In the Pentateuch, we find two ways of doing wrong. There is the more familiar sequence where a person sins by violating divine law and must atone for the guilt, but also the sequence where a person becomes unclean through contact with a tabooed person or object and must be ritually cleansed. A concept of ritual impurity (that is not merely a synonym for sinfulness, but a distinct concept in itself) is found in many religions, but perhaps more strongly in our own than in most Christian churches.
For Mormons, a sense of ritual purity first develops in response to the prohibitions found in the Word of Wisdom. Downing a six-pack of Coors would be a sin, of course, a transgression against commandment for which the emotional consequences include guilt, or a sense of having suffered a moral failure in ourselves. But uncleanness is different. Rather than a consequence of our actions, ritual impurity is an inherent property of the tabooed thing itself, and its uncleanness can contaminate any person who comes into contact with it. Regarding coffee as inherently unclean sounds silly, pre-rational. Theoretically, we could bathe in coffee or tea, and as long as we don’t drink it we’ve committed no sin.
But would we? Would you wash your hair with green tea shampoo? Do you avoid the coffee section at the grocery store? Do you feel holy dread in the liquor aisle? Would you eat food in which wine was an ingredient, although the alcohol had cooked out? Would you prepare such food yourself? Would you feel comfortable going out to a bar with colleagues if you drank only apple juice? Would you set foot in a liquor store to buy a news magazine?
I find myself all over the place in my responses. I buy a news magazine from a liquor store every week, but I avoid the coffee and liquor aisles in the grocery store. Call me irrational and inconsistent. I don’t care. I have a residual sense that liquor and tobacco are not just sinful in their use, but unclean in their substance, and I see no reason to entirely eliminate that feeling, because a sense for ritual impurity is an asset. Old Testament dietary laws make little sense unless we can make the analogy of boiling goat meat in milk to drinking something 80-proof and transparent. Have you ever heard someone express wonderment over Muslims who drink themselves silly, but refuse to touch pork at all? Itâ€™s quite understandable, really, if you have an innate understanding of ritual impurity: for those Muslims, drinking alcohol is like a quick sip of water on Fast Sunday (who cares?), while pork is as unclean as a pack of cigarettes would be for us (uh-oh, time to talk to the bishop). (The chemical interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is not all that far removed from the Levitical proscription against pork: what else are caffeine and tannic acid except scientific names for inherent impurities that can be transferred to Mountain Dew, or to ourselves, and which let us hang a medical name on the same process of becoming ritually impure?)
It’s true that the Levitical concept of impurity is drastically modified in the New Testament. Call not unclean, and so on. And Christ himself said that it is not what we ingest that makes us unclean. But those verses don’t stop there. What makes us unclean, Christ says, is what goes out of our mouths. That’s a much different proposition from saying that human beings can become guilty through transgression but never unclean. We should not regard any other person as unclean, but apparently a sense of ritual uncleanness is still supposed to be a part of the human experience, even if the impurity lies in the observer’s perspective rather than in the thing itself. Can we develop a sense of guilt for committing sin without first having a concept of ritual purity? Rather than a defective response to wrong acts, a sense of ritual impurity might be a precursor to an adult sense of guilt and a mature understanding that the fault lies not in the Maxwell House, but in ourselves.
Even if you reject ritual impurity as a necessary step in developing a full understanding of sin and guilt, it seems to me that a concept of ritual uncleanness is still essential to the Mormon concept of sacredness. For us, the sacredness of the temple is the mirror image of ritual impurity: in the temple, a very few objects and behaviors are appropriate, while the rest are out of place. With ritual impurity, all things are acceptable except those that are not proscribed. Although most questions in the temple recommend interview are phrased in terms of sin and repentance, the final question asks whether we consider ourselves worthy to enter the temple. To what extent is “temple worthy” synonymous with ritual purity? How is it different?
It will no doubt have already occurred to you that the language of ritual impurity is also frequently found in the context of sexual morality (pure thoughts, dirty jokes, morally clean). Is this language purely metaphorical? Does pornography make you unclean? Leviticus has a lot to say about the uncleanness of bodily emissions associated with reproductive function, but modern scripture does not single out sexual sin as the source of uncleanness above other sins, as far as I can tell. That is, some sins are clearly more grievous than others, but on what basis are some more unclean? Despite this, sexual sins are the ones most commonly referred to in terms of dirtiness, filthiness, impurity.
