kristine: Cute but I don’t buy it. I don’t buy most Marxist arguments, however…

    There was a fun economic argument about the WofW put forth by Leonard Arrington. He points out that the WofW was not ALWAYS peripheral during the 19th century. BY regularlly emphasized it. However, he put it in the context of Mormon economic planning. The problem was the Mormons were using their hard-money to purchase tobacco and booze from the Gentiles, sending wealth out of the territory when it should be accumulated within the territory. Thus, emphasizing the WofW was simply a part of the broader Church economic policy, which also included a Mormon tobacco mission to Utah’s Dixie so that Mormons could supply tobacco to themselves domestically.

    BTW, I have always been struck by the mercantalist flavor of much of Mormon economic rhetoric during the 19th century Utah period. There always seems to be a generation or two of lag time in Mormon intellectual history, so I wonder if it would be possible to trace out some of BY’s economic thinking to some of the last gasps of pre-Adam Smith mercantalism. Just a thought. (I suppose that much of the Whig and later Republican economic rhetoric and policy was quasi-mercantalist, but the Mormons were always Democrats, who tended to be more pro-free trade. Hmmmm.)

  9. Y’all hilarious. Here is my contribution:

    Grey Fox ;)

    Thank you for clarifying…I will take my cue from this also…I should have been more explicit re: baptised members and KNOWING of the violation (whether Mormon or indy commandment via the Spirit). lol…great chew joke; although I 100% disagree re: any differentiation in celestial living standards based on dispensations. If God is smoking and drinking when we all show up…fine. If not…I don’t think anyone will be. Unless we want to have “separate but equal” drinking/non-drinking and smoking/non-smoking celestial shopping malls, restaurants, etc???

    Can you elaborate on malum prohibitum? Or is this in a previous T&S thread? I personally am unsure that simple ignorance of the law, whether civil or religious, excuses one from compliance and/or creates acceptance of the act. Could it be a mitigating factor in sentencing though?

    Kristine: You post a great theory. Maybe. Want to test your theory? Chocolate and Caffeinated drinks are your test cases. Rumors always abound that the church owns Coca-Cola. Whether true or not…perhaps President Hinckley’s LIVE/National TV comments to the WORLD re: Mormons don’t drink caffeinated beverages is a hint to MOs and non-MOs alike that we should participate in these greedy capitalistic schemes? Better test is chocolate, because most chocolate is produced using child and slave labor in West Africa. So…expect chocolate on the chopping block of the WoW soon…and maybe it will expand to include diamonds also…because Conflict Diamonds [which true mormons should use anyways because it is like silk and fine linens…and besides, titanium is a better and ‘stronger’ symbol than diamonds anyway…right?] are also blood tainted…as is oil (Spurious claims re: Iraq war aside, Nigeria and the Sudan are great uncontroverted examples)[hm…maybe this is why I just bought a gas-electric vehicle to soothe my conscience]. So: If the Church comes out against caffeine, chocolate, diamonds and oil…I think your case for a Marxist interpreation of the WoW will be alot stronger.

  10. Russell Fox said, “In the eternal scheme of things, I really suspect the WoW adherence is quite irrelevant.” I would agree, but it raises the question: Then why is it given such priority in the here and now?

    It’s interesting how each of the “Big Four” Christian sects that mainstream Christianity pushes to the fringe take some arguably minor precept and make it a defining test of faith. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is blood tranfusions. For Seventh-Day Adventists, it is Saturday worship. For Christian Scientists, it is not using professional medical services. For Mormons, it is not drinking alcohol, coffee, or tea. On the whole, the Mormon choice of precepts used to maintain group boundaries and set us off from the “Gentiles” (Christian and pagan alike) is the least harmful of the lot and actually does us some good. So I, for one, won’t complain.

    The mentality it fosters among members is a different matter. I recall a poll that was reported a few years ago on the weight BYU students accorded to various moral injunctions. As I recall, the Word of Wisdom ranked number one, sexual transgressions were number two, and “do not kill” was down about five or six. That is a reflection on what the Church teaches its youth, of course, not anything in particular about BYU students, who are an admirable group of dedicated students at a fine university. (I’m learning not to step on toes.) I don’t think much of a moral education that gives primary place to matters of diet. It’s kind of embarrassing, really.

  11. I don’t know that I agree about what we should glean from the results of poll you discuss. I feel pretty attuned to church teachings and to youth, and if BYU students placed the Word of Wisdom at the top, then I think it shows something wierd happening with the group who was polled. It would seem that our youth would be more likely to put sexual morality at the top given its emphasis in so many materials and meeting. I also wonder how the poll was conducted. Were the students given a list of moral imperatives and then asked to rank them, or were they randomly to come up with their own list. I also wonder if the results might have something to do with whether the students were answering based on what they viewed as moral imperatives they had to deal with or whether they were truly ranking moral imperatives based on their absolute value. I would guess many BYU students don’t think about or deal with “thou shalt not kill” all that often. Thus, placing such an item further down the list may be more a reflection on how they live and not because of an undue emphasis placed on the word of wisdom.

  12. Dave:

    Maybe your embarrassed by teaching obedience to the commandments of God that children are most likely to break/most temptation/peer pressure/opportunity…

    but in a world filled with people of bounded rationality and a zero-sum slice of time…


  13. Adam, glad I could make your day. As a BYU alum, I take some pride in the place too and wouldn’t want to let offhand remarks be taken as criticism.

