Galen, Holmes & Hot Drinks

October 18, 2004 | 29 comments
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One of the odder bits of Mormon interpretation is the strange life of “hot drinks.� These are the actual beverages forbidden by the Word of Wisdom. As we all know they have come to mean coffee and tea with hot chocolate and Diet Coke forming border cases for some, and no one really objecting to herb tea or hot cider. What is going on here?

Who knows. Here is my theory. I think that the original concern with hot drinks had to do with essentially pre-modern notions of disease. Until about the mid-19th century the dominant theory of disease in the west revolved around the idea of humors. Enshrined in a Roman medical text by an man named Galen, which continued in use for a millennia and a half, the theory of humors claimed that the body was regulated by the balance of various fluids (humors) such as blood, bile, etc. When these humors got out of balance disease resulted. One cured disease by restoring the balance medically, for example with leeches. A key part of the humor theory of disease was the concept of temperature. When humors got too cold or too hot disease could result. Hence, it was important not to get “over heated� because of the effect that it could have on the humors.

My grasp of medical history is exceedingly tenuous, but my understanding is that in the 1830s the humor theory was enjoying its final happy hours of dominance, to be replaced in the next two generations by the germ theory of disease. If this is right, then the prohibition on “hot drinks� would have made sense in terms of Galen’s categories of humors and balance. Note, the medical danger here was the temperature of the drinks themselves.

So where did our concern with caffeine come from? My theory is that John A. Widstoe was responsible. Trained as a chemist and familiar with modern theories of medicine, he reinterpreted the Word of Wisdom in modern scientific terms. Hence, the problem with hot drinks was shifted from their baneful effect on the humors to the baneful effects of caffeine. Widstoe was studying chemistry in Germany about the time that caffeine was first synthetically produced in Berlin. It made a bit of a splash in academic chemistry at the time and Widstoe would certainly have followed the issue.)= Hence, when Widstoe and his wife published The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation they provided a litany of contemporary medical evidence against chemical stimulants. Thus, “hot drinks� became “coffee and tea� not – as is sometimes asserted in Sunday School and Seminary – because that was the “original understanding� of the term, but because this rather narrow definition fitted the ratio juris posited by Widstoe.

Today, Widstoe’s interpretation has not been entirely triumphant. While caffeine is universally identified as the culprit in coffee and tea it has never been consistently and rigorously applied in interpreting the meaning of “hot drinks.� To continue the legal analogy we have a rule that is both over and underinlusive when framed in terms of caffeine, but which becomes largely incoherent when framed in terms of its original meaning.

The persistence of the “hot drinks� prohibition neatly illustrates Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr’s theory of legal development. According to Holmes, rules of law are the product of historical development. They arise in one context, based on one set of justifications. With a change in the “felt necessities of the times,� the original justification for a rule fades away. Rules survive or fall into desuetude based on their ability to find new justifications. Thus, Holmes argued that the origin of the strange rule of admiralty law that a ship was held liable for debts as though it were a person originally sprang from the belief that ships had souls. The rule thus was analogous to the rule of deodad under which a weapon that killed a man must be destroyed. (Because, says Holmes, the weapon was animate and responsible in part for the death.) Deodad has fallen by the wayside of the law, but the in rem limitation in admiralty has survived, not because we still think that ships have souls but weapons do not, but because the rule found a new justification in arguments about the commercial usefulness of limited liability. By the same token, the prohibition on “hot drinks� survives because of its ability to be reinterpreted in light of the felt necessities of a new time.

It would seem that the life of revelation has also not been logic but experience.

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29 Responses to Galen, Holmes & Hot Drinks

  1. Kim Siever on October 18, 2004 at 9:17 am

    “Thus, “hot drinksâ€? became “coffee and teaâ€? not – as is sometimes asserted in Sunday School and Seminary – because that was the “original understandingâ€? of the term, but because this rather narrow definition fitted the ratio juris posited by Widstoe.”

    It is important to note that even Brigham Young understood that hot drinks referred to coffee and tea.

    “I have heard it argued that tea and coffee are not mentioned therein; that is very true; but what were the people in the habit of taking as hot drinks when that revelation was given? Tea and coffee. We were not in the habit of drinking water very hot, but tea and coffee—the beverages in common use” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 182).