There are two problems with the concept of ritual uncleanness, one specifically with respect to sex and one more general. First, to our understanding, sex itself is not taboo, but rather its untimely or misplaced expression. It causes no confusion to say that eating an apple when you should be fasting is sinful, because we never describe apples as inherently impure, but only as inappropriately consumed during a certain time period. With sex, however, the discourse of ritual impurity leads to the dissonance of telling newly married couples to view as sacred, or to knock themselves out in the wanton enjoyment, of that which was previously referred to as dirty or filthy, which is something like being handed a pack of Marlboros and a box of matches in the celestial room. It seems to me that weâ€™re better served by the language of commandment, sin and repentance for describing the Mormon understanding of sex. (I’m not saying at all that this is only a Mormon phenomenon, or that the Mormon discourse of sex is exclusively about ritual uncleanness. But it’s easy to fall into that habit of speech, unconsciously, especially when talking to teenagers.)
Second, we don’t currently have an elaborated process for expiating ritual impurity after the singular ritual of baptism. We know how repentance and forgiveness work to deal with the consequences of sin and guilt, but what do we do when we feel unclean after lingering in the liquor aisle? (Your bishop will not understand if you tell him you need to sacrifice a turtledove as a sin offering and another as a burnt offering.) Does the discourse of ritual impurity leave people feeling impure, forgiven but forever unclean? Can the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit effectively exteriorize the sense of uncleanness in the transgressor, or do we still need a scapegoat?
I know that for me personally, the avoidance of the appearance of evil has always been unimportant, and I find myself walking down the coffee aisle at the store, wafting in the scents with aplomb. I look at Christ, who probably walked more than a Sabbath’s day journey on a number of Sabbaths, healed people on the Sabbath, ate with “unclean” people, and I don’t have any qualms about the minutiae of the Mosaic law (or it’s latter day cognates).
BTW, I posted this kind of late on the Medieval German thread:
I believe #3 is 1 John 3:3. Virtue and purity (Iâ€™m trying to recall my courtly love lectures) are linked secularly, and by the 14th century, I can imagine a text using the two terms interchangeably.
FWIW: I believe recent studies have shown that, contrary to what we like to believe, the alcohol does NOT completely cook out of most dishes in which it is an ingredient.
Can we develop a sense of guilt for committing sin without first having a concept of ritual purity? Rather than a defective response to wrong acts, a sense of ritual impurity might be a precursor to an adult sense of guilt and a mature understanding that the fault lies not in the Maxwell House, but in ourselves.
Blessedly, expiation is available for our use when needed. Even so, contriving or promoting circumstances to increase the usage of expiation seems more than a little like spreading streptococcus because we think antibiotics are neat.
And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
With this scripture in mind, your post conjures up the counterintuituve image of becoming unclean by washing myself.
Oddly, LL, just yesterday I read some blurb in the Parade section of my local newspaper about some actress who adds a glass of wine to her bathwater. Says it’s good for the skin.
Would you wash your hair with green tea shampoo? Nope. I’ve got problems only tar can fix.
Do you avoid the coffee section at the grocery store? Nope. It kind of smells good.
Do you feel holy dread in the liquor aisle? I do worry about knocking some of the bottles over.
Would you eat food in which wine was an ingredient, although the alcohol had cooked out? Yep.
Would you prepare such food yourself? Cook something myself?
Would you feel comfortable going out to a bar with colleagues if you drank only apple juice? Yep.
Would you set foot in a liquor store to buy a news magazine? Yep.
Fazit: No worries about WoW impurity here in Old Europe.
Green Tea shampoo makes my scalp feel tingly. And I’d have to stop buying cereal if I were to avoid the coffee aisle at my store.
This post was interesting, it reminds me of a couple in our old ward. They stopped letting their kids see the grandparents on one side of the family because these grandparents drank a glass of wine with their dinner.