    Nate, if I stumble across a reference I’ll send it to you, but feel free to amend my remark to the following: “I recall reading some years back a reference to a survey of a small sample of BYU students, no doubt loosely administered rather than tightly controlled, which indicated Word of Wisdom issues were a primary concern and weightier moral injunctions received less attention or concern.” Neither my recollection nor the substance of the survey is that important.

    Lyle, you don’t have to preach here, there’s no one to impress, this is just a conversation among friends. And your point, that peer pressure to drink or use drugs justifies the emphasis placed on the Word of Wisdom in Mormon teaching to youth, is a good one that really didn’t cross my mind earlier.

  14. Dave, like most others I’m doubtful of this supposed poll. If only because such uncontrolled polls often have facitious results given. I recall one such poll I portrayed myself as a junkie drug dealer who had sex regularly. (Ah the joys of youth – playing with the minds of sociologists. Except that I still do it with telephone polls)

    I think that the change to focusing on the WoW can be seen as a outward observable distinction that makes us a culture. In the 19th century we had polygamy and our economic policies. With the various manifestos those disappeared and the WoW took its place. They function similarly to how Jews distinguished themselves from those they lived with, thereby keeping their religious identity. Of course the practical basis for emphasizing the WoW was more complicated, tied into the abolition movement. (And by and large, for all its problems, the abolitionists did note real problems in society)

    Having said that though, I have noted that there are many BYU students who’d never consider breaking the WoW who will engage in sexual activity. Obviously a minority, but somewhat common. I know in some wards I was in less than half the congregation would take the sacrament when I passed it. I’m not saying that it is all sexually related – but typically it is. Which is weird, since these people will acknowledge sexual sins as more serious, but are more willing to do them… There’s even a saying around campus here, “if she smokes, she pokes.”

  15. I have long subscribed to the position that the WOW is one of the most important revelations we have. As Kristin and Lyle alluded, if we were to really take it seriously, the WOW would revolutionize society (and hasten the building of Zion?). The quips about chocolate and diamonds were made partially in jest, but seriously…where’s the great value in those products. One is an addictive substance that is the drug of choice among Mormons. The other a symbol of wealth–many dollars that didn’t go to helping the poor or building up the kingdom.

    I got in trouble one time in sunday school for tying immigrant labor policy in with our abuse of the WOW. Some of the most dangerous jobs in America go to fulfill our lust for flesh when it isn’t cold or there isn’t a famine. Lots of resources on this at:
    Anglo Americans want to eat the meat, but don’t want to work in the industries producing it–at least not as hourly workers. So these jobs help create an underclass of migrants. Since socio-economic inequalities are a curse that causes the earth to groan, Mormon neglect of these circumstances may be an indictment against our culture. In fact, Mormon legislators in Utah are among the greatest proponents of cheap immigrant labor:

    As an ecologist, I have to see the connections between what we eat, how our food is produced, and the socio-economic ramifications of our meat eating diet (let alone larger societal addiction to alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, chocolate, twinkies, ho-hos, and green jello).

    We don’t keep folks out of the temple if they are grossly addicted to corn sweeteners, but surely our societal obesity is a violation of the WOW.

    Pass the salad…the locally grown greens that is, not the California-grown lettuce shipped here to Austin by truck using precious fossil fuels to help me have fruit not “in the season”.

    I think the WOW is a great example of the Lord giving us a warning, and letting us make all kinds of mistakes–because we miss the point. We forget that one of the highest, most eternal blessings we can get is health in the navel and marrow in the bones–and that doesn’t come just by abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. You have to eat healthy foods, which is increasingly hard to do as our food supply becomes more and more processed and industrialized. More reasons to follow Pres. Kimball and grow a garden…oops, making too many connections again.

    Cheers, not beers!

  16. “Anglo Americans want to eat the meat, but don’t want to work in the industries producing it–at least not as hourly workers.”

    We want to eat a whole lot of things but don’t want to work in the industries producing them. We also like to go out to eat but we don’t want to work in restaurants, or at least not in the back washing dishes and preparing the food. I don’t really see the point, nor do I believe there is any real relationship between migrant workers and the word of wisdom.

  17. OK, here it is–

    The WOW says not to eat much meat and teaches to eat fresh produce seasonally.

    Since we don’t want to follow these teachings, we have created huge agribusinesses to supply our meat and locally-out-of-season produce.

    In the U.S. agribusiness is completely dependent upon migrant farm labor–mostly Mexican.

    These workers are here to make some money, we can’t fault that, but what we can fault is the low pay and poor conditions they face:

    Here are only a couple examples of the problems migrant workers face while working to satisfy our anti-WOW lifestyles:

    (who incidentally are in great danger of green tobacco sickness from nicotine absorbed through the skin:,

    meat packing:
    (one of the most dangerous industries–

    So–our desire to eat outside the bounds of the WOW brings more migrant workers here for us to exploit as cheap labor. You may not see it, but there is a huge connection.

    BTW, all the immigrant workers that we are allowing in so we don’t have to do their jobs is one of the country’s biggest sources of population growth–and associated urban sprawl and environmental destruction.

    The WOW would take us closer to a sustainable economy by having us support local, seasonal agriculture, and possibly smaller urban centers that can be sustained by regional agriculture.

    Of course, fewer people, including business-savvy Mormons would be able to become as wealthy on such an agriculture system and associated urban economy.