  2. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 9:33 am

    Kim: You are quite correct here. My point is that the survival of this particular interpretation flows from Widstoe’s ratio juris rather than allegiance to original meaning per se.

    For example, when the Statute of Frauds (which is still in effect in every U.S. state except Lousiana) was passed by the English Parliament in the 1677 it stated that no contract whose perfromance would require more than a year could be enforced unless made in writing. It has the same meaning today. Originally, the Statute was passed — in part — as a way of controlling arbitary jury verdicts. In England, they abolished trial by jury in contract cases and eventually repealed the Statute of Frauds. In America we maintained juries and the Statute of Frauds, but as other mechanisms for controlling juries were developed the interpretation of the writing requirement was narrowed in various ways. The persistence of the meaning (and its subtle shift over time) as as much to do with the justifications given for the rule as for allegiance to its original meaning. To a certain extent, the same thing has happened, I would submit, to the Word of Wisdom.

    (Note, Widstoe is not the first Mormon to be concerned by chemical stimulents, he just gave that interpretation its most complete and scientific form.)

  3. Silas S on October 18, 2004 at 10:02 am

    “While caffeine is universally identified as the culprit in coffee and tea it has never been consistently and rigorously applied in interpreting the meaning of ‘hot drinks.’”

    Universally? Not quite. Many, many Latter-day Saints now view tanin as the suspect ingredient in coffee and tea, not caffeine. Tanin can cause cancer in rats and is not found in hot chocolate, herbal teas or, of course, hot water — none of which have been specifically proscribed.

  4. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 10:04 am

    I hadn’t heard the tanin thing before. Widstoe would be proud!

  5. SFW on October 18, 2004 at 10:32 am

    Nate: “By the same token, the prohibition on “hot drinksâ€? survives because of its ability to be reinterpreted in light of the felt necessities of a new time.”

    Silas: “Many, many Latter-day Saints now view tanin as the suspect ingredient in coffee and tea, not caffeine.”

    It seems that a shift of focus among LDS — from the evils of caffeine to the evils of tannin — merely would be another attempt to scientifically justify the prophets’ admonitions and interpretations. (I understand why some members feel compelled toward such justifications, but I can’t say that I agree with the tactic.) If Silas’ statement is accurate, it only supports Nate’s idea of a reinterpretation and continuation of the rule to answer for new found knowledge about the substances contained in coffee and tea.

  6. john fowles on October 18, 2004 at 10:54 am

    Nate, what happens to this theory when we consider the WoW as literal revelation and not simply as the man JS trying to introduce a health code based on an absurd “humors” theory of medicine?

  7. Aaron Brown on October 18, 2004 at 11:32 am

    John,

    If we insist on viewing the specific textual content of the WofW as having been orally recited verbatim by God to Joseph, then Nate’s theory may be problematic. However, perhaps it’s better not to understand “revelation� in this way. Among other reasons for doing so, it’s worth remembering that the specific prohibitions in the WofW bear a remarkable resemblance to early 19th Century “medical� advice that was popular among health reformers, particularly in New England. One might conclude from this that what made the list of specific, enumerated substances in the WofW was as much a product of conventional wisdom as much as it was a cosmic list of prohibitions supplied by God. One could then argue that the “revelatory� aspect of the WofW had more to do with the adoption of some sort of dietary prohibition – never mind its specific content. Or argue that God revealed the need for some sort of abstinence rule tied to “unhealthy� ingestion, regardless of the specific taboos to be included.

    Or not. Maybe there are better ways of looking at the issue. But it seems to me that insisting on viewing the WofW as a “revelation� in the more “literal� sense requires one to explain the rather odd coincidence of God revealing a health code to Joseph Smith at the same time that everybody else was pitching the same insights.

    Aaron B

  8. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 11:34 am

    John: I think that the word of wisdom is a literal revelation. (Subject to a lifetime of kibbitzing about what that means. Bottom line: I think it comes from God and has divine authority.) Furthermore, I don’t think that the humor theory of medicine was absurd. It turned out to be largely wrong, but that doesn’t make it absurd. Very smart people believed the humor theory for well over a thousand years. It is unlikely that they were all simply deluded ignoramouses. Have a bit more respect for Galen, will you.

