Caffeine Withdrawal, the Word of Wisdom, and Intentional Ambiguity…at Wheat and Tares
Today, I will be a zombie for most of the day…but I think it is totally worth it, since I was able to write what I hope will be considered a magnum opus at Wheat & Tares: Caffeine Withdrawal – A Case Scenario of Plausible Deniability. (Of course, I know that having such lofty expectations will inevitably jinx the article to be a tremendous flop…especially since it was written at 4AM so I probably made a lot of dealbreaking errors.)
There have actually been a few posts circulating in my head, and that I had intended to write one article addressing all of them. I wanted to write about correlation, and the fact that correlation, rather than creating a unified doctrine and unified church culture, actually creates striations or granular generations of church members. I wanted to write about how I think that the striations are strategic — they allow for a flexibility of belief, practice, and culture, and avoid some of the “alienation” issues that come with heel-face turns. I wanted to write about the fact that between “generations” in the church, there is often a complete lack of awareness or communication about this process…so one generation may find one thing completely orthodox, and another generation may find another thing completely orthodox –and never will the two generations realize that the other generation believes something totally different, because each takes his own position so much for granted that there is no ambiguity in his own mind about how things must be.
When the Rock Center special Mormon in America came out, and the Mormon Newsroom responded about whether caffeine (via sodas) was prohibited by the Word of Wisdom or not, I didn’t think much of it. But then I learned that the statement I had read was a modified statement…and I scoured the before and after statements for changes:
OLD (emphasis added):
Despite what was reported, the Church does not prohibit the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines, known in our scriptures as “the Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 89), prohibits alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. The restriction does not go beyond this.
NEW (emphasis added):
Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. *
I thought the changes were disappointingly small. Like…what was the point…and then, I started to see the point — to make almost imperceptible changes that would nevertheless be more ambiguous in the end than the original statement. Then I grew excited — this could be the centerpiece to focus my discussion on correlation!
…but I had other ideas too…so many of my recent articles have been able in some way pointing out the situatedness of so much of Mormonism — culture, doctrine, belief, institution, you name it. We take for granted so many aspects. We infuse nearly everything with folk doctrine or culture — perhaps because even leaders can promulgate folk doctrine from the perspective of correlation. That is, we cannot assume — though we often do — that just because past prophets or current prophets said something, that it therefore represents gospel truth.
I wanted to unveil this mechanism…point out its insufficiency…I don’t do this to tear down the church (necessarily), but rather to offer a way for it to be revitalized. I mean, I don’t want to sound like a shill for the church either, but if some of the issues faced were issues of culture/folk doctrine/whatever, then shouldn’t it at least be possible to flout these things in a gloriously subversive return on your own terms? Perhaps I’m being over-idealistic.
…anyway, I just HAD to try to infuse my latest Wheat & Tares post with action items. And that made it even longer…at 3,000 words, it’s my longest Wheat & Tares post to date (I think…at least, I hope I haven’t ever gone that long…), so there is no question that to add any other topics to the discussion would be inappropriate. I am just setting this post out here to let you know: one day, I will get to other posts.