    I think the WOW invites us to take a look at the connections between our diet, the economy, and the environment–something that most Mormons, and other urban Americans, are not used to doing.

  18. Rob: You make it seems two criticism of agribusiness. (1) it doesn’t pay the workers enough; and, (2) by attracting the workers it contibutes to population growth and enviromental apacolypse.

    It doesn’t seem that (1) is necessarily linked to food production per se. We could have an agribusiness that we required to pay a decent wage to its employees, or better yet reform our immigration laws so that employers could not take advantage of their shadowy legal status (NAFTA allows free trade in everything but labor, and the argumement for this is….)

    Furthermore, it seems that (2) doesn’t really follow. Suppose that there was no agribusiness and so our lovely local environments were not sullied by the influx of nasty, brown urban sprawlers. All this would mean is that the urban sprawl would occur in Mexico city rather than Houston. Is there some reason that enviromental decay is more morally palatable if it occurs among the poor rather than the wealthy?

    Finally, the riff on agribusiness doesn’t consider the upsides of mass production in food. It makes food cheap. This matters a great deal to poor people, although it doesn’t matter so much to middle class or upper class people. The reason, of course, is that food is a fairly constant element of any household’s bundle of goods and services and is not one that people can really substitute out of if costs increase. The result is that higher food prices are de facto substantial decreases in wealth for those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Now, one might dismiss such concerns with a little homily about the evils of consumerism, etc. The problem with such homilies is that they (1) ignore the fact poverty correlates very highly with other problems like crime, poor health care, etc.; and, (2) they frequently rest of hopelessly inaccurate and nostalgic assumptions about the supposed utopianism of our agrerian past. The fact of the matter is that in the days of small local agriculture people frequently suffered from malnutrition, disease, periodic famine, and the like. Furthermore, these problems fell disproportionately on women and children, especially women. (Any idea what child birth mortality rate was like for women prior to the advent of modern medicine?) I would submitt that the amelioration of these conditions was directly tied to the move away from localized agriculture. A localized agriculture stucture, by being less efficient, requires a large proportion of the population to engage in agriculture. This restricts the economic specialization that makes possible both the accumulation of wealth and the specialized accumulation of human capital that makes escape from the brutal realities of our decentralized agrarian past possible.

    The world is currently afflicted with many evils. The wide availablity of cheap and reliable sources of food is not one of them.

  19. It is true that our agribusiness doesn’t _have_ to rely on exploiting poor migrant labor–Australia has a more industrialized system that relies on mechanization rather than migrant labor. However, to the extent that our system now does exploit these people, it is one of the evils afflicting the world–and is tied to our food production system, which is partially driven by our desire for cheap, unhealthy food.

    So first off, yes…figure out a way to get cheap food without exploiting migrant labor.

    Population growth in the US rather than in other countries is bad, at least partially, because residents of the US will use more resources than those in other countries–we support a higher per capita consumption of resources than any other country. This is a problem for global sustainability.

    And sprawl in the US takes a different form than sprawl elsewhere, though it is a problem elsewhere as well, because we are more reliant upon automobiles and our suburban lots take up more room than those in many other countries.

    We all enjoy cheap food, raising the cost of food isn’t the biggest worry for poor people–housing and transportation are bigger expenses.

    And I beg to differ with you on the efficiency of modern agriculture. It is only more efficent if you take out the costs of land degradation, fossil fuels, and environmental costs. Padi rice agriculture can feed more people on less land than we can with rice production in the U.S.

    Nate, seems like your real concern is that you couldn’t be free to go off and gain a whole lot of money if you had to raise your own food. From a doctrinal standpoint, wealth accumulation is not supposed to be our goal, so not really going to make much traction with me there. As for economic specialization–not sure where you are going with that.

    And if you want to talkk aobut “brutal realities”, the plight of the poor or underemployed is still pretty bad…and just wait until most legal work can be done in India via internet…then we’ll see how great our economic specialization really is.

    This seems to get us away from the original discussion of the WOW. I propose that there is a connection between the food we eat, the system that provides us with that food, and the structural evils of our economic system. So my question is…

    What do people eat in Zion and how do they get it?

  20. “Nate, seems like your real concern is that you couldn’t be free to go off and gain a whole lot of money if you had to raise your own food.”

    Rob, I am affraid that you don’t know me well enough to make gratuitious ad hominem arguments.

  21. “And if you want to talkk aobut “brutal realities”, the plight of the poor or underemployed is still pretty bad…and just wait until most legal work can be done in India via internet…then we’ll see how great our economic specialization really is.”

    It seems that this suffers from some of the same infirmities as your urban sprawl arguments. Why shouldn’t I view it as a positive development that people in India have access to jobs that they previously didn’t have access to?

    As for wealth accumulation, I agree with you that it is not a value or a goal in and of itself. On the other hand, impoverished societies suffer from all sorts of evils that it seems to me would want to eliminate. High infant mortality rights, high rights of death in child birth, (in the United States and Europe) high crime rates, etc. Wealth seems to ameliorate these problems, so why would I want to oppose something that I believe makes the poorest better off, such as cheap food?

    Economic specialization seems desirable (at least from one point of view) because specialization allows us to realize all sorts of other goods, like the liesure time that makes philosophy possible, the medical research that makes cures to disease possible, or (by no means insignificant) the computer technology that makes blogs possible.

