Word of Wisdom/Temporal salvation of the early Saints
The Word of Wisdom and the Temporal Salvation of the early Saints
As the authors so giddily point out, it wasn't until 1851 that Brigham Young suggested that the Word of Wisdom receive serious discussion and widespread observance among the Saints. Earlier, in 1850, Young met with several other leaders of the Church in a room of his home to pray. They emerged from the meeting with a renewed conviction of the importance of the Word of Wisdom. Over the next two decades, Young would continue to increase his emphasis on obedience to the principle. "Then by 1867 Brigham Young began campaigning for a stronger emphasis on the Word of Wisdom. The Women's' Relief Society and the School of the Prophets were both organized in each Mormon community and adopted rules requiring Word of Wisdom observance. At that time the primary reason for the increased stress on the Word of Wisdom was economic."8 At the time, the Utah Saints were struggling desperately to create and maintain a self-sufficient economy. This required them to develop their own resources while providing jobs for the hundreds of new converts arriving in Utah on a daily basis. Controlling their cash outflow was needed for the home economy and to aid the gathering of Saints to Utah (a task that required large sums of cash). The Mormons could not afford to waste money importing alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. Young's reasoning was that strict observance of the Word of Wisdom would indeed aid in the temporal salvation of the Saints: …economic factors played a major if not sole role in the increased Word of Wisdom observance in the 1860's and 1870's. There are some who suggest that the early Saints never took the Word of Wisdom seriously until Brigham Young used the revelation as the perfect tool to enlist the assistance of Saints in supporting the emigration efforts. The Word of Wisdom would thus have been revealed for this later purpose of addressing the cash leak problem which would have hindered the gathering of Saints in the Salt Lake Valley. Since the Word of Wisdom tells us that it was revealed for the "temporal" salvation of the Saints, it is significant to recall that the gathering of Saints formed the foundation of their temporal salvation.9 So, it seems that Smith's "inspired introduction" to the Word of Wisdom, which contained the prophetic advice that adherence to Word of Wisdom standards would result in the temporal salvation of the Saints, was, quite literally, fulfilled. The prophecy of temporal salvation also finds dual fulfillment in the fact that, in general, Mormons who are faithful to the principles espoused by the revelation tend to live a healthier, more productive life. Many of the health benefits associated with abstinence from the substances mentioned in the Word of Wisdom did not become clear until the latter part of the twentieth century. During World War I use of cigarettes among men became widespread, and during World War II, among women. The association of cigarette smoking with lung cancer was documented in the early 1950s, but official statements by scientific bodies accepting this relationship as causal did not occur until the mid-1960s. Since that time, many other diseases have been associated with cigarette smoking, including cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus, kidney, bladder, and pancreas; peptic ulcers; coronary heart disease; chronic bronchitis; infant mortality; and chronic obstructive airway disease. Studies have found that Latter-day Saints have substantially lower risk for all of these illnesses (30-80 percent below that of non-Mormons living in Utah or in other areas of the United States) and that people who abstain from these substances are at much lower risk of these diseases than those who do not. Few health risks have been clearly identified with the use of tea and coffee, though some evidence suggests that those who abstain from coffee may be at lower risk for peptic ulcers, cancer of the pancreas, and coronary heart disease. Some studies estimate that those complying with the Word of Wisdom increase their life expectancy up to seven years.10 In the Hearts of Conspiring Men The prophecy contained in verse four of the Word of Wisdom has seen fulfillment every bit as dramatic as the prophecy in verse three. Verse four (which was originally the formal beginning of the revelation) indicates that the revelation was given "in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days." The verse also calls the revelation a "forewarning." One need not look very far in modern times to discern some of the evil designs that men have conspired to perpetrate in regards to the health of man. For example, on March 18, 1996 a former Philip Morris scientist told federal regulators that the company controlled nicotine levels in cigarettes to assure continued sales.11 More succinctly, tobacco makers were "spiking" their products with increased doses of nicotine in order to ensure addiction and thus assure continued consumption of what was known to be a dangerous product. Furthermore, there is evidence that these "conspiring men" conspired to market these dangerously addictive products to kids.12 All of this was done behind the scenes at the same time the CEOs of every major cigarette manufacturer stood before Congress and, with their arms raised, swore that they believed nicotine was not addictive. Moreover, cigarette manufactures are not the only ones guilty of such behavior. A recent report by CNN indicated that the seemingly benign soft drink industry stands accused of a similar behavior of spiking their beverages with caffeine in order to increase sales through the perpetuation of addiction.13 It is also a fact that alcohol, whose destructive effects on society are well documented, is marketed, usually quite openly, to underage adolescents14. Taken as a whole, it is quite clear that the prophecy found in verse four has found astonishing and complete fulfillment. Unfortunately, I must concede one point to the authors. While I have already pointed out that the consumption of coffee and tea is not prohibited due to the caffeine content, it is true that caffeine is a drug and does have a deleterious effect on humans. It is addictive and can, in very high doses, be dangerous. It is due to this fact that this reviewer does not drink caffeinated beverages of any kind. However, it is also true that some Mormons do enjoy cola drinks and other soft drinks that contain caffeine. The Church has no official stand on caffeine as it pertains to the Word of Wisdom. However, Bruce R. McConkie, a former Apostle of the Church has said: There are many other substances which have a harmful effect on the human body, though such particular things are not specifically prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. Certainly the partaking of cola drinks, though not included within the measuring standard … [of the Word of Wisdom] is in violation of the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. Harmful drugs of any sort are in a like category.15 At this time, however, the Lord has not seen fit to include caffeine as a substance forbidden by the revelation. Thus, some Latter-day Saints do partake of these things without endangering their worthiness to enter the temple. Despite this fact, it is still true that the majority of faithful Mormons comply with the Word of Wisdom as it is currently understood and interpreted and they have reaped the benefits, both temporal and spiritual of their obedience to this principle.==
== 8 Leonard J. Arrington, "An Economic Interpretation of the Word of Wisdom," Brigham Young University Studies, 1 (Winter 1959): 39, as quoted in Mike Ash, "Up in Smoke: A Response to the Tanner's Criticism of the Word of Wisdom" (Unpublished FAIR paper, 2000), 54.
9 Ash, "Up in Smoke," 68.
10 Daniel H. Ludlow (editor), Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), 1585.
14 See http://wellness.okstate.edu/health_topics_F/Tobacco_Alcohol_2.htm; also David M. Halbfinger, "Selling Alcohol Disguised As Punch," The New York Times Week in Review Desk (27 July 27 1997): A25.
15 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 845.