A Life Without Stimulants

From my observations, social gatherings in the professional world frequently — usually — consist of “drinks” after work at a local bar or pub. It is interesting to note that the modern interpretation of the Word of Wisdom prohibits Latter-day Saints from partaking of the precise substances that constitute the focus of such social gatherings in today’s society: alcohol, tobacco, and coffee/tea. In fact, people can often be observed using all three at such occasions and, at least in my observation, these substances themselves seem to be the central attraction of such social gatherings.

The unavoidable implication of the modern interpretation and implementation of the Word of Wisdom (compliance with which is a temple recommend question, no less) is that Latter-day Saints will never be fully part of the “in-crowd” in their workplaces or circle of friends. By not participating in the central aspect of social gatherings — partaking together of these stimulants — even with close friends, Latter-day Saints often remove themselves from the possibility of close relationships with those not of their faith. The Word of Wisdom, more than anything else about Latter-day Saints, forces us to be a “peculiar” people, as we translate what it means for us, or just “strange” or “weird” as those not of our faith often describe what it makes of us. (This is why, I believe, I have periodically seen ex or anti-Mormons criticize the Church by saying that they were fornicating long before they could bring themselves to drink coffee — the criticism seems meant to dismiss the Church as utterly fixated on maintaining appearances but also shows how strongly the restrictions of the Word of Wisdom instill themselves in our identities and daily lives.)

The Word of Wisdom precludes the possibility of close relationships with those not of our faith for at least three reasons:

(1) Those with whom we associate feel judged by our decision not to partake of the central focus of a social gathering – and often they are being judged by the Latter-day Saint in question;
(2) Latter-day Saints are “on-guard” (just a natural reaction) when everyone else is drinking alcohol over cigarettes or cigars and drinking expensive coffees in shops whose very purpose is serving such stimulants;
(3) Not participating in the central activity of a gathering — even if engaging in conversation while others participate in the underlying reason for the gathering — places one in a position of de facto exclusion.

A conscientious Latter-day Saint can overcome the first two difficulties relatively easily but can never fully overcome the third.

For this reason, it seems, the main purpose of the modern interpretation of the Word of Wisdom must be this effect of social exclusion. BCC’s own J. Stapley assures us that coffee is not bad for you. We have all read reports in the media to the effect that a little wine might be beneficial for the heart. Even the original interpretation of the Word of Wisdom seems to allow drinking beer in moderation (mild barley drinks) and this was common among many Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century. And we all know that not smoking tobacco, even assuming that one could not partake of tobacco in moderation, in no way ensures that one will not die a horrible death of lung or mouth cancer – in fact we all know faithful Latter-day Saints who never once in their lives used tobacco but who nonetheless died of these and other cancers.

It is this uncomfortable effect of de facto social exclusion that causes every Latter-day Saint to scrutinize his or her faith on the issue of the Word of Wisdom to justify adhering to it. D&C 89 is a guide, particularly its opening statement for why the Word of Wisdom is given: “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation”. Another clue is found in the preceding verse: the Word of Wisdom is “given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”

It was this latter aspect that I once focused on when I was once asked why Mormons don’t drink alcohol when I (apparently noticeably) wasn’t drinking alcohol at a function. I explained that I didn’t know exactly why but that I viewed it as an act of solidarity with the weakest among us –- even if I personally would be able to drink alcohol responsibly or in moderation, we know that others within the Church would not be able to do so and therefore we all, as a group, abstain entirely. The person who asked me seemed surprised with the answer and genuinely satisfied with it –- at least enough not to make fun of me for not drinking on that occasion.

I believe that explanation is true and it certainly is consistent with D&C 89:3, quoted above. But in reflecting on that occasion, I have also come to believe that the modern interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, which has transformed it from advice given “not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom” to an absolute commandment for practicing Latter-day Saints, must locate the actual reason for it in D&C 89:4 after all (by virtue of this shift in interpretation/implementation) and, since the “evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days” are not described in more detail so as to identify what they actually are, the actual reason must necessarily remain a mystery.

Understanding that the purpose of the Word of Wisdom is actually a mystery can be liberating in some ways. Instead of looking for a pseudo-scientific justification or explanation for the prohibitions on stimulants that are now primarily emphasized in the Word of Wisdom, we can fall back on our faith in the existence and goodness of God in revealing this to Joseph Smith and then inspiring our twentieth-century leaders to harden it into an absolute commandment in the face of the social exclusion that it costs us. As such, we can appreciate that a life without stimulants actually is good for us in very real physical ways, and we can contemplate why God or the Church would want us to experience the de facto separation from society that is the primary result of the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. In any case, as a Latter-day Saint who obeys these prohibitions that are emphasized by the Word of Wisdom, I am compelled to observe that it is, indeed, God’s will –- at least for now and even if I don’t know why.


  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    FWIW, alcohol is not a stimulant.

  2. Mike, but it’s delicious!

    John, a good post. Like you I view the WoW primarily as an act of community and solidarity, but I don’t think it’s as much of a barrier to inclusion in larger society as you make it out to be. Perhaps that’s because you’re in England and they all drink like fishes, but my own experience in Europe suggests that one can be a teetotaler and still thrive.