  22. “gratuitious ad hominem arguments”

    Nate, I have no desire to attack you in any way. I’m just trying to figure out where you are coming from…and responding to your argument that seemed to imply that the accumulation of wealth and economic specialization are worthy ends. If I misread that, sorry…

    However, you seem to have a lot of faith in global economic growth. How does this play into ideas about Zion and the type of society we are supposed to be building? I would suggest that our modern industrial lifestyle is unsustainable (lots of literature on this) and that we should be looking to create another, more sustainable, kind of society. Call it Zion, or whatever.

    But this is supposed to be about Mormons and food and you still haven’t told me if you think that North Americans will eat bananas in Zion, and if so, how?

  23. Nate, just nitpicking around the edges of the argument:

    Rates of maternal and infant death in childbirth drop drastically with access to soap and clean water (and the knowledge that one should use them before attending a birth). After that, the gains from medical technology drop off pretty quickly. I’m glad for those marginal gains–I’d be dead twice without them–but they can’t support your argument much. Moreover, maternal and infant mortality rates in poor populations in the US, incl. migrant workers, are pretty comparable to those in the global South. Just having a wealthy society doesn’t ease the plight of women and children if you don’t do something about the distribution of that wealth. (But hey, thanks for thinking of us ;) )

  24. Rob, I don’t quite understand why it would be somehow immoral to purchase bannanas. Could you perhaps expand on this? Do you think that the best solution is to cut off all trade with those nations without the standards we have? Wouldn’t that make the situation worse, not better?

    I also don’t quite see where you are coming from. It is almost as if you are buying into the old Romantic notion of a return to an agrarian society. For instance most calculations on sustainability neglect the effect of future technology. That’s why most of those calculations never pan out. (Look at most of the predictions written about in the 70’s. How many happened?)

    I’m not saying there aren’t issues here Mormons ought to be concerned about. But it seems to me like you are buying into a very simplified notion. As for how Zion will be like, I’m not sure we really have any way of knowing. I’d like to think that in a Zion society where all are equal we’d not restrict trade. I’d agree with Kristine’s hint that there would be no poor in such a society. But then that raises the issue of how this transpires.

    As to comments about migrant farm workers. I agree that Australia has a more efficient system. But I’m conflicted on this. If, for instance, we somehow managed to keep out all illegal immigrants, most likely American farm production would become more like Australia’s. Yet, would that leave the people in question better off or worse off. Are there better job in Mexico (or whereever) for them? If so, why did they come here in the first place?

    I admit I’m not *that* sophisticated in terms of economics. But it seems like those arguing for protectionism have huge issues they can’t answer for me.

  25. “Population growth in the US rather than in other countries is bad, at least partially, because residents of the US will use more resources than those in other countries–we support a higher per capita consumption of resources than any other country. This is a problem for global sustainability.”

    I don’t even know where to begin. Population growth in the US is bad? It’s not high enough. Global sustainability? These claims are always posited by leftists who want to rail against capitalism and/or the existence of wealth. Structural evils of our economic system? I thought this post was about the word of wisdom not a tribute to Karl Marx and socialism.

  26. Wow Rob great jump from WOW to migrant workers. I for one work for a LARGE agribusiness. We use migrant workers primarily because we can’t get citizens of this country to do the labor. They aren’t abused or under paid. Many of our employees are second and third generation family members working for us. One in particular owns five homes in our area and provides well with the wage she earns. No she does not earn a lawyers wage or even a college professor, but she can hold her head up at the end of the day having done “an honest days work for an honest days pay.”

    If fault needs to be laid, let’s put it squarely where it belongs. Agribusiness employs who they employ because Americans demand cheap food. How many of us would continue to purchase produce at a price that is needed to pay a college grads expected level of pay? Would you pay $5.00 for a head of lettuce? Americans are the worst consumers in the world. We allow Walmart to flourish with cheaper and cheaper products relying on the worlds poor to produce for them so Americans can buy more stuff they don’t need. (As you can see this subject can spiral out of control quickly)

    Migrant workers come to America because even at subsistance wages it is better than anything offered in Mexico for the poor and uneducated. (complain about illegals being in California with a mouth full of salad please!) They aren’t taking jobs from any citizen. I have tried to hire others, they only people who will consistently do the work and be glad for the job are these wonderful people. They are grateful, and caring. I am humbled by them. And for me to have the resposibility to keep my place of business open and a viable concern so I can make a better life for them is very important to me. It is a primary reason I haven’t folded up the shingles and left California. Where will they go? To welfare? Ugh! Also, many of my employees did come here as illegals, and then worked hard, got thier papers, and have become citizens. And yes all of them pay state and federal taxes, sometimes using a fake ss card paying into a system with no possibility of future benefits.

    And BTW, my feeling on the WOW are this: It is a law we have been asked to observe for the betterment of ourselves and our families. Until you’ve been the child asked to fetch a glass of water in the morning for a mother to take her pills so she can wake up, then go to the store as a child with a note to purchase her cigarettes, and then witness your future step dad crawl across the floor in his boxers all the while drunker than drunk, maybe you just can’t understand the fundamentals. These things really do happen, and not just in the movies.

  27. Cooper, thanks for the comments. My father-in-law is a dairy farmer and he has the same issues–Anglo kids don’t want to work on the farm, he treats his workers well, etc. I’m not faulting anyone for coming to this country to try and better their circumstances…in a competitive system such as ours, that may be their only option…which may be the real problem.