    As for reconciling my “history of the hermeneutics” with the “truth of revelation,” here are some options:

    1. God chose the phrase “hot drinks” because he knew of its versatility. He knew that it could be fitted into Galen’s theory of health as well as into a chemical-based vision of health. Hence, it was a commandment that could be made medically intelligible regardless of the particular medical theory held by the saints.

    2. The revelation of the Word of Wisdom is not completely “pure” — that is uncontaminated by the world-view of Joseph Smith. Hence, mixed in with the divine we find the merely 19th-century. We rely on modern prophets, e.g. Widstoe, to provide inspired reinterpretations that make the revelations relavent and intelligible in our day. Because revelation — including prophetic reinterpretations such as Widstoe’s — always contain the risk of “contamination” from their historical context, we cannot be absolutely certain that any particular prophetic announcement is “pure” revelation merely because it is a prophetic announcement. Not to worry. Prophets are still inspired enough to accomplish God’s purposes. We just still have to have faith in God.

    3. The revelation is given in 19th-century idiom, which invariably means that it will contain hidden (and not so hidden) references to 19th-century concepts and ideas. Proper interpretation of the scripture involves finding the universal concepts or principles to which the 19th century concepts are (imperfectly) referring. [Note 3 is a variation of 2.]

    4. There is some sharp distinction between the text of the revelations and the interpretive glosses we give to them, particularlly when those glosses are dependent on particular scientific or philosophical theories. The purpose of the glosses is to find some inner meaning of the text that is not immediately apparent on its surface. The text is “literal revelation” but the glosses are not.

    There are no doubt other alternatives, and you can probably combine these different approaches or adopt different ones in different circumstances, e.g. maybe I think that some revelations are more “infected” with the 19th century than other revelations. They point out, however, that there is some room between “JS trying to introduce a health code based on absurd “humors” theory of medicine” and “literal revelation.” Or perhaps I should say (in a nod to Jim who wants to keep the devil from getting the good words like “literal” and “postmodern”) there is some room for differing understandings withing the “literal revelation” camp.

  9. Rosalynde Welch on October 18, 2004 at 11:42 am

    Interesting, Nate, but I don’t think your humor-model theory is correct. The vocabulary of humors persisted for some time through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but in greatly attenuated fashion and without its essentially pre-modern analogical framework behind it. (By the way, John, the theory of humors may seem absurd from our perspective, but proved a remarkably flexible and successful model of the body for many centuries–and, in many ways, is being re-invented in our current infatuation with holistic and herbal medicine.) Not only was the abstention from hot liquids never a therapeutic tenet of the humoral model at any point of which I’m aware, but the serious and theraputic invocation of the humoral model would be anachronistic in Joseph’s milieu.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on October 18, 2004 at 11:44 am

    Oops, Nate’s comment hadn’t posted when I posted–didn’t mean to reprimand you twice for your “absurd humors” comment, John! :)

  11. john fowles on October 18, 2004 at 11:51 am

    Another reason for the continual need for reinterpretation might be the fact that the WoW was not given as a commandment at first, but only made so later on. When given, since it was not a commandment, there was less need for the type of line-drawing that fascinates us today because of the strict prohibitions that the WoW now creates for us.

  12. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 12:16 pm

    Rosalynde: You may be right. As I said, my grasp of medical history is exceedingly tenuous. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that there is almost always a major intellectual time lag in Mormonism. Hence, medical theories that were rejected a generation or two before by intellectual elites could well be quite current among Mormons on the frontier. (This happened with Mormon legal thinking a great deal in the 19th century.) The humor theory was alive and well at least into th 1790s. (Washington was bled to death in order to balance the humors, etc.) I have read correspondence between Benjamin Rush (a physician ) and John Adams in which Rush expresses concern about Adam’s overheating his system. As I recall the letters were written in the first or second decades of the 19th century. I agree with you that all of the detailed analogical and astrological connections with humors may have been fading by the 19th century, although it is worth noting that astrology and the like had a certain currency among early Mormons. I have no idea if they were interested in the connections between Galen’s ideas and astrology.