  3. Thank you for these thoughts. I realized after reading that I have come to a very similar conclusion about the Word of Wisdom, though not nearly as articulately as you explain it here. So, thank you for that.

    I also found your explanation of abstaining from alcohol as “an act of solidarity with the weakest among us” to be a perspective I have never before heard in all my 28 years of membership in the church. Very refreshing.

  4. Thanks jdub (that’s what I take from verse 3 anyway).

    Mike, sorry, apparently stimulant was the wrong word to use. A life without downers and stimulants then.

  5. BTD Greg says:

    MikeInWeHo beat me to it: alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant.

    On a semi-related note, I was at a pool party over the weekend attended by several LDS families. Much Coke and Dr. Pepper was consumed, though there was root beer readily available.

  6. Given all the reasons and more that you articulate so well here, can we all please, now and forever, stop calling the WoW the “Lord’s Law of Health”?

    If it were the Lord’s law of health, it would say, “Eat Food, But Not Too Much, And Mostly Plants.”

    It stopped being the Lord’s law of health when it became, as you describe, nothing but a social separator.

  7. This was one of the most difficult aspects of working as a consultant and leaving the Morridor on business. We would frequently gather with clients after work to discuss business and socialize, and I was always the only one abstaining.

    On the one hand, my boss and colleagues appreciated the fact that whenever I was on the trip, they never worried about who the designated driver was going to be and they could all freely imbibe. On the other, my boss in particular seemed bothered by the no coffee rule. At one point, one of my colleagues jokingly wondered whether my boss was going to hold me down and force me to drink coffee.

    Until I got this job, I didn’t realize how much the Word of Wisdom makes us stand out when socializing exclusively with non-members. While I’m grateful that we have the WoW and I freely acknowledge being among the weakest of the saints (I’m convinced I’d be a raging alcoholic were it not for the WoW due to my compulsive personality), it does make for some painfully awkward social situations.

  8. I interned at a Magic Circle firm down the road from Herr Fowles. There we were, clever Oxbridge students, bright lives ahead of us. The personnel officer gave us a quick run down of our first day then told us, “don’t worry, we’ll finish early so you can go on the piss.” My impression was that city lawyers work and drink their ar*es off. What do you do after work?!

    But seriously, do we lose something useful, something of good report, from this social exclusion? And are the costs shared unequally? Certainly a teetotaling Mormon in Utah has little to lose, but a Japanese Mormon who won’t drink tea with his family is cutting off his own arm.

  9. I’ve observed before (as you do above) that abstaining from alcohol (and to a lesser extent coffee and tea) is socially handicapping. However, I’ve never before considered your proposal that accepting this handicap is an act of solidarity with the minority of people who need to opt out of drinking for biological reasons.

    A very interesting, thought-provoking idea. Thanks!

  10. Interesting. I like the post John. I think I typically view the WoW as sort of a Mormon Kosher. But that automatically carries with it the baggage of exclusion. Imagine if a Kansas City hog farmer decided to become Jewish!

  11. Steve, if you’re hypoglycemic as well, you’d definitely be a drunk…

    Ronan, right, refusal to drink coffee when offered in some South American countries is a deep insult. In the U.S.? Not so much.

  12. BTD Greg says:

    I think the socially excluding effects of the WoW can be overstated. There are plenty of religios and non-religious people who abstain from alcohol and/or coffee. Sure, it might be a slight disadvantage in afterhours socializing, but it’s still plenty possible to do well in business without getting drunk with your business colleagues. I’ve never felt particularly held back by my refusal to imbibe.

  13. Makes it easier to steal their keys if you’re the designated driver. You can acquire some really nice cars that way.

  14. There are plenty of religios and non-religious people who abstain from alcohol and/or coffee.

    I’m not really aware of them — at least with regard to coffee.

    Sure, it might be a slight disadvantage in afterhours socializing, but it’s still plenty possible to do well in business without getting drunk with your business colleagues.

    It’s not just that we don’t drink it’s that we don’t drink because we believe God commanded us not to (or at least he initially suggested not to drink liquor and then later the injunction was expanded to all alcohol whatsoever).

    Also, none of this has to do with getting drunk with colleagues. Most of the time colleagues gather for the purpose of having a drink they do not get drunk. The drinks seem to be the common motivating factor for them to attend a particular gathering but it isn’t for the purpose of getting drunk necessarily.

  15. Researcher says:

    My husband and I have been around many drinkers of all different nationalities and persuasions. I can’t think of a single one who has not been respectful about our decision not to drink alcohol, coffee or tea. Actually I remember one, but she was mentally handicapped. My husband has been the subject of some friendly ribbing by his co-workers, but it’s never been a big deal. Most of the drinkers we’ve known have been just acquaintances, but some of these drinkers have been our close friends; the kind of people that have a copy of our house key. Having several small children at home is much more socially hampering than not being a drinker.

  16. BTD Greg says:

    I’m not really aware of them — at least with regard to coffee.

    I know a lot of people who don’t drink coffee. True, I don’t know any non-Mormons who don’t drink coffee for religious reasons, and this does set us apart as different, but I know plenty who don’t drink coffee because they don’t care for it.