    I think the price of food is a problem…and though we all like cheap food, the food prices we pay don’t reflect the true social and environmental costs of producing that food. That’s the problem with a banana. We aren’t paying the costs of the destroyed ecosystem and social relationships in third world countries when global companies move in and out of banana plantations. We externalize that cost to some other society. Cheap banana=not paying for all the resources used or destroyed in creating it, and bringing it to market in the U.S.

    Will we eat bananas in Zion? Will there be global trade? Supertankers burning some sort of liquid fuel to bring the bananas to us? And how much would it cost if the price of the banana had to reflect the resources used to bring it to us–the cost of replacing tropical ecosystems, of giving workers in third world countries a living wage, etc.

    Brent–as for your claims that population growth isn’t high enough in the U.S. or that sustainability is just a slogan for left-wingers–tell me where we are going to get all the resources we would need to have a world where everyone enjoyed your standard of living–and remember you have to take care of all the other species on the earth that were placed here for us to take care of. Humans already use 40% of all photosynthetic output of plants on the planet–there’s only so much productive land, fossil fuels, etc. You can hope for technology to improve efficiency, or create new energy supplies, but you can only grow so many plants and change the ecosystems of the world so much before things start to unravel. Just ask the Mayans or Easter Islanders who couldn’t sustain their levels of growth and resource use.

    As for railing against wealth and capitalism–I’ll join Brigham Young and the rest of the prophets in railing against the excesses of both.

    Americans are (statistically) too fat and eat too much crap. The WOW can help us all with that–and help us reduce the amount of resources squandered to feed our greedy cheetos popping, hot chocolate guzzling selves.

    The WOW, not just for alcoholics anymore…

  28. lyle wrote: “If God is smoking and drinking when we all show up…fine. If not…I don’t think anyone will be.”

    Well, I don’t know about the smoking bit, but God has pretty much indicated that he plans on drinking — and inviting a bunch of prophets to join him (and hopefully us, too). D&C 27:5-14

  29. Rob, no offense, but by limiting production simply to fossil fuels or “productive” land you are once again ignoring technology. I guarantee that even if the doomsayers predictions of fossil fuels were accurate that we’d all quickly switch over to alternative power sources. Likewise “productive” land is simply land that is *cheaply* productive. There are already numerous technologies around for producing foods in other manners. (i.e. hydroponics or other such matters) Right now they aren’t used simply because the cost of land is so low.

    Considering the environmental costs is a good point. The issue though is sovereignty of ones land. I’d not want a European to tell me what value my land has nor vice versa. If a Brazilian wants to *pay* the environmental cost, isn’t that their right? Isn’t the issue to educate them. Would stopping from buying their produce *really* save the land?

    That’s what you haven’t really explained to me. You don’t come out and say it, but you seem to suggest that a Zion people ought not to purchase from these people. Why? Simply because the suppliers hold different values than we do? Is it likewise wrong to get my car fixed at an autoshop where the mechanics purchase lap dances? Surely at some stage the purchaser isn’t responsible for the values of the manufacturer. I’d agree that in some cases we are and effective trade sanctions are applicable. I just don’t think you’ve made your case for them.

    None of this is to ignore costs. Merely to question who decides value. The issue isn’t to rail against the excesses of wealth and capitalism. (And given Brigham’s own lifestyle, I think you perhaps overstate your views of his opinions) I think the issue is to discover what the excesses are.

    Is a computer an excess? What about a TV? Is purchasing fresh fruit evil? You raise questions but don’t seem able to help me answer them…

  30. Kristine I agree with your comment to a point. However, the globe is so co-mingled in large enterprises that shopping at Walmart is in itself evil.

    I advocate that if we truly want to contribute to the betterment of society we keep it simple. Trade with local artisans and growers. Forget the large corporations.

    Also if we truly want to make an effect on the world’s society as a whole – let’s personally do some missionary work. The only things that will change the world (especially in the state it is in) is the conversion of all of us.

    To respond to the comment will we eat banans in Zion? Most likely. As we studied the scriptures last year in Sunday School we learned that after the second coming – most of us will be farmers (I will find scripture if needed). We certainly won’t have to have a group of accountants, insurance men or even lawyers.

  31. Kristine-

    “the God who said…must be displeased”

    Not to pick a fight, but wouldn’t the Old Testament God be displeased? Or, for that matter, the New Testament God?

    What I’m getting at is that we’ve discussed how God can come across based on the style of the given prophet passing through information to us.

    Current leaders don’t stress the importance of the “eat meat sparingly” thing, as they too, are the ones to give us the interpretation of what “hot drinks” means.

    My point is, I’ll please the God of my own time and not worry so much about the God for all the other generations (though, of course, I don’t mind reading about the God in past generations).

    Yeah, I know, I’m going to get the “God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” thrown in my face any minute now…

  32. “We certainly won’t have to have a group of accountants, insurance men or even lawyers.”

    I’m not any of these and I still have a slight problem here…

    Yes, it would be interesting to see the scripture on which you based your very bold interpretation.

  33. I understood that eating meat sparingly was, at least in part, related to the lack of ways to preserve meat in summer. I’m not advocating the atkins diet, but I see the meat aspect of the WoW as being specific to JS time and thus not as applicable to us.

  34. Kristine, as Cooper pointed out, the economy is *so* linked together that the only way we could do what you request is to have total protectionism and close all our borders. That too me would also be a sin.

