Another Hapless Heretic
Why I am a New Order Mormon--Part II: Why I Joined the LDS Church

Why I am a New Order Mormon--Part I: What I Believe

I believe in freedom. I believe in truth. I believe in individual empowerment and achievement. I believe in respect for the rights of others to live how they please and believe what they may, so long as their acts and beliefs afford me and others the same courtesy. I used to believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shared these values, that the gospel it sends some 60,000 missionaries each year out into the world to teach was compatible with, indeed imbued with, these values. Freedom. Truth. Empowerment. Respect for Conscience. But while it gives lip service to these ideals, in practice the modern church has sacrificed these values on the altar of obedience, conformity, and fear.

That the church demands strict obedience from its members is axiomatic. It is one of those rare assertions on which both members and critics of the church agree. General conference, stake conference, sacrament meeting talks, seminary and Sunday School lessons are replete with calls for increased obedience to the “laws of the gospel” and the “counsel of the prophets.” Gone are the days when the church leaders would teach the saints correct principles and let them govern themselves.

A case in point is the word of wisdom. The text of the revelation found in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants says quite plainly that it was given to the saints as a “principle” and not “by commandment or constraint.” It was the practice of many of the early saints including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor to drink beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks occasionally. Joseph Smith’s family operated a tavern in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith drank wine the night before he was killed. Brigham Young had a still in his house in Utah and accepted wine as tithing for many years. The Salt Lake Temple was equipped with spittoons. While there were always members of the church who chose to totally abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea, it was not a universal expectation for all the saints until well into the twentieth century. In short, for about 100 years, the saints were given a principle and allowed to decide for themselves how that principle was implemented.

By contrast, in the church today the word of wisdom is used as a measuring rod of an individual’s commitment to the church and the prophets. It is no longer simply a principle of health, but rather is an emblem of obedience, a means of measuring the degree of social control the organization has over its members. Individuals are expected not to use their own judgment in determining how to apply the principles of the word of wisdom, but rather are to conform to a universal standard set by the Brethren in Salt Lake City. In teaching the saints about the word of wisdom, excised from the church curricula is any mention that, historically, the word of wisdom was ever applied any differently than it is today. Thus, the word of wisdom serves as one illustration of how the church exalts obedience over freedom, fosters conformity at the expense of individual empowerment, and hides truth in favor of a “faith-promoting” presentation of historical issues.

Comments

Mayan Elephant

is there anything in the word of wisdom that specifically addresses cloves?

the wow was one of things that kept me faithful in the church. i hail from generations of alcoholics and felt like i needed the church to help me never ever ever get going down the drinking road.

it was the realization that if i try to teach my kids to not drink because joseph smith and gordon hinckley said so, and then it turns out both those guys are clowns, it will be tougher to teach them wisdom related to some o' these vices.

its better to teach, or at least try to teach, real wisdom which is not based on funky magic thinking. imo.

Equality

Yes, the Word of Wisdom makes some sense. It was eye-opening for me to learn that all of the ideas in the Word of Wisdom were advocated by others in Joseph Smith's time and environment. It would be like if Gordon B. Hinckley had come out with a Word of Wisdom in the late 1990s that looked exactly like the Atkins diet.

I agree that true wisdom is found in applying principles according to our reason and experience not out of some misguided sense of devotion or obedience.

Mayan Elephant

i have never read 'when god was a woman.' but hotmo has read it and then bought it to read it again. we have it on the shelf. on her behalf, i suggest it for your reading list.

Equality

Thanks, Mayan. I actually picked that book up when I was in the bookstore last weekend but it looked like it was a bit of a tough read so I put it down. So far, I only have books in my list that I have actually read (or partially read) but I will pick this one up on your suggestion and if I like it will add it to the list.

Mayan Elephant

well then. put 'the gospel according to jesus christ' on the to-do list too. that book is excellent. parts of it is 'david sedaris meets jesus and the devil,' which made me laugh. other parts made me hide my head realizing some of the whacky shit i have have forced myself to believe.