    Also, none of this has to do with getting drunk with colleagues. Most of the time colleagues gather for the purpose of having a drink they do not get drunk. The drinks seem to be the common motivating factor for them to attend a particular gathering but it isn’t for the purpose of getting drunk necessarily.

    Well, if you’re just talking about mild social drinking, I think the effect is much less. I’ve sipped my Diet Coke around people who are having a beer or a glass of wine on several occasions without feeling excluded. It would be the more serious drinking gatherings–the getting drunk–that would make me feel kind of weird to be sticking around and might make others feel uncomfortable as well.

  17. Peter D. says:

    All in favor of returning to the nineteenth century Word of Wisdom say “aye” ….

  18. Mike M. says:

    John, The idea you’re promoting about the social effects of the WofW sounds similar to an idea that receives a lot of attention in the economics and sociology of religion. The argument is that in requiring members to abide certain behavioral standards (such as abstaining from certain foods and drinks and wearing certain clothing), the religious group can create a tension with non-members that it can use to advance its group’s goals. Religious groups use this tension as an indirect way to select into the religious group members who are more likely to be committed to the group and its goals, the idea being that only the most committed will be willing to pay the social cost associated with membership. The behavioral restrictions thereby serve to create memberships of highly dedicated individuals. The seminal paper is Iannaccone’s 1992 article in the Journal of Political Economy, in which he acutally uses the Mormon Church’s WofW as one of his examples.

    Of course, this will not get a lot of attention at Church as an explanation for the WofW because it is a sociological one and therefore would be construed as speculative as an answer to why God commands we abide the WofW. But I know many LDS who recognize this as a viable explanation for it.

  19. I’ve long held this view of the WoW as a way of forcing ourselves to consciously separate from others in various social, professional and family situations, but have found this viewpoint difficult to explain to other members and third parties.

    A big disappointment growing up as a young lawyer in California has been how little living the WoW actually seems to matter in these situations. Every open bar I’ve been to at social functions has a wide range of soft drinks available and nobody (except my co-workers who like to cajole me for the fun of it) seems to care what is in my glass. I am also pleasantly surprised at the number of well-connected and successful people I know of who also do not drink for a variety of reasons. I am curious as to why they do not feel their avoidance of alcohol impedes them at social and professional functions in the same way I am always fretting that it might impede me. Maybe I’ll ask someday.

  20. I agree, the legal world could not exist without coffee. But the crowd always seemed to be filled with: x-smokers, recovering alcoholics, vegetarians, women who had paid $500 to have their teeth whiten who would not go near tobacco or coffee. Evangelics who would openly bless their food at lunch, that make the Mormons stand out a little less.

  21. I’ve always thought of the purpose was to protect us against those who would take advantage of us. I know more than one girl who would rather they had not taken the drink they were offered at a party. Or adults who wished they had never started their expensive cigarette habit when they were teenagers. Talk about the designs of conspiring men…

    But I like your solidarity approach. I’ve got to spend some time thinking that one over.

  22. John,
    Even though I do agree that the WoW serves as a social marker (and, I believe, a covenantal marker), I’m with BTD Greg that it doesn’t really bar us from social situations. I can comfortably go to a bar or a cocktail party with my colleagues and nurse a cranberry juice and nobody cares.

    As Mormons, we have it easy. Imagine life without pork (I don’t know that I’d want to go on without prosciutto and pancetta, frankly, not to mention bacon). But for my Orthodox colleagues, it doesn’t end there: their wine has to be Kosher. They can’t take finger foods at a reception unless it’s a Kosher place. I cannot cook for them if they come to my house (because even if I knew the ins and outs, my kitchen is not Kosher and I don’t have the requisite separate pots and pans). And I haven’t ever had Kosher chocolate that I found palatable. As for my former Hindi neighbors, because they were religiously vegan, we couldn’t even offer them muffins (made with eggs).

    Long way of saying (a) the WoW isn’t much of a barrier, and (b) it’s not that oppressive.

  23. Having several small children at home is much more socially hampering than not being a drinker.

    What? You don’t bring your wife and kids to happy hour? I mean, not if it’s Hooters, of course. But if it’s just at a local bar or Chevy’s….

  24. I have always been of the opinion that Grant was inspired to implement WOW observance as he did. that said I think the WOW replaced polygamy as a defining charateristic of observant Mormons much like #19 My own paternal ancestors all went inactive when Grant enforced the WOW back in the 20’s and 30’s

    It remains an open question if the current interpretation of the WOW will continue till the millenium or not. I can see a scenario where the restrictions on Tea for example were loosened. But not on A or T.

  25. I meant #18 not #19

  26. Researcher (#15) said

    Having several small children at home is much more socially hampering than not being a drinker.

    I heartily agree. Although I have “only” two children, not several.

  27. Aye!

    Thanks for this post. As a very recent convert I’ve been struggling with the WoW. My friends think I’m nuts – especially because I love good beer, chai tea, and Dunkin Donuts coffee. They wonder how I’m going to finish school without coffee. I say, “Mountain Dew!” Seriously though, I’ve switched from coffee, tea and alcohol to sweets and soda. I think the coffee and tea were more healthy.