    Also “supporting local artisans” is great *if* they are doing a good job for a reasonable price and can supply the needed products. Fact of the matter is that they don’t. To borrow Rob’s cry, where are the local bannanas? How do I buy a TV or computer that doesn’t involve non-local workers? Further are you *really* comfortable with the idea that I should only purchase from people I agree with? Would you support fundamentalist Christians completely requiring their congregations to buy only from other Evangelicals? Wouldn’t that hurt local producers as well? Think through the implications of your position.

    Ben, I agree with your comments on meat. I think it is a comment on refrigeration.

    I certainly think there are ways to improve our production but once again the kind of ethical requirements some put on food purchasing seem so hard for me to rationalize that it tends to make me leery of the whole position. When someone says buying a banana at Walmart is a sin because someone involved in production sins, it kind of defies common sense.

  35. Buying at Wal-Mart may be a sin. Buying bananas from Chiquita may be a sin. There are ramifications to all our actions that we can’t fathom. We just need to do the best we can and maybe the Atonement is there to help us with all the stuff we can’t control.

    That said, not examining the effects of our actions and looking for ways to be more in harmony with the plan is a sin.

    Not having a garden is a sin.

    Eating too much meat is a sin.

    Staying up too late working on my dissertation and not getting enough sleep is a sin.

    These actions take me away from where I need to be, as a person, as a father, and as a (wannabe) saint.

    This whole thread started with a question about fetishization of the WOW. I am submitting that we may fetishize our emphasis on the big 5 (coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, drugs) and miss the real point–D&C 89 is a code for living a whole, spotless, and healthy life–a way to avoid the entanglements with “conspiring men” in the last days–the kind that sell cigs, addictive corn sweeteners, and beak-clipped-antibiotic-and-hormone-laden-chicken-nuggets with little regard for anything but the short-term financial profits.

    In as much as the WOW creates a different lifestyle for Mormons (a theme of the initial post), again I’m suggesting that we haven’t gone far enough. Brigham would tell the saints not to trade with outsiders (in fact, that was a big reason to not buy tea and coffee at the time)–he was trying to build a new society. Maybe we need to think about where we’re spending our money…yes, cheap Wal-Mart goods are evil. A guy in our ward works with manufacturers in China and has all kinds of stories about Wal-Mart practices and what it takes to get that cheap DVD player to you back home.

    I think one of the problems we have is that we can’t even imagine an alternative industrial and economic system. To our shame, where there is no vision, we perish–or at least end up spending our money to support all kinds of practices that don’t seem to harmonize with the gospel.

    As for global trade and bananas in Zion? Don’t know if we will have an environmentally and economically sustainable way to produce them locally, or ship them globally in Zion. But I think it is an important question, because it leads us to think about some of the basic things in our life and how they are connected to gospel living. Of course, for some of us, that just means reading the scriptures, saying our prayers, going to church on Sunday and trying to be nice. A good Terrestrial lifestyle–maybe, but there are probably many folks living in Telestial worlds who didn’t manage to do much more than that.

    WOW is another tool to help us build Zion. If we will.

  36. Rob, I think the WoW is fairly complex. I think its prime function in the 20th century is as a token of differentiation. However I also think that it is basically some common sense wisdom about health. Most elements have a precursor in early 19th century health views. So I think there is a strong pragmatic element.

    Definitely obesity, lack of exercize, and poor eating habits are a problem. And those who take seriously the principle behind the WoW will seek to live healthy lives.

    However the more economic and politic tone you find in the WoW simply isn’t there in my mind. There are certainly issues related to it. But I’m not sure a policy of disengagement is wise. (I’m not sure it was wise in the 19th century either as I think events showed — but I also think that the Lord may have had other goals in mind)

    The problem with disengagement is that it simply thinks that no action is a moral action. But if we judge our acts in terms of our effects, then disengagement may actually be worse than engagement. It is nice to think we can simply leave a sinful world, but I truly believe that we ought to reform our world. And disengagement is the exact opposite of this. IT seems to contradict so much I understand about the gospel that I don’t know where to start.

    One must also be careful with the concept of sin. In one sense nearly every aspect of our lives are involved with sin as a result of living in what we could describe as a fallen state. But clearly some sins are worse than others. The issue isn’t whether eating a banana is a sin (although I have a hard time seeing it as such). The issue is what kind of sin is it? And would disengagement also be a sin. (Under your logic I think it would) The problem then becomes focusing on the sins of commission and repressing the sins of ommission.

    The problem beneath all of this is that we must rank sins. What would be worse, for instance. Taking away the trade for 3rd world nations with us or helping devlop industry in those nations. One certainly can think that companies could do better. But is disengagement the answer? Or does it simply make a bad situation worse? I think disengagement is not designed to be ethical, but to foster a false divorce from the holism of the planet. To pretend that we can be an island unto ourselves. But, as Donne said so well, no man is an island.

  37. Clark–I am not urging total disengagement, but active engagement in addressing the effects of our economic and consumer choices. I think the WOW leads us to consider those choices, and I think that these considerations should lead us to question how we can build Zion. Free trade, globalization–these are all things we should consider, and I’m glad we have Times & Seasons to toss these ideas around on, as the debate probably wouldn’t get much traction in a local gospel doctrine class.

    However, to not see political and economic aspects of the WOW seems to fly in the face of the reasoning the Lord gave for revealing it–to warn us against conspiring men. Maybe you think these are just Colombian drug lords or Juan Valdez, but I think Coca-cola or United Fruit Company Banana officials can be just as nefarious.

