Defining principles (Coffee bad, Coke not so bad, Red Bull…?)

Caffeine debates always get a little sticky for Mormons. I don’t like trying to answer questions about my standards in this area, and I usually end up with something like “We don’t drink tea, but some tea is ok, we don’t drink coffee, but decaf is ok. Coke and Pepsi are ok, even though they have some caffeine, and, uh, …” I’m usually just grateful they didn’t ask about Red Bull or Rock Star or those other tastes-like-a-diaper drinks (according to a friend: ). I suppose they’re not “hot drinks,” but some have as much caffeine as coffee.

This problem in clarity is probably why the three most prominent Mormons in the media (President Hinckley, Mitt Romney, and Napoleon Dynamite) have all said simply that we don’t drink caffeine.


Robert Kirby, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist and a Mormon who admits that he sometimes “sneaks home for a ham sandwich during priesthood meeting,” recently commented on the controversy:

“It’s been a while since the last big (and pointless) caffeine-and-Mormons debate. During one such debate several years ago, I received a letter from a group of Baptist seminary students demanding biblical proof for the LDS stand on caffeine. I sent them Deuteronomy 25:13 and said, “I don’t know how the Lord could possibly make it any clearer.” They wrote back that I was “an unserious man” and to “enjoy myself in Hell.” …Still, the “official” Mormon obedience factor regarding caffeinated soft drinks depends on the Mormon. Liberal Mormons tend to think it’s their own business. Conservative Mormons might drink a Coke in a pinch and repent later. Orthodox Mormons put Pepsi in a subcategory of beer and won’t allow it in their home. Nazi Mormons believe the Lord will give you a boil for simply watching a Dr Pepper commercial.”

My question is, do people need exact definitions of their principles in order to live them? Is that less hypocritical? Or is finding exactness in all areas of life an impossible task? I think that life is too gray sometimes to have completely precise stances on everything. What do you think?

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About shenpa warrior

"Patience is not learned in safety." View all posts by shenpa warrior

23 responses to “Defining principles (Coffee bad, Coke not so bad, Red Bull…?)

  • Allie

    I generally just say that I don’t drink things with caffeine in them. It’s not hard for me, since I don’t really like any soda pop anyway.

    I will occasionally drink a coke to settle my stomach, and I buy coke or Mountain Dew for my Mr. to drink if we are driving late at night.

    Mostly, I think it’s one of those issues where people need to worry more about how they feel they need to obey and less about how other people are obeying.

    🙂

  • WP

    Is it lawful to tie a square knot on the sabbath?

  • adam

    I guess I wasn’t really talking about other people, or any kind of extremes–like square knots: )–I was more interested in our own personal standards, whether religious or not, and following them. Do we need exactness in defining our standards in order to follow them? I think most people do–I know I do sometimes. Without exactness it is hard to commit and stay with anything.

  • WP

    In the overall scheme of things whether or not one drinks a warm beverage with a substance that is verboten matters less to me than being insensitive, uncaring, racially – culturally biased, etc. I have known too many who are strict with the law of trivial things but ignore the weightier matters. How about those Mormons we heard about that threw peaches at the house of a friend of yours because they had sun tanned children? Do you suppose they would have all dropped over, struck down by the hand of God if they tasted coffee?

    Maybe perfection is when you do both, live the little letters and the spirit in full.

    I struggle with my feelings toward too many R’s and too many who live the culture, but come short of the ideals they profess. I have not enough charity and compassion for those who disappoint me.

  • WP

    Before you were born there was an article in a scholarly journal of Mormon thought. It has become legend and certainly did much in my mind to clarify some issues pertaining to the defining of and the process of defining. Though the characterization divided the faithful largely into two groups there is obbvious room for smaller subdivisions. One is not to be interpreted as being better than another, neither can one be esteemed above another, necessarily. I speak of Richard Poll’s metaphors of the “liahonas” and the “iron rodders” in the Church. I recommend your reading of it if you have not done so. To me there are a few very definite matters that are of the ‘iron rod’ category and a great many more that lie outside of that path and await discovery. I tend to believe we are here to gain experience and the apron strings, the restraints have to be removed so we can discover. The path of discipleship (pupilship literally) is one we each have to find. As the Turks would say, “iyiyolculuklar”. Have a good journey!