    Also, I agree with #16, though I’ve never been one to frequent the binge-drinking scene. I’ve noticed that if you’re only out with one other person, most people won’t order an alcoholic drink unless you do. Of course, then you have my mom, who gets personally offended when I decline to split a beer with her ever since she’s known that I follow the WoW.

  28. Welcome sunlize!

  29. Yeah, you’re probably right Sam B.

  30. Kevin K says:

    I agree that the purposes of the WoW have changed back to the “mysterious” for me.

    In my youth, I would try to prove how this was better for all people. Even until recently, I held to its medicinal advatanges for a justification of my own willingness to abstain.

    Recently, I have occasion to travel to China on business every six months, or so. Of course, with every meal is offered some form of tea. They truly believe in the medicial purposes of a good cup of tea. In fact, thousands of years of culture rely on the health of various forms of tea – many of which I would suggest fall under “green” tea (differentiating between green, black, and others is FAR too simplistic). And I must honestly say that thousands of years of experience in the healthy aspects of tea must have some sort of foundation in truth.

    It’s great that throughout my LDS upbringing, I have had an aversion for the smell of beer (grew up in Milwaukee), smoking, coffee and alcohol, in general. But now, I just fall back to the “mysterious” as a reason for my abstention. And maybe it’s OK that we unite together on simple rules, so that we can form an identity?

  31. Wm. Morris (#23),

    I’ll have you know that Hooters is a “neighborhood, family-friendly restaurant”. Just FYI. ;-)

  32. Kevin K.,

    That’s one of the most awkward things that I deal with when I go to China as well. How do you explain that “Well, this kind of tea we don’t drink, but that one’s ok, and I’m not quite sure about that one”. I end up feeling very foolish and they are much less enlightened about my religious customs. Peculiar indeed. I usually just ask them for a Coke now. At least they expect that from an American.

  33. sister blah 2 says:

    #22– Cranberry and 7up is my pretend cocktail of choice. With a slice of lime.

  34. Martin Willey says:

    I have long thought that the WOW was about socialization than about health. But I also think it is about obedience and commitment. Maybe I am strange, but I think demonstrating to oneself that one can give something up for something more important is pretty motivating and defining.

    I also really like the idea of “solidarity with the weakest.” I had never really thought about it that way before. And I wholeheartedly agree that seeing the reason for the WOW is liberating (and probably more accurate).

  35. bbell # 24, Jan Shipps had the same idea about “boundary maintenance” as the church evolved from the 19th to the 20th centuries. In her view, the original church boundaries included building irrigation ditches, working together to build the original temples, and polygamy.

    Now, those boundaries are more internal than external, and include the WoW, along with chastity, as the prime examples. Oh yeah, and 3 hour meeting blocks!

    I’ve for several years now understood that the WoW was primarily a reminder to ourselves of our covenants, much as the garment also represents a reminder, albeit less visible. It’s something that affects us on a daily basis as we eat and drink, and marks us as a peculiar people.

  36. I agree that the Word of Wisdom functions as a social marker, but I think it is worth noting that for many single Mormons past a certain age, the Law of Chastity is at least as important, if not more so. To use the language of the original post, it “remove[s] [them] from the possibility of close relationships with those not of their faith” in quite a literal sense.

  37. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 33 I was thinking the same thing: Why don’t y’all order non-alcoholic cocktails in some social situations and see if anything changes. You know, be Mormons on the DL for a while as an experiment. I could teach you how to shake up a fabulous booze-free Cosmopolitan.

    There have been occasions where I’ve been out socializing with LDS colleagues and acquaintances, who have no idea of my background in the Church. That’s always fun. One of my favorite colleagues followed the WoW and would just pop an extra xanax or two instead when we’d all go out after work. She held a TR and everybody loved her. There was no “position of de facto exclusion” whatsoever. That notion just doesn’t ring true to me, at least not here in CA. Where do you live, john f?

  38. Steve Evans says:

    cranberry and orange.

  39. #15:

    My husband and I have been around many drinkers of all different nationalities and persuasions. I can’t think of a single one who has not been respectful about our decision not to drink alcohol, coffee or tea. Actually I remember one, but she was mentally handicapped.

    I assume this is the case about anyone that is less than respectful towards me.

  40. #30:

    It’s great that throughout my LDS upbringing, I have had an aversion for the smell of beer (grew up in Milwaukee)

    You mean that you didn’t enjoy that blast of fermented yeast that would overpower you in your car even with the windows up as you drove on I-94 near the old County Stadium? I loved that. It smelled like a cat threw up inside your dash board.

  41. Mike (37),
    I have a (Mormon) friend who had invented a pretty elaborate drink that he’d order when he went to bars. It involved ginger ale, grapefruit juice, whisky sours, and a couple other things (I don’t remember exactly what), and it was pretty good; it was the kind of thing you didn’t gulp down. Instead, you drank it little by little.

    I’ve been looking for non-alcoholic mixed drinks (not virgin Pina Coladas, but the real thing) for a while–some nice restaurants make spectacular non-alcoholic versions of interesting drinks. But I don’t even know what goes into a Cosmopolitan–could you share your booze-free recipe (and tell me if it roughly tastes like the real thing).