  13. J. Stapley on October 18, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    There are a lot of interesting scientific interpretations of the WoW, but any attempt to make such a justification is doomed. Yes, one can assert that coffee is bad for you, but there is plenty of evidence that alcohol is good for you. There is no question that eating Twinkies is worse than drinking beer. Moreover, it is impossible to receive the “blessings� of the WoW while being obese. One can make a case for caffeine, tannins (by the way, there are plenty of people that say these are good for you), or whatever the hot button is that we feel inspired to push in order to justify our dietary code, but times and our understandings change.

    Personally, the best interpretation (or the one that lacks contradictions) of the WoW proscriptions is on a cultural level. That is to say that at any given time, some of the counsel of the WoW is adopted as commandment in a dynamic manner. The aspects which are adopted as commandment are those which relate to Temple worthiness. These aspects are adopted for cultural reasons, not for the health benefits.

    But alas, we are compelled to justify the WoW on scientific grounds and to contribute to the centuries of spin and folklore.

  14. J. Stapley on October 18, 2004 at 1:21 pm
  15. MDS on October 18, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    I’m surprised that you haven’t heard the spiel about tanen/tanic acid/tannic acid. A quick google search for Word of Wisdom together with those terms yields several hits. I think Talmage first addressed this.

  16. John H on October 18, 2004 at 2:02 pm

    I tend to think of the WoW as a revelation as well, though I like Aaron and Nate’s interpretations that the revelation most likely would not be free from the influence of Joseph’s mind.

    However, the way the WoW is interpreted today seems more a product of Mormon culture than of applying revelation accurately. Abstaining from a handful of things and piling all the evil on them seems to be the natural human tendency to make things simple and clear-cut. Chances are, if you saw a ward member pigging out at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you wouldn’t think twice about it. But if you caught them sipping a glass of wine, you’d definitely notice. Diets, exercise, healthy eating, etc. aren’t black and white, which is what we tend to be drawn to. So instead we’ve made coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco the whipping post of the WoW.

    Now for a fun story for all us Coke lovers: A friend of mine read a book on the history of caffeine (he said it was fascinating, actually). It turns out that cola companies get their caffeine from coffee companies that remove the caffeine for the decaf coffee. So take heart – when you drink a Coke, you are literally drinking the caffeine taken from coffee.

  17. Ivan Wolfe on October 18, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    Cranberry juice has tanins. Perhaps we should ban that as well?

  18. Ivan Wolfe on October 18, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    Cranberry juice has tanins. Perhaps we should ban that as well?

  19. Glen Henshaw on October 18, 2004 at 4:32 pm

    I second J. Shapley. I would suggest that the WofW has at its core the same purpose as the Jewish dietary codes from the Old Testament — that is, to make us a unique people, set apart from the larger society through a unique set of dietary practices. That some of those dietary practices have scientifically supportable medical benefits is great, but secondary. In order to accomplish the primary purpose, though, the dietary guidelines could be almost random.

    It’s always tricky to justify doctrinal matters scientifically. In part that is because scientific knowledge is always advancing. This is especially true of medical knowledge; ten years ago alcohol was thought to be bad for you. Now it’s known that in moderate amounts it has some very beneficial effects. Ten years from now more negative effects may be discovered.

    It’s also tricky because so much scientific truth is situational — in terms of diet, for instance, what’s good for you (moderate amounts of red wine) may be very bad for me (if I were susceptible to alcoholism). As a consequence, it’s really hard to interpret a commandment, which is by definition generally applicable, as a scientific principle, which has many shades of grey.

  20. J. Stapley on October 18, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    Tannins are a group of compounds that include a bunch of antioxidants such as flavinoids. That is, tannins in general are not bad. In fact, Green tea is prized for its high tannin/antioxidant content. And for those who are in the Natural/Antioxidant/Granola fervor – Tannins Rock.

  21. jpatch on October 18, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    Slight digression: The term “humor” has been retained in immunology (ie. humoral immunity.) It’s the arm of the immune response that produces antibodies, which circulate in our blood.