  • adam

    So it is good to be precise or consistent in the “weightier matters” such as service or compassion, and avoidance of serious offenses, but in arguably smaller areas, it depends? I often feel more like a “liahona” as you put it, but it sure is a lot more comfortable to have everything spelled out. It’s kind of hard to explain the word of wisdom to people, because they usually want exact definitions, not variables.

  • WP

    I am not sure you can be precise with respect to compassion or charity. Do measure it with a scale, record it on the time clock? I do not think so.

    The beauty and the terror of life awaits us, it beckons us and there is no apparent safety net. We are encouraged to grab the bar and let go. Life can be either depending on who and when you are. You can share ‘amistad’ with others or you could have been on the ship under that same name wherein 600 started out from the West African Coast and 200 arrived in Jamaica.

    Remember we all jumped for joy when this was presented to us. I have no doubts about this. I embrace it and love and fear it both.

  • Emily

    I really like how this post relates back to the title of your blog, thanks again for introducing me to this concept.
    While I’m unfortunately pretty attached to my caffeine addiction at the moment–going on 18 years or so thanks to the Coke machines in high school–I recognize it as (often, maybe not always) a response to some kind of uncomfortable feeling and I wonder if part of the underlying purpose of the prohibition on coffee / tobacco / alcohol is to prevent the more likely undue medications of our shenpa. Eating excessively and consuming foods out of season is discouraged as well but I doubt anyone is ever asked about that in a church interview. I think the message is, work on being conscious of your consumption and its effect on you and the world, but since that’s a really lofty goal here are some basic things to start (or not to start) with. The statements we’re talking about have an ecological consciousness WAY ahead of their time…we’re only just now figuring out that it’s better to eat local foods in season?

  • WP

    Do I have to give up bananas and citrus? I like the concept of local, especially when it is from my own tomato patch, but what about the rest? I know the economies of third world countries including farmers are helped to some degree because we buy fruit from Peru, for example. A couple years ago when there was a ban on strawberries it really hurt a lot of people. Help me out here to understand this global vs. local issue…

  • adam

    Emily–I’m curious as well about the out-of-season issue. Obviously fruit in the winter isn’t as good and more expensive, but apparently there are other issues here as well that I am completely ignorant of. Please fill me in. : )

    As for the blog title, I think we all have crutches that we turn to that hurt us in the long run–in many areas of life. It is probably one of the great challenges of life to learn to overcome this tendency to turn to things that don’t really comfort us.

  • ccarico

    The question of precision and exactness in regards to making principles easier to manifest has encouraged an interesting discussion. Thank you. I agree with WP that a detail such as what sort of beverage one should or should not consume is less important then, for example, the loftier ideal of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” One thing that this makes me think of is the difference between *written* rules layed out by *someone else* and one’s own moral compass that was developed internally. I tend to think that written rules and religions created by someone other than yourself often lead to suffering, as they habitually are wrapped in judgment.

    The Germans are known for their precision and exactitude, and it lead to some terrible acts historically. I’m thinking of the concentration camps. Whoever didn’t fit into their precise definition of goodness–lesbians (they were forced to wear black triangles), gays (pink triangles),jews (yellow stars of David), the developmentally disabled, political activists, etc. were sent somewhere else to suffer.

    The most defining principle of the Mormons from my perspective is that millions of dollars were spent to ensure that I (and others in my community) don’t have the right to marry.

  • Allie

    I think it’s a nice idea to be able to say things are black and white, and have all your beliefs categorized, but life doesn’t always work that way. I think it rarely works that way.

    If we are here to learn and to grow, that means that sometimes we’re not going to have all the answers, and sometimes we can’t define our principles exactly.

    Sometimes we have to learn to be comfortable, and accepting even, of inconsistencies. My views on the rights of same sex couples to marry, for instance, are extremely inconsistent. I recognize that, and I wish that I could reconcile them, but I can’t, so it’s an area where I just have to do the best I can with what I have.

  • adam

    I agree that we have to learn (at least I’ve had to) to be ok with being uncomfortable sometimes. Dissonance is almost unavoidable I think. That’s what I like about Sen’s ideas, that we all have multiple identities, and can relate to each other peacefully using our many common ones.

  • Anonymous

    There are personal standards and those principles that are sacred. Exactness may not be required to be a good person, but high standards should be set and kept for those things that are Holy. Why be disrespectful and enter the The Temple after a trip to Starbuck’s?