  42. Steve Evans says:

    “One of my favorite colleagues followed the WoW and would just pop an extra xanax or two instead when we’d all go out after work. She held a TR and everybody loved her.”

    I think that’s within the spirit of the law. Was it a time of winter, or famine?

  43. Steve (38),
    The old Morris Center standby?

  44. Researcher says:

    Oh yeah. Cranberry-orange. Never had it before or since the Morris Center.

  45. “I could teach you how to shake up a fabulous booze-free Cosmopolitan.”

    Um, you’re talking to a group of (mostly) straight Mormons here, Mike. Drinking a booze-free Cosmo at a work function would disguise a lot more than just our religion . . .


  46. The problem, as I see it, is that by emphasizing the no-drinks (etc.) to youth, we never learn the “how” of socializing over drinks. I can think of several times during law school, I’d mosey down to the student commons during FAC (Friday Afternoon Club) where a couple of kegs and bottles of fine locally-brewed stuff were being shared. I’d stand on the outside looking in, and couldn’t quite see the point. I am certain my cluelessness at how to manage a real-world social situation that involves doing nothing but talking and drinking will cost me plenty in my new career. But I haven’t got any idea how to fix it, either. (It doesn’t help that I’m an introvert by nature, and often can’t see the point to ward socials.)

  47. Proud Daughterr of Eve says:

    Most of my friends have not been LDS. With the exception of a couple of office parties back when I lived in Japan, never have I been in a situation where drinking alcohol has been the purpose of the get-together. I don’t think it’s as much of a social separator as this post implies.

  48. StillConfused says:

    I have very strong issues with alcohol that have nothing to do with the word of wisdom. (My maiden name is Hazelwood — think Exxon Valdez.) So I have never felt odd at not drinking alcohol. Also, I have bad reactions to caffeine. So I don’t go there either.

    I am finding now that more people of all different religious types avoid the stimulant / depressive drinks for various health reasons. I have no problem having bottled water at any event.

    Interesting side note, I find less alcohol and coffee when I am in Southern California than when I am in Utah.

  49. #37: Yes, living in LA is like being in a Star Wars movie, very hard to be peculiar.

  50. Kaimi,
    While true,as active Mormons, many of us have wifes.

  51. A life without stimulants?!? Ummmm, what about 32 ounce big gulps of diet coke? Most of the Wasatch Front has about 3 of those per day.

  52. cj douglass says:

    Certainly a teetotaling Mormon in Utah has little to lose, but a Japanese Mormon who won’t drink tea with his family is cutting off his own arm.

    Except that they primarily drink green tea in Japan which is not against the word of wisdom. I don’t care what anyone says – its not.

  53. My non-member parents had an interesting way of discouraging drinking. Whenever we asked for a taste, they’d say sure and let us take a sip of the nasty stuff. So I knew quite young that beer tastes (as well as smells) like fermented vomit, wine is juice gone terribly, terribly wrong, and hard alcohol is like drinking a gulp of fire.

    None of it is tempting in the slightest. My non-member sister never touches the stuff either. Neither of us feels out of place socially when others are drinking. We just drink something we like, nothing Mormon about it.

  54. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 45 You’re right, Kaimi. I’ll take my recipe over to Feminist Mormon Housewives instead. They’ll go all Sex In The City once the WoW-compliant cosmos start to flow. Fmh Lisa = Miranda with covenants?

    re: 49 Being a gay man in West Hollywood who hangs around in the Bloggernacle gets you close, though.

  55. John,

    I’ve heard the solidarity / weakest argument before, and I’ll admit it’s an appealing one. But if the WoW is really about helping the weakest, why the hell does it ban tea while not really focusing on the bigger scourge today, of bad diet, obesity and overeating/underexercising?

  56. Kevin K says:

    #40 – You got it right – Driving by the Red Star Yeast plant, past Miller and Pabst breweries (Schlitz was on the North side of town) and then into County Stadium where I had many a beer dumped on me from behind, by accident, when the Milwaukee Braves were playing.

    Now, that takes me back to the good times. :-(

  57. Researcher says:

    How does the WoW not address diet, obesity, exercise, Kaimi?

    Diet: “All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine”

    Obesity: “they are to be used sparingly”

    Exercise: “run and not be weary, and … walk and not faint”


  58. sister blah 2 says:

    #55– Kaimi, you might be on to something as far as showing solidarity with those who are most susceptible to a weakness in overeating. There was this recent study saying that if your friends are fat, you are likely to be fat too. Also, your friend loses weight, you may lose weight too.

  59. Mike: That’s a pretty apt comparison, but I’ve seen Lisa in person, and she’s way cuter than Cynthia Nixon. Also, she’s far too good of a writer to have ever gone to law school.

    Sam: I don’t think that bringing my wifes to work would really help me be an incognito Mormon.

    Sister Blah 2: We create solidarity by inviting our ward friends to ward pot luck dinners, and ice cream socials.