Perhaps it’s because I didn’t grow up on the Wassatch Front, or perhaps it’s because I have a goatee, but none of those things bother me at all. I’ve drank many a Coke (may as well have a beer to some, I guess) in a bar with beer drinking friends. I’ve given wine to a friend as a gift. Durring my bronc riding days, most of my rodeo friends chewed. I live in the Seattle area, so coffee is ubiquitous. I can’t avoid being near it, but it doesn’t really bother me.
I think alot of it is perspective. I view holding myself to the higher law of the WoW as a personal choice. I don’t view anyone poorly who legally consumes probibited items. Also, not living in the Mormon corridor, I don’t have to worry about who might see me lingering in the wine aisle. Out here, there is no social pressure regarding the WoW.
I think your analogy of sexual discourse to being handed cigarettes in the celestial room can also vary my person and circumstance. It wasn’t a big deal to make the switch for some I konw. I know others for whom it was a big change. I know one person in particular who only became comfortable with the idea of sex after 10 years of marriage because they were raised hearing how horrible sex would make them feel.
I’m trying to remember what post it was (one of Ardis’s) that we discussed it in the comments, but in 19th century Utah (though not even close to universally), physical intimacy did render folks unclean for temple worship.
I have always felt the members of the church have elevated the WoW to a much higher status than it was ever intended to be, and this post certainly feeds that craziness. If you freak out every time we even walk near the alcohol or coffee at the store then I think you are taking it way too far. WoW issues are minor in the scheme of things and members’ obsession with the outward appearances of the WoW distracts us from more important issues like leading a Christlike life, loving others, being honest with our fellow man, not judging others, etc.
Honestly, before I read this post, I had never even heard of the idea of being uncomfortable walking down the coffee aisle in a grocery store. Do some LDS people really experience this? And none of the questions posed in the third paragraph are even remotely close calls to me. I can think of a few oddball examples of this sort of thing among other Churchmembers I’ve known (the missionary that wouldn’t purchase food in Argentine kiosks if they sold alcohol, my cousin who wouldn’t hand her high-school teacher a cup of coffee, etc.), but I always saw these as anomolous. Certainly unrepresentative even of Mormons who were much more conservative than myself in many areas.
Am I just totally out of touch in failing to recognize that many, many Churchmembers have very different reactions to these sorts of things than I do?
I will always remember a comment made by a close friend when he said, “the spirit of the law is always doing more”. I especially feel that as I become closer to God that I am much more sensitive of my actions. I am also much more aware of radical behavior like some mentioned above. I believe there are few members who would, keep thier kids away from the nieghbors house because they drink coffee, or wine occasionally, or something a kin to that. I also think there is a big difference than avoiding a bar and being at TGIF which has a bar in it. This is when the spirit guides our actions letting us know that it is not ok to sit at a bar and drink sprite while our business associate downs jack daniels. It seems to me the spirit quickly and clearly makes known what is exceptable and what is not and I would go as far to say that an individual who does not let thier kids hang out with thier grandparents because they drink coffee lacks the spirit in a lot of ways. There will always be people like the ones listed above bearing thier testimony on Fast Sunday on how they are so affraid because thier son drinks coke. I always felt though the people who are the closest to being inactive latch on to these people as examples and reasons for thier lack of engagement in ward affairs. I hear a lot from some of my friends, “I don’t hate the church, but I hate mormon culture”. These statements might contain truth but are dangerous to be uttered. I feel to say beware the fixation on the bad apples or idiots.
I think we overemphasize what we think of as health aspects of the Word of Wisdom, and ignore what the actual scripture says. God’s focus is on evil and designing men. At the time the Word of Wisdom came out, the tea trade was an essential part of the opium triangle, a complex net of rules and practices that essentially relied on getting 1/10 of China addicted to opium in order to fund Western tea consumption. Likewise, the importation of cofee has often resulted in native populations left unable to feed themselves. We’ve seen the horrors of deceit and murder employed by the tobacco companies, adding poisons like ammonia in order to increase addictivity. And the prohibition on drinking alcohol keeps us out of some very destructive relationships.