Rosa Gerth

About the "Word of Wisdom" - Recent studies (and there have been many) confirm that coffe, tea, and wine im moderation, are actually very good for people. Jesus should have known it. He made wine himself!!! (Or Smith knew better tham Jesus on that one too?)

LeOgAhEr

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LifeOnaPlate

The justification that "wine is actually healthy for you" is not very strong, in my opinion. You can acheive the exact same health benefits- sometimes greater- from drinking pure grapejuice. The studies extolling wine are not focused on the alcoholic aspect of the drink. With coffee, the risks outweigh the benefits. Addiction, as well as stomache cancer, etc. are just 2 problems, there are more. Herbal and green teas are great, have at them.

truly, the word of wisdom encompasses more than is commonly applied. Refraining from alcohol, tobbacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs is the least of what the revelation recommends; and I believe the Church is still very liberal in its application of the Word of Wisdom. You aren't asked to account for being overweight, not exercising, eating a poor diet, etc. Those decisions are left to yourself- as is the decision to refrain from all the prohibited items. Any Latter-day Saint can "break" the Word of Wisdom at will.

Joseph was influenced by his surrounding culture, indeed. Physicians, temperance societies, his own wife, gave the prophet reason to ask God on the matter; this is how the majority of Joseph's revelations came about.

for an excellent article on the Word of Wisdom I suggest Mike Ash's FAIR report:
http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2000_Up_in_Smoke.html

Also, my blog has a new post regarding the development of the Word of Wisdom, if anyone is interested.

Equality

LoaP,

Thanks for posting here. I hope you enjoy my blog. Yes, I have read Mr. Ash's article at FAIR.

None of your comments (nor Ash's article) refutes the basic point I was making about the Word of Wisdom and the modern church culture.

DPC

I believe it was during Heber J. Grant's tenure as prophet that the current emphasis on following the Word of Wisdom began. Before that, the mark of a faithful member was building up the kingdom by moving to remote parts of the desert. You could even go so far as to say that full-time missionary service was not emphasized in the earlier and mid parts of the last century until Spencer W. Kimball started to make a push. Nobody makes a big deal about that. As far as freedom is concerned, it's been my experience that the Mormon culture exudes a stronger influence than the Mormon church when it comes to Word of Wisdom. I've never heard of anyone suffering negative consequences, church membership-wise, for failing to follow the Word of Wisdom.

Still, Equality, and I think I have alluded to this before, I think your understanding of what religion is and what role it fulfills may be misguided. I don't study the life of Jesus to learn about Jewish life and rituals 2000 years ago (and if I did want to I could get a book or take a class at school). I study Jesus to learn how to be a better person, to understand the world and my role within it, and to fulfill the spiritual and religious needs that I have. The history of the Word of Wisdom is a secular pursuit and as such should be in a secular setting. The spiritual aspects of the Word of Wisdom are different and teaching those aspects in a church setting would obviously be equally different than teaching them in a secular setting. Somewhat tangentially-related, I submit the heretical idea that the people who leave any religion disassociate because their religious needs are not being met and any other reason they offer contrary to that is a mere rationalization or false consciousness (e.g. they were never told the 'truth' at the church). Perhaps you might even be a good example: Before you joined the Church you had ample opportunity to investigate, however, several years later, it appears that the Church is not fulfilling your religious needs as it once did. Is that your fault or because your are a degenerate sinner? Of course not; both you and the church have changed and you find yourselves on different pages. Some of the religious needs you have now and what the church offers to satisfy those needs are different or insufficient for you. It's not anybody's fault. It's just how humankind is. And I don't think most people realize that.