  60. #53:This is ok, as long as you remember ,…this is you. The world loves the taste of beer, wine, and good whiskey. I live about 1/2 mile from the Bud Plant, we smell it 3 or 4 times a year. It smells like bread baking.
    #54: West Hollywood was my ‘beat’ for ten years. I must say, after Venice Beach, it had the largest group of ‘peculiar’ People.

  61. #52, as a would be green tea aficionado I assume your comment was a joke, but anyway a significant majority of Japanese members avoid green tea because they believe it is a violation of the WoW. The point that in Japan and other Asian countries tea may be a stronger social marker than alcohol is in the U.S. seems to be a valid one. Rejecting a standard cup of green tea in Japan is a clear signal to your family and friends that you have joined some creepy cult and will soon by gassing the subway system.

  62. Bob #60, my office is < 1/2 mile from a Bud plant, too. We should do lunch next time I’m in the office.

    I’ve always thought the plant smelled like money being made.

  63. cj douglass says:

    Sorry DCL, I wasn’t joking.

    What frustrated me for a long time was the ambiguity of the WoW. Giving up drinking and smoking was pretty cut and dry. But what about decaf coffee? What about white tea, twig tea, green tea? Yerba Mate is widely accepted in the church. I drank the stuff in front of my MP. The word tea is used for pretty much anything that gets dipped in hot water. “Herbal” tea isn’t against the WoW, and yet it’s still called tea. For so long I was frustrated that there wasn’t an official tea guide for the WoW. Its then that I realized that its vague for a reason. Its up to me to figure out.

  64. 60. Yes, well, if I saw my mom or dad trying any such thing with my kids, I would flip out.

    Most of the world does have to learn to like the flavor of alcohol. It’s not a natural taste in the same way that an infant naturally seeks after sweetness.

  65. Just to set the record straight, black tea, white tea, green tea, and twig tea are all made from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. They’re just processed differently to achieve different colors, flavors, etc. (Twig tea, of course, uses the stems instead of the leaves.) Not to be combative, but if black tea is a “hot drink” and green tea is made from the very same leaves of the same tea plant, how could green tea be different enough from black tea to be not against the Word of Wisdom? To me, saying that black tea is against the WoW and and green tea isn’t is like saying that coffee made from dark-roasted beans is against the WoW while coffee made from light-roasted beans isn’t. Again, I’m not trying to combative; the choice is ultimately up to each individual since, as has already been pointed out, the Word of Wisdom is rather vague.

  66. Coffinberry in # 46 has perhaps hit on a key point to this issue of the exclusionary aspects of the Word of Wisdom in social settings — well said.

    Mike, London.

    Kaimi (# 55), you’re right that verse 3 has some appeal but this post is about verse 4 — sorry not to have been clear about that (though I thought it was pretty straightforward in the original post that although the solidarity point can be an element of this, we must concede that the underlying purpose of the current interpretation/implementation of the Word of Wisdom, if it is not the explicit goal of social exclusion, must simply be a mystery).

    re # 65, you are getting into the issue of the dangers of enumeration. When the decision was made to shift the Word of Wisdom from a word of wisdom — a bit of good advice — to a hard and fast commandment, complete with an enumerated list of prohibited substances, then these types of definitional games come into play. Our current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, which is part of the temple recommend questions, defines hot drinks in a certain way. So, those hot drinks that are not included are, well, not included.

  67. Norbert says:

    Great post, John. I like your approach and thoughtfulness on the topic. My wife takes the ‘weakest among us’ approach, while I think of more as a symbolic measure of purity and separation from the world. As a symbol, I will bear it, but I don’t recognize the sanctity of the WoW ‘short list,’ to be honest.

    At the posh school in London where I taught, it was a tradition that if parents wanted to meet a teacher during the year, they would meet at a pub near the school and stand the teacher a glass of their choice. (Unless the meeting was before lunchtime, then it was tea.) There was a specific pub where this generally happened, not the pub where the faculty went after work and not the pub where the eighteen year-old students went after school. To start the meeting off with the fumbling for a coke or mineral water altered the meeting and relationship.

  68. Peter LLC says:

    The boss invites us underlings to lunch or dinner fairly often and the topic of my abstinence invariably comes up even though I have explained it about a dozen times. Depending on my mood, I either say “it’s a religion thing, you wouldn’t understand,” or talk about how my first and only experience with slivovitz turned me off the hard stuff for good.

    So far no ill effects though I suspect they wonder where I keep my broad-brimmed hat and horse-drawn buggy.

  69. Peter LLC says:


    Interesting side note, I find less alcohol and coffee when I am in Southern California than when I am in Utah.

    Where are you looking? In Utah, watered down beer is the only alcohol you will come into contact with unless you seek out the state-run liquor stores. In California every grocery store, gas station, mini-mart etc. has a well-stocked liquor section.

  70. cj douglass says:

    PaulS, no combativeness taken. And you’re absolutely right that they all come from the same plant. But the language in section 89 is as vague as it possibly can get (“hot drinks”) and then the follow up interpretation is not much better. If the interpretation was as thorough as yours was (avoid the Camellia sinensis plant!!) then I’d feel a whole lot better. If the Lord and/or His prophets are going to be vague – then that tells me something about the nature of the counsel. But don’t worry – I’m a Rooibos man anyway.