God says outright that alcohol and tobacco have specific uses that are good, and specific uses that are forbidden. Nothing wrong with using tobacco as a balm for wounded cattle, for example. And I see nothing in the text of the Word of Wisdom to prohibit cooking wine with meats, etc. Like the Kosher prohibitions worked for Judaism, the Word of Wisdom has set us apart from the world and has prevented us from becoming involved with a great deal of evil in the world and in our community. Let’s not build a hedge around these rules to divide our own church in an endless parade of self-righteous oneupmanship.
“Am I just totally out of touch in failing to recognize that many, many Churchmembers have very different reactions to these sorts of things than I do?”
I don’t think so. Much more common, I think, is the partaking of substances verboten by the word of wisdom as a means of petty rebellion.
#6, The early brethren performed washings with whiskey and cinnamon laced water as a worshipful incense. The alcohol did not represent impurity then. Would some feel repulsed if this practice were reintroduced today given our current culture?
#11 Most members are surprised to learn that in Carthage JS purchased a bottle of wine to “lift up their spirits” as described in official Church History.
Alcohol/coffee/tea are not taboo in Mormonism in the same way that pork is haram to muslims or unkosher for Jews, or like beef is for Hindus. Even a devout Mormon who was eating something, then informed that it contained alcohol, would likely stop eating politely rather than throw the food on the floor and force themselves to vomit. (Which, on the other hand, I have heard first-hand tales about from devout Muslims and Hindus who consumed taboo meats.)
Moreover, in my mind the clear intent of the Word of Wisdom, taken in context with temple covenants and other teachings, is to maintain a clarity of mind and body, and avoid drunkenness or idle pleasure. Using alcohol as a flavoring agent certainly doesn’t seem to violate those principles, and I have no problem cooking with booze.
I might be wrong, but I think the atonement of Christ removes any sense that something would be ritually unclean. Isn’t that the point of Christ’s response to the woman caught in the very act of adultery?
If this helps, when I was promoted to run a kitchen at BYU foodservice, one thing they did was show me where the cooking sherry was kept (in generic-looking bottles). It was not often used for the mass cooking we usually did, but there were dishes made for training table and at the senior MTC that used alcohol.
Peter (#7) said, ‘No worries about WoW impurity here in Old Europe.’ I agree generally. The more you need to interact with people for whom the Word of Wisdom is not an issue, the less it can be seen as impure. If I am going to socialize with work colleagues, I will be in bars or cafes, drinking Perrier or hot chocolate. I don’t even think about it.
But there are still interesting questions: do we serve tea or coffee for our non-member guests in our home? (No.) Do we object if a friend brings her own tea bag when we have our herb tea? (No.) Do we say something disapproving when our teenage neighbor brags about his drinking habits? (Yes.) How do I react when the neighbor invites me to the pub for a beer? (I explain that I don’t drink, but it would be great to go down to the local or somewhere else some evening.)
One last thing: Pres. Hunter said we should be known as a temple-going people. We’re not. We’re known as a not-smoking not-drinking people. How silly.
Jim #2: alcohol is a naturally occurring organic compound. There is alcohol in orange juice and in many other foods. You are never going to be able to remove it from everything. Anything with less than 0.5% alcohol can legally be sold as alcohol free. So it’s kinda specious to argue that not all the alcohol cooks out– duh, no process on earth could remove it all from anything. Enough of the alcohol cooks out that eating Chicken Marsala won’t make you drunk or even lightly buzzed. But that’s not good enough for some people, because Chicken Marsala still has “wine cooties”. Like a lot of uncleannesses, it has little to do with the actual source of the uncleanness and a lot to do with cooties.
I really enjoy dealcoholized wine, which has less alcohol in it than orange juice. We even had a dealcoholized wine tasting party (while I was pregnant, no less!) and invited the bishop, and he still gave me my temple recommend afterward.
I did read that a substantial amount of the alcohol stays remains when most dishes made with alcohol are cooked. Of course I’m not worried about traces, but when I read that from what seemed like an authoritative source, I did decide to avoid eating such dishes in the future. WoW aside, I don’t like consuming alcohol.