As far as conformity versus freedom is concerned, I think you miss the mark a little bit. Any diversity must be within exercised within a framework. Even the most liberal, pluralistic societies can deem certain behaviors unacceptable and outside the framework, even if other cultures consider those behaviors acceptable. There is a limit on how much we can celebrate how different we are before anomie and alienation set in. I may not want to be a clone of my next door neighbor, but I don't want to be a completely different species than he is either. No one has ever said what defines the outer limits of tolerance. Without such a definition, diversity is a meaningless buzzword, devoid of value and utility. Although I didn't learn much in anthropology in University, I did learn that there are certain 'deviant' cultures whose practices I would not readily accept based on a nebulous concept of 'diversity'. Am I being judgmental? Absolutely, but part of the intellect that God has endowed me with includes the ability to reason and discriminate amongst different choices and evaluate the sensory information I receive. Why should other people have any say in what I can or cannot think because it may happen to be offensive or inappropriate to their sensibilities or offend vague notions and platitudes in favor of diversity.

Equality

"Still, Equality, and I think I have alluded to this before, I think your understanding of what religion is and what role it fulfills may be misguided. I don't study the life of Jesus to learn about Jewish life and rituals 2000 years ago (and if I did want to I could get a book or take a class at school). I study Jesus to learn how to be a better person, to understand the world and my role within it, and to fulfill the spiritual and religious needs that I have."

DCP, Thanks for posting again. I appreciate the chance to discuss these ideas with you. I don't think I ever said the purpose of religion is to learn about history. I think the purpose of a faith community is (1) to help members of the community have uplifting personal spiritual experiences; (2) to help the members of the community learn to love and serve each other; (3) to help members of the community make a positive contribution to the world around them through united action toward a common good. My issues with the LDS Church can be summed up thus: the LDS Church fails miserably on all three counts, as the leaders act as though the members exist to serve the organization rather than the organization existing to serve the members and help them achieve the three purposes I have listed here.

You are correct that my disaffection with the church is not over any particular piece of historical trivia I have learned in the last couple years but is rather over the substantial disconnect between my own personal ethical ideals and the unethical conduct of LDS leaders. As I said in the original post: I believe in truth (the church believes only in convenient truths); I believe in freedom (the church believes in strict obedience to the priesthood hierarchy); I believe in empowerment (the church believes in subservience to the institution); and I believe in respect for conscience (the church believes in submission to priesthood authority). You are right that my personal needs are no longer being met by this unethical organization. That I spent so many years trying to adjust my own moral compass to align with that of the so-called prophets is a source of no small consternation to me.

dpc

Equality, after reading your last comment I get the feeling that Gordon Hinckley must have driven over your dog repeatedly while telling you he purchased the sports car he was doing it with from tithing proceeds. All joking aside, the Mormon Church is not as bad as its detractors maintain, nor as good as its proponents hope. Anything else I have to say on the subject would be superfluous, so I’ll leave it at that.

I think there is a difference between a ‘faith community’ and a religion. I see religion (organized or disorganized) as a system or set of beliefs that regulates interaction between humankind and the divine. I see your definition of faith community as being somewhat ancillary to the main purpose of religion. Every religion isn’t a glorified variation of the Salvation Army after all.

BHodges

One further comment: There are plenty of records of Church trials held in the first decade and a half of the Church where members were tried for word of wisdom violations. While the stricter compliance requirement was not immediate (the largest change being for temple recommend interviews) it has always been expected of members to follow the word of wisdom in some way.

Equality

BHodges,

Thanks for commenting on this very old post. It is true, of course, that church courts were held in the early days of the LDS church in which members were disciplined for violations of the Word of Wisdom (almost always in connection with a charge of public drunkenness, though and not the failure to completely abstain from, say, coffee and tea). But it is also true that the Word of Wisdom as it is currently practiced and enforced in the church was not known to the early church but came about during and after the administration of Heber J. Grant. Are you arguing, BHodges, that Joseph Smith and the brethren who were with him at Carthage, by violating a commandment for which other church members had received church discipline (including excommunication), should have been disciplined by church authorities? Or was Joseph Smith entitled to a special exemption? If violating the Word of Wisdom, as you seem to suggest, was a disciplinable offense, should Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor, and Willard Richards been disciplined? If not, why not? Were they above the laws of the church by which ordinary members were bound?

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