    United Fruit Co history:

    Ecological and social costs of bananas:

    Some thoughts on making headway with the environmental costs of banana production:

    Why bananas? I served a mission in Ecuador and saw some of the effects of banana production–deforestation and ruination of land, poor working conditions, etc. As an aside, I hated bananas before my mission, but learned to love them in Ecuador–because they were fresh. U.S. bananas, picked green, are just awful.

    So will they eat bananas in Zion? At least in Ecuadorian stakes they will!

  38. Someone off list mentioned that in light of the original question about WOW fetishes, I seem to have a banana fetish. In order to nip that in the bud, let me just say that what I really love are tacos!

  39. I confess I don’t see the connection between “conspiring men” mentioned in the WoW and a neoMarxist concern about food production. I’m afraid you’d have to establish a stronger argument than you have. I could see tying that to the tobacco companies. I have a harder time seeing it with Coca-Cola or Pepsi. I just can’t see the connection with bananas, whether producers are irresponsible or not.

  40. Our food is produced by corporations which are ruled by economics and governmental regulations. A peak into the history of industrialized food production is rife with examples of abuses caused by corporate officials trying to boost the bottom line at the expense of consumers. Food adulteration laws, truth in labeling laws, etc. are all there because “conspiring men” control our the production and distribution of our food. Not all food executives are evil, but they work within a system that is profit–and not consumer health–driven.

    If the conspiring is not too evident, you have to ask yourself how closely you’ve looked at the food you eat and the ways its produced. A quick read of Fast Food Nation should give cause for pause, or any discussion of American meat industries.

    Here’s something I pulled up on Frito-Lay…how does olestra make you feel?

    Just ask yourself this question–is the snack food industry interested in your health, or your money? If money trumps health, we’ve got problems.

    For the life of me I can’t see how this is a controversial claim. Hard to live with maybe, but surely not controversial?

  41. I quit drinking alcohol about 4 months before I first attended an LDS service. Had a friend (not LDS) who pointed out to me (while I was inebriated) that if I needed to alter my state of mind to have fun, maybe my idea of fun was a little skewed. He was right and I dropped it… in favor of coffee! I got my own coffeemaker for my 25th birthday and was elated… for about a month. Then I visited the church and was baptized and gave up the coffee and tea in favor of… Diet Coke! An addiction that I’ve weathered off and on for nearly 10 years. Last year decided it was affecting my sleep too much and rarely consume it anymore. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Oh, I never was addicted to cigs but I used to bum them off my friends occaisonally at bars. Social smoking is a common practice, I’ve found.

    Do people make a big deal of it? Yes. The crime to me is that we pay so little attention to the REST of that section of doctrine. I cannot remember the last day that I didn’t have some meat product. I have no idea how to make bread outside of my breadmaker without a mix. Admittedly, drinking will likely get one into more trouble than ignoring these other portions but I’d love to fully participate in the object of this section.

  42. As for the WoW’s restrictions on meat consumption, I think the rationalization that they are inapplicable (or diminished) today because of improved refrigeration technology may fail to take the totatity of the scriptural message into account. D&C 49:18 clearly states that vegetarianism is not a moral mandate. But, swinging the other way, verse 21 states that “wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” The standard is need. One could reasonably argue that not only does refrigeration not authorize one to (sua sponte) disregard animal life, killing and consuming flesh year-round, but that improved preservative and crop production technologies now reduce our need to consume flesh at all. With cheap and abundant produce, we truly have no need to shed blood or waste flesh. Since we’re no longer constrained by the necessity that the early Saints were, shouldn’t we read that prohibition *less* permissively, rather than more?

    As for Rob’s controversial relation between diet and economy, verse 20 says (right in the midst of a discussion of the use and abuse of meat), “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.”


  43. My apologies to Dave from way…back.
    So, it seems like the real questions here are:

    1. Is there a gospel-friendly Third Way between specialization and doing-it-yourself/holistic?
    2. Is it ok to let the Atonement pay the externalisties imposed upon others when we participate in a specialized global capital/profit based society? I mean…I haven’t stopped eating chocolate, nor will I…unless directed to over the pulpitt at GC by one of the 12…or the HG prompts me to do so personally.

    However, in the meantime…do I (all of us):
    1. abstain from chocolate produced on farms using slave and/or child labor? if so…how do we tell? As with diamonds…the problem is that you can’t tell where they come from the way the ‘market’ is currently set up.
    Exception: If you buy single-bean cocoa products, using only Venezuelan cocoa beans…then you can rest easy knowing that your Bitter and Sweet quasi-addiction pays for slightly better than subsistence wages rather than slavery.
    2. So…can an individual change a market? should the individual try? why?

  44. Incidentally, isn’t the Atkins Diet something of an anti-WoW, by encouraging the consumption of meat, while discouraging the consumption of fruit and most grains (i.e., the staff of life)?


  45. My understanding is that the Atkins Diet is more about curbing appetite. However I think it has problems and there have been more refined approaches. I can’t speak to the Atkins (which seems very oversimplified) but most I hear suggest that you eat fruit, but not fruit drinks (due to the loss of fiber which would curb appetite).

    In a way though a lot of these issues are different today since we have vitamin pills and other supplements. (i.e. you can get your protein via partially digested protein mixes which are generally vitamin enriched) So I think there is a danger in taking too far advice to 19th century people without refridgeration, adequate transport and storage, supplements and so forth.