I come from a hostile-to-Mormonism-and-just-waiting-for-me-to-act-holier-than-thou family, many of whom drink and smoke and indulge heavy caffeine addictions. I can’t act like it’s unclean. They take enough offense at a mild “no thank you” and several family members still offer me alcohol on every family occasion, even though I’ve been a member for 6 years and a teetotaller for 4 years before that. I think they just feel that it’s impolite not to ask? I’m not sure. This Christmas they were encouraging my niece who just became of legal age to drink. =( When I stood up for her right to choose not to drink, I was ridiculed for it. =(
My mother asks me to buy tobacco for her, so I do, because I believe in her agency. I do avoid visiting her because of the smell that gets on me, and the fact that my head always becomes congested and takes several days to clear. If I were to become extremely allergic to the point that she had to choose between seeing me or smoking, she would certainly choose smoking. Addicts are addicted, and their reasoning changes to support their addiction. She would decide I was exaggerating the extent of my allergy to try and force her to stop smoking, and would then feel justified in sticking to her guns to make a point.
Once when I asked my elder brother what he wanted for Christmas, he said all he wanted was a bottle of rum. So I bought him one, and vowed not to ask in the future, but just get him something of my choosing.
I don’t feel dirty in the coffee aisle of the store, or in the wine section. I avoid bars because of the smoke, and because being around drunk people makes me sad, but I wouldn’t feel unclean if I went in one for a good purpose, like meeting a friend. I might suggest another venue, but wouldn’t protest if my friend preferred that place. I think the most important reason to avoid those places is if you feel in any way tempted which I don’t. It seems to me that modeling the ability to choose not to partake is a good example to anyone nearby who might be similarly inclined, in the same way that my friend who’s vegetarian inspired me to give up meat.
Christ ate with publicans, so we have our example. I do understand the feeling, though, of wanting to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing. That’s more about worrying what people will think, though, than God, who knows the truth. I think avoiding doing sinful things, and avoiding any times and places you find tempting, is plenty. No need to worry about appearances.
“Iâ€™ve drank many a Coke (may as well have a beer to some, I guess) in a bar with beer drinking friends. Iâ€™ve given wine to a friend as a gift.”
I tried that once, and failed miserably. I should have asked the clerk what kind of wine tasted good instead of picking the one with the coolest looking bottle. It ended up being some kind of cooking wine. My friends got a laugh out of it though.
“Even a devout Mormon who was eating something, then informed that it contained alcohol, would likely stop eating politely rather than throw the food on the floor and force themselves to vomit. (Which, on the other hand, I have heard first-hand tales about from devout Muslims and Hindus who consumed taboo meats.)”
Try serving tiramisu to a group of devout LDS, then when someone asks for the recipe tell them it has coffee in it. I witnessed firsthand people spitting it out, some of them even mentioning they should try to make themselves vomit so they would haven’t to go talk to their bishops. These same people were raving about the dessert moments earlier.
I’ve never thought just being in close proximity to coffee or alcohol would make me unclean. And I was born and raised in Utah Valley. However, as a teenager, I liked the smell of coffee and did feel that I was somehow not sinning really, but edging towards sin. At 18, I was a waitress at a tiny diner and one of my duties was making the coffee. No problem with that. But when they required I taste it to make sure it was good, I was very uncomfortable. Mostly because I’d have had no idea if it was good or not. And I was certain it would be wrong. I think the manager was fooling with me. I don’t remember making a big deal about it and absolutely refusing, but he would come out every morning and get a cup before the customers came in. This started after I inadvertently served ice cold coffee to a regular. It really was accidental. I’m just not that clever.
So, most commenters so far claim to be city mice who have left their superstitious dread of coffee/alcohol/tobacco behind them. That’s OK, I’m sure there’s something else that will serve the same function for you. Crossing the street–or yourself–when you pass an adult bookstore, maybe? I’d suggest, though, that you might want to try to figure out where your own irrational taboos are, and that having them isn’t entirely bad; in some ways, it’s just part of human nature.