  • adam

    I completely agree with you, anonymous, but I have to wonder if it is not disrespectful to pig out at a Brazilian buffet until your stomach hurts, and then ‘enter the temple.’ In Japan my mission president counseled us to stop doing the “curry challenge” which was about a 4 dinner size plate of curry in 20 minutes. He thought it was disrespectful, and I agree with him. But the lack of any rule in the area gave the missionaries free reign to get sick from overeating, hence his counsel. And it was not a good example to any healthy Japanese person.

    Sometimes it is easier if I have (even if I decide on them myself) exact definitions of my standards. Although I’m not a soda drinker, I don’t know where I stand on the issue, other than not drinking coffee or most tea as per the WoW. But drinking coke (in principle) all the time or Red Bull seems to be the same as coffee to me.

  • G Male

    If we believe that the Prophet himself spoke God’s mind on the subject of eating and drinking then we cannot be the ones trusted to interpret it in each situation. It is a matter of obedience.

    However we must ask ourselves why Heavenly Father would not have chosen to be more clear on the matter. The rational question that follows is: Did He really say it at all?

  • adam

    G Male–I’m not quite understanding your point. Could you clarify it a little more? Thanks. : )

  • G Male

    What I mean is that reason must play a part in this. It can’t be left to situational interpretation or everyone would come up with different answers. Could God have intended THAT?

    I believe that we must reason and question what we believe and if it doesn’t make sense then we must question why we believe it.

    If I tell children not to eat candy before dinner they can comply. If I tell them never to eat anything “sweet” then the message is fuzzy and they may interpret it to include fruit which isn’t bad for them. If I can be clear enogh for little children to understand me then why is this instruction so vague? Why would a clearly capable Creator be so vague and leave us wondering?

    What I meant is that it makes me wonder about the energy spent on these fuzzy issues when the issues of loving and helping our fellow man are so clear.

    PS: Shenpa Warrior: thanks for the respectful, inclusive tone you have set for us here.

  • adam

    Thanks for responding, g male. I certainly agree that people (my self included) tend to waste time on the lesser matters. Loving/serving our fellow man/woman is certainly more important.

    Personally I think the Creator has left a ton of things up for us to decide. I don’t think we need to be commanded in everything because we need to learn a little on our own to make good decisions using our own agency. Hence, a commandment to love your neighbor, but no commandment to love your neighbor by shoveling his driveway once per week, etc.

    I think the energy gets spent on fuzzy issues because people are uncomfortable with fuzziness, even when it’s a small area. We don’t like being uncomfortable, hence we act in order to eliminate it, whether that’s being more exact, yelling back at someone on the freeway, or turning to other habits to avoid dealing with our shenpa.

  • Emily

    Getting back to you & WP on the local food-in-season issue…I love my organic bananas and I don’t think I could ever give them up even though I am troubled by the amount of CO2 generated in the process of bringing them to my Co-op. I love the idea of helping organic farmers in Mexico & S. America, especially if I can get more information about the source, perhaps grown by a cooperative of family farmers as opposed to some giant Agricorp, etc… It may well be that the net good of buying some products from far-off lands (including Florida) outweighs the negative impacts of transporting them to us. Those are just some of the economic / environmental issues to consider. Then there are also the food quality and food security issues. The more we depend on food from far away the less homeland security we have. You can be sure that many farmers abroad now growing our Monsanto Inc. patented crops are no longer growing food that feeds their own communities either. I read something recently that said the disappearance of farmland in the CA Central Valley is causing summer temperatures to rise there because all the irrigation used to have a cooling effect (adding this to the list of reasons why I could never be paid enough to live in Fresno or Bakersfield).

    I’m in no way advocating for some nutty level of food orthodoxy, I’m way too lazy and fond of imports for that. I just think there are a lot of issues around our food and where it comes from / how it arrives in our stores / what may be at stake / that a lot of people aren’t conscious of. We should probably enjoy our bananas while we can, when we run out of oil they’ll probably not survive their long muletrain voyage through the Andes so well. : )

  • WP

    Thanks for the clarifications.

  • RoAnn

    Maybe the “in season” qualification was partly because most fruits and vegetables usually have the most nutritional value when they are eaten fresh?

  • adam

    Maybe so. I for one definitely enjoy fruits in their season rather than out of the freezer, or imported. Example: mikan (mandarin oranges) were WAY better in season in Japan (and cheaper) than out of season. Not sure about nutritional value, but certainly more enjoyable.

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