    Regarding the economic issues. I think they are separate from the Word of Wisdom. That’s not to say health issues aren’t related to economic issues in the D&C. As someone else mentioned, economic equality is often tied to health and livestock issues. So I definitely agree that they are related.

    How we are to deal with it when we *aren’t* living a communial agrarian economy seems a bit more tricky. And it is there that I don’t find other issues convincing. I say that in part since I found 19th century Mormon economic division from their neightbors often counterproductive.

  46. Clark:
    If you can’t take the dietary and economic advice of the WOW seriously because they were given to 19th century farmers in an economy far, far, away, what makes you think any of the rest of the D&C contains anything useful to us? Seems dangerously convenient to contextualize away the stuff you don’t want to look at, while holding on to whatever else might be working for you.

    But it sounds like you have other problems with 19th Century LDS practices as well.

    I find it more useful to take the WOW as a revelation with important messages to us in our time, as well. And as for the economic aspects…I’ll have to dig out the Journal of Discourses talk where a church leader argued that if we would just live the word of wisdom it would solve the economic and social woes.

    He who has ears to hear…get some Q-tips and clean those babies out!

    The WOW, its not for alcoholics anymore.

  47. Rob, it is important to remember that the brethren themselves weren’t clear on how to implement the requirements the Lord gave them. That’s why there wasn’t a single united order. Rather they empirically were trying out many Utopian schemes, abandoning those that didn’t work. So putting it as “having trouble with 19th century practice” distorts my position somewhat. I don’t think that a purely agrarian society like Brigham Young desired is the correct interpretation of the notion of the united order. But I certainly respect his attempts and greatly respect his recognition of when it failed.

    One must keep in mind that Brigham was complex. I think in particular Nibley over-simplifies him. Remember that he also sought to have the railroad arrive. (Admittedly for complex reasons – but that’s the point)

    The issue I have isn’t whether we take the D&C seriously. We must. But as an exegesical principle, we must also recognize *context*. If, for instance, the discussion of meat related to refrigeration and storage, how does it change now that the problem disappeared? How do supplements affect how we read it? Does that mean we *don’t* need as much meat? It adds a lot of complexities whereas I think you are attempting to simplify it.

    I don’t think I’m contextualizing away stuff I don’t want to look at. Rather the contrary. Where I don’t want to look at it seems to be the most important to look at. However I think the same applies to those who ignore context (or rather contextualize away all other contexts for the text). If you come to the text with preconceptions about trade, don’t those too affect how *you* read the text?

    My position is that I don’t know, so I try and take the underlying principles and apply them as best I can in the modern context of science and technology.

  48. I went out of town after posting this and find the path of this thread interesting. Unfortunately I don’t have much to say on agri-business, the Atkins diet or Walmart. From what I’ve read, it seems like our government’s food policies have some quite adverse consequences on the food choices we have, but I’m not prepared to link that the conspiring men of section 89.

    In any event, hasn’t the original text of section 89 been somewhat superseded by modern prophetic teachings of the WoW? Not that the text of section 89 doesn’t matter anymore — is is scripture and it certainly does matter — but that the real textual source for the contemporary and near-universal Mormon practice of the WoW is the teachings of 20th century prophets. In other words, arguments about meat-eating and using herbs are arguments about what the WoW *should* be, rather than what it is. If not, where are the impassioned materialist arguments for “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” (verse 17)?

  49. I should add, I have nothing against arguments about what the WoW should be, I just happened to be more interested in what it is.

  50. Sorry to butt in here. I normally just enjoy reading the posts and never comment. However, I just finished reading through all of the really good discussion on the Word of Wisdom. I am really impressed with all of the thoughtful comments regarding a fun and always-guaranteed-to-generate-debate topic. It’s very late, and I should go to bed.

    However, I can’t help adding one thought to this discussion, that – at least to me – is glaringly absent. In the last verse of section 89 there is a promise “that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.” This is indeed a ponderous phrase to find at the end of a health law.

    After, some rumination, I have concluded that this promise refers to the Exodus and Passover when the Israelites were commanded to take the blood of a lamb without blemish and put it on the door frames of their homes. The lamb of course was a type of Christ and his blood saving us from death (I apologize for pointing this out …Stay with me I promise I’m getting to the point).

    Anyway, God knew who they were without the Lambs blood on the door frames; he’s God after all. But this was the Lord’s way of recognizing his covenant people. It was an outward symbol of an inner commitment to follow Him. Perhaps, he also commanded them to do it so THEY could also recognize who had chosen to follow God and who had not. The Lord already knew their hearts and their addresses.

    So here is the point. Perhaps, the Word of Wisdom is – in addition to many other good things – our modern day lambs blood and Passover. It is an observance of outward tokens of our inward commitment to follow the covenant. It sets us apart from the world and it constantly reminds us of who we are. And maybe what’s in the food and drink is not so important as what’s in our hearts.

    Just a few thoughts before bed. Goodnight.

    Harold Glade

    P.S. Don’t you wonder if there weren’t some Israelites debating exactly what constituted a lamb without blemish? Small scratch? Birthmark? Droppings matted in the fur? And how much blood on the door posts? Totally painted? Just a dab? A few drops?

  51. Oops! It really is late. I just realized I posted my comment on the wrong thread. A little caffeine may have been useful here. Sorry

    -Harold Glade

Comments are closed.