If you read the word of wisdom carefully you\’ll notice that coffee and tea are not specifically mentioned but hot drinks are. In a similar vein all alcohol isn\’t prohibited, just strong drinks ( whisky, rum vodka, distilled liquors). Beer is not only left out but later recommended. Mild barley drinks are suggested. Beer contains anywhere from .5 percent to 6-10 percent alcohol by volume which is substantially less than the up to 80 percent contained in \”strong drinks\”. Used in moderation, 1-2 beers a day will lessen your chances of heart disease and stroke by around 30 percent. One or two 3.2 Utah beers are far from getting someone buzzed let alone drunk. Brigham Young and Porter Rockwell both owned breweries here in Utah and remained obviously very highly active in the church. The beer ban was a later stated opinion but the original revelation said nothing about cooking with alcohol or drinking beer which sometimes was the safest way of drinking water because of the antiseptic qualities of alcohol.
“Crossing the streetâ€“or yourselfâ€“when you pass an adult bookstore, maybe? Iâ€™d suggest, though, that you might want to try to figure out where your own irrational taboos are”
There’s nothing irrational about crossing a street to avoid passing by an adult bookstore, if you find seeing certain things distracting. Similarly, if you find alcohol or tobacco to be a particular temptation for you, you’d do well to avoid those aisles, and possibly to avoid cooking wines, etc. When Joseph ran out the door leaving his outer clothes in the hands of Potiphar’s wife, that was no superstition, either.
My grandfather was raised in the church and yet died of alcoholism when my father was a young child. Maybe we’ve pushed the WoW father than it was originally expressed, but there are rational reasons for strictly avoiding alcohol, and historical reasons relating to the end of prohibition. But to take the prohibition to a superstitious “unclean” reading would insult the original scripture, which states specifically that these things are good for a purpose.
I guess the Venti hot chocolate I buy at Starbucks before boarding any flight (it helps me sleep) is bad.
Re Robert’s comment in #24 — maybe so, but modern prophets seem to have ruled against you.
i am a convert, who was quite fond of drinking beer, and I considered myself a gourmand when it came to beer and single malt scotches, and coffee. gave them all up to become a faithful Mormon. However, I do think some in our greater Mormon family take these recommendations/prohibitions way the h*** too seriously, raising it to the level of an unhealthy(psychological) fetish. Folks who have to drive10 blocks around, just becasue the closest way to a place means driving past a local brew-pub. Folks who freak out, when they see me carrying a Starbucks to-go cup in my hand, and immediately run to snitch to the EQ pres. or Bishop. Folks who cant stop thinking about all the prohibitions, andlet the fear of them rule their lives.
relax, folks, coffee and tea, and evel alcoholic beverages arent all that bad. being in close proximity to the wine section, or walking or driving by a bar wont put your temple recommend or, for that matter, your progression in jeopardy.
Again, while all fo us have, of our free will, chosen to obey the Revelations given in Sec 89, it is crazy to freak out just becasue other folks ( including some members), choose to imbibe, or becasue one finds oneself walking by a bar or next to the beer/wine/liquor/cigarette section in the grocery store.
Just my opiion – I think, some in our Church family really need to lighten up.
My VTing companion’s husband is an asst manager at Starbucks. The bishopric jokes about not asking him to provide beverages for the youth activities. I think our ward is pretty light about it. (As an aside, my companion enjoys an iced carmel latte decaf something and shares one a week with her 4 year old. She says, “balance in all things, right?”)
I have to agree with #28, moderation in all things. My purpose when drinking beer is never to get drunk but to relax . besides I’ve never been able to drink enough beer to get drunk, (a gallon in an evening didn’t make it.). one or two beers or a cup of coffee isn’t going to get you excommunicated. It may be wrong but there are a lot of more important and prevalent sins we could obsess over if necessary.
This is a ridiculous post.
The whole topic is ridiculous considering the fact that you are condemned not by what goes into your mouth but what comes out of it according to Jesus himself. Also it says in Collosians that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be judged according to what we eat and drink. If you want to run screaming away from the coffee aisle or the beer section I feel extremely sorry for you and you have much more wrong with you than what you put down your throat.
Face it Jesus drank alcohol as did Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Porter Rockwell, Oliver Cowdery, amd probably all the original leaders of the church. Coffee was extremely widely used in the church even after the Word of Wisdom. Read closely and you’ll find that coffee, tea, beer, are not mentioned specifically in the Word of Wisdom anyway.