  71. I’m with you cj, I don’t think green tea (or white for that matter) are against the WoW.

    As far as I could tell, it depended on the Japanese saint as to whether or not they drank green tea. I’ve seen some pretty elaborate spreadsheets showing what people could drink and what they couldn’t, as there are at least a billion ways and kinds of tea to drink in Japan. The spreadsheets were for the zealous, who liked the visual way to see what was right and what was wrong. American missionaries, myself included, were terrified of its (the tea) evil nature and even avoided the green tea ice cream.

    I think this whole thing is about learning this particular social skill and not about drinking. I go to bars a lot with friends or co-workers and there are PLENTY of people who don’t drink either for one reason or another.

  72. PaulS,
    As far as I can tell, the WoW prohibits certain drinks, not certain plants.

  73. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 69 I’m not sure we’re quite that boozy in SoCal but I do agree with you, Peter LLC. StillConfused seems to have been to a different Utah and SoCal than I have. A fun memory of visiting SLC for Sunstone was when I was forced to buy a membership to get brunch one morning. Apparently the restaurant had a bar in it or something. I said “I have to have to join a club for eggs benedict?!”

    In SoCal, we have cannabis vending machines now. I am not kidding.

  74. john, haven’t read the comments, and don’t have much time, but this is exactly how I have viewed and explain the WofW. I am not concerned very much about the social exclusion factor, as long as our own abstinence doesn’t produce an attitude of superiority that actively looks down on those who do imbibe. That, imo, causes much more harm than mere abstinence. I am perfectly comfortable at a bar drinking juice and soda while others drink alcohol. I live my standards; others live theirs. As long as I am comfortable with that, I have never been excluded from others’ company.

    There are, however, two things that non-participation does:

    1) Some people “let loose” when drinking is involved – and these people often are uncomfortable with people who don’t drink being a part of conversations where things are said that would not be said otherwise. Japanese businessmen are notorious for this – drinking after work and getting frustrations off their chests that would be suppressed otherwise. The understanding is that if everyone is drinking, anything can be said – and then forgotten. A “dry” participant threatens that “looseness” for some.

    The real issue of membership for me in this scenario is NOT that I wouldn’t be drinking. It is that I would not be comfortable spending all of that extra time away from my wife and children, since the hours and hours of drinking after work is explicitly additional time away from them.

    2) If Mormons don’t have the “release” that alcohol can provide, we need to have a different release. Hopefully, this is good communication, but I would like to see this stressed and taught much more openly and in a focused way.

  75. Also, as bad as it tastes to me, there is an acceptable “tea” option in Japan – mugicha (wheat tea).

  76. sister blah 2 says:

    #68–A great excuse for abstaining from alcohol, for those feeling too cowardly to ‘fess up to the Mormon thing, is to just touch your belly and then kind of mouth the words “I’m expecting” like you’re sharing a little secret. Probably not a good idea if you’re out with your boss! I would mostly recommend this one if you are afraid of getting the stink-eye from a waiter at a French or other wine-oriented restaurant when you decline the wine list. Of course, Peter, you might have a hard time pulling off this one. :-)

  77. My interpretation of the WoW:

    “Do not sacrifice your free agency to addictive substances.”

    I joined the church a little over five years ago, partly as a consequence of getting clean and sober. I still had to give up coffee and the occasional cigar in the process. What I learned as a result was that there was utility in caffeine – that if I didn’t insist on marinating in the stuff all day long every day, that it could be a useful tool for headaches/occasional tiredness (which never worked before).

    Of the substances, I probably miss coffee the most – an occasional bit of coffee-flavored ice cream handles that nicely (I tell the would-be Pharisee’s “It’s not a HOT DRINK!”)

    Since I know something about sacrificing my free agency, I can say with confidence that Dr. Pepper or coffee ice cream isn’t even on the addiction radar. I will however make a note to avoid SoCal as noted in #73 – cannabis vending machines would be too tempting.

    The point – getting too caught up in the detail of the ‘law’ might cause one to miss the principle behind it.

  78. Agreed 100% on #35. The boundary maintanance I think is shifting a bit to expand beyond LOC and WOW. I get the sense that with the demographic changes in society at large and all the recent pro-nuclear family teachings that our family teachings are in that boundary maintanance area along with the LOC and WOW

  79. “In California every grocery store, gas station, mini-mart etc. has a well-stocked liquor section.”

    “In SoCal, we have cannabis vending machines now.”

    What can I say? It’s paradise on earth.

    “As far as I can tell, the WoW prohibits certain drinks, not certain plants.”

    Right. If the coffee plant was prohibited, then Dr. Pepper would be out. Where do you think the caffeine in it comes from?

  80. How does the WoW not address diet, obesity, exercise, Kaimi?

    Diet: “All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine”

    Obesity: “they are to be used sparingly”

    Exercise: “run and not be weary, and … walk and not faint”

    My dad is morbidly obese. When the WoW question came up in a temple recommend interview many years ago he said no he did not follow it. The bish asked what troubles he was having. Dad said he eats too much and poorly and doesn’t exercise. Bish said that’s o.k.; that part isn’t important.

  81. Even before I became a church member, I would nurse a tonic and lime at parties.

  82. Ray, cold mugicha on a hot Nagoya day is fabulous. Nothing like it. Also, it allows you to accept the offer of tea from a Japanese host without being rude.

  83. re #77 The point – getting too caught up in the detail of the ‘law’ might cause one to miss the principle behind it.

    But that’s just the point of this entire conversation. I’ve heard at least 4, probably more, “principles” run up as the reason behind the WoW. And, oddly enough, despite a history of calling it this, none of the reasons seems centered on health.

    But it’s all speculation. You don’t actually know the principle behind the WoW, none of us does. We’re all inventing the principle behind it, just like church leaders invented reasons for the priesthood ban. We’re spinning it to make it palatable, trying to shine it up. And when I say “it” I guess I mean the modern interpretation, not the original.

  84. Steve Evans says:

    Why are people so upset about World of Warcraft? It’s just a game, people. Who cares about the reasons behind it.

  85. Steve, it is the gateway to further world of wisdom violations. You can’t pull 3 WoW all-nighters in a row without serious caffeine, and Red Bull, Rock Star and Amp are the drugs of choice.

  86. Bull Moose says:

    Steve Evens, well played!

    Recovering alcoholics who abstain from alcohol at social gatherings tend to pick up the same stigma of being a non-drinker, sometimes with the drinkers taking offense to another not imbibing with them.

    Recovering alcoholics have a couple of ways to lessen the impact of the social stigma that Mormons don’t have. First, their insistence that they can’t drink is based on the understanding of the physiology of their addiction, which most people accept even if they can’t (or won’t) relate. Second, many recovering alcoholics compensate with prodigious smoking or coffee drinking, or both, and don’t stand out quite as much in social situations as Mormons do.

  87. One day into my first trip to South Dakota I was hauled to a bridal shower in my honor at the ancestral farm. The beverage choice was coffee. When I declined, the hostess offered to make tea. When I declined I was offered beer or wine. When I asked for water they looked askance and brought me some. One sip was enough. They have a well. It smells and tastes like the barnyard. Bottled water was unheard of. A decade later in 1988 their county got rural water; that particular farm still doesn’t have it. Because of the nitrites in the water the government recommends bottled water for children under two. Still, bottled water is still not common. My husband has the immune system of an ox. None of the rest of us can tolerate the water there and we haul it in for the duration.

    Culturally, Norwegians drink coffee in huge quantities. My Norwegian in-laws owned the bar. My husband was literally raised IN a bar. Trust me, they think we are peculiar. French and Italian members who forgo wine are peculiar. Tongans who forgo tattoos are peculiar. Dressing to cover garments where it is hot and humid makes us peculiar as well as giving us heat rash.

    My husband joined the church in Boston at 25. About 3 weeks after his baptism his missionaries came into the restaurant he managed and he offered them iced tea. They were shocked and gave him the whole memorized word of wisdom lesson again right there in the restaurant. They said “,,,hot drinks which is interpreted as coffee and tea.” He still didn’t get it. They clarified that meant iced tea also. He asked them why didn’t they include iced tea in the first place and has never had it again.

    Still I’m with BTD Greg on drinking with colleagues. I go out with coworkers seldom, but my husband is in sales and goes out with clients and salespeople all the time. If you can relax and enjoy yourself without self righteousness no one minds that you don’t drink. Like someone said, they appreciate the designated driver.

  88. In business environments, if we are prevented from fully engaging in one of the most prevalent social/bonding activities, perhaps it is in order to encourage us to distinguish ourselves in some other way – hardest working, brightest. All part of that happy Mormon capitalist spirit! I’m not saying that is what the WoW is designed to do, but it might have that effect for some people.

    #7- can we shorten Morridor to “Mordor”? Just wonderin…

  89. Also, my experience in following the Word of Wisdom will forever be shaped by having learned about it first when I was attending a non-LDS university. I know that not everybody needs the WoW to stay under control, but having it there certainly kept me from doing a lot of dumb $hi#!

  90. C. Biden says:

    For cocktail parties, quinine water and lime, or Pelegrino (not that French swill :). When going out for coffee, steamed milk, known in most coffee shops as a “steamer,” with or without flavoring or an Italian soda. After dinner I often order hot water w/ several slices of lemon, a non-alcoholic digestif. Bottled water is always acceptable, if you forget its carbon footprint. Pretty much. All the benefits of café society without the WOW drawbacks.

  91. Maybe it’s just me, but I haven’t run into social issues with not drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol since I graduated from high school.

    I don’t know about your business settings, but in mine, technical merit seems to outweigh the ability to hold a drink. My industry has a lot of Indians as well, and very few of them drink.

  92. Even in Texas, plenty of people don’t drink. And I spent a week in Ireland on a business trip not drinking and not really running into issues with it. Close friends who drink don’t really care that we don’t. The key is to not care if they drink.

    Now smoking is a different story. That’s a real social barrier. But I suspect that my life is not lessened by not accompanying colleagues outside for their smoke break.

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