  22. Justin on October 18, 2004 at 6:36 pm

    Hmm. I had a missionary companion who told investigators that they should avoid coffee and tea because (1) they contain tannins;(2) tannins are used in tanning animal skins to make leather;(3) and one would be crazy to keep drinking any substance that would reduce your stomach lining into something resembling leather.

  23. J. Stapley on October 18, 2004 at 7:48 pm

    I wonder if we fed cattle coffee, then we could make wallets out of the stomachs with little extra processing? I have to admit that before today, I had never heard the tannin thing. And I don’t want to belabor the issue, but I am completely astounded. For the record: whole grains (e.g., whole wheat) have tannins in them – hence a darker color. Maybe this is why the sacrament is only true with white bread.

  24. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 19, 2004 at 8:58 am

    Hmm, not to make too much out of history or the early temperance movement or anything else, but the term “hot drinks” had a specific cultural meaning — coffee and tea — at the time of the revelation that is the Word of Wisdom.

    You are all too young to remember a time when young children were considered too young to be allowed coffee or tea, but that general use and approach was a part of the non-LDS world when I was young.

    Anyway.

    Visit my blog, http://ethesis.blogspot.com/

    :)

  25. Justin on October 19, 2004 at 9:37 am

    I looked into some of Widtsoe’s writings and found the following passage in his book Joseph Smith as Scientist (pp. 92-93):

    “Besides caffeine, both tea and coffee contain an astringent known as tannic acid. In coffee this substance is present only in small quantity, but in tea from four to twelve percent occurs. Tannic acid is the substance found in oak bark, and has the property of making animal tissues hard—that is, makes leather of them. The habitual tea drinker subjects the delicate lining of the stomach and intestines to the action of this powerful drug.”

    Sounds similar to the argument made by my mission companion.

  26. Max Lybbert on October 19, 2004 at 10:39 am

    Although many people who post on this blog disagree with me about when the WoW applies, I believe we all agree it is some form of revelation. We have also heard about the health benefits of following the WoW, just as I’ve heard of the financial management benefits people have when donating money to several kinds of charities (apparently, on average, donors know more about financial management than non-donors). I don’t believe financial management skills or health benefits to be reasons to pay tithing or follow the WoW, although I find them interesting “dicta.”

    Since many modern investigators immediately wonder why coffee and tea are prohibited (and seem to accept the caffeine or tannic acid stories), it isn’t hard for me to accept that 19th century investigators probably used their understanding of health and medicine to rationalize the WoW’s prohibitions as well.

    For the record, I have heard the tannic acid story, and understood it to explain away why coffee is prohibited, but chocolate is OK, and nobody agrees on caffeinated sodas. Indians in the part of California where I grew up made acorn flour, but had to get rid of the tannic acid in the acorns to do so.

    And, for the record, I would prefer to drink caffeinated sodas if the alternative were contaminated water.

  27. J. Stapley on October 19, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    Justin
    Kudos on your reference to the Widtsoe book, it is a classic. I will, however, venture to make a couple of clarifications. Widstoe was speaking from a very limited scientific perspective. In that book he also talks about the “Ether� (the antecedent to Einstein’s relativity). I don’t mention that to say that he was fallacious, but to illustrate that his perspective was limited. As such, there is a huge diversity of tannins (much as there are lots of types of carbohydrates). Some, in their purified and modified forms are used in tanning. Most are passive and many are antioxidants. The tannins from oak and acorns are quite different than those in tea.

    Sugar and salt both have the property of making animal tissue hard. But we need salt to survive! To use Widtsoe’s example as a contemporary justification for the WoW is not only anachronistic, but also wrong.

  28. John Young on October 19, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    This connection between humor theory and the WoW may be worth looking into, but we need a more sound understanding of the theories propounded by Galen and his redactors right off the top. Humor theory held that the body maintains a balance of four basic humors–blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile–which correspond to temperature (hot or cold) and moisture (wet or dry). Though I need to refresh my memory (it’s been awhile since my undergrad medical history class), I think blood is hot and dry, phlegm cold and wet, black bile cold and dry, and yellow bile hot and wet (phlegm and yellow bile may be reversed, I can’t remember). It was thought that each person was dominated by one of the humors–hence the four personalities (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic).

    If the level of any one of these humors was out of balance, the body became inflicted with some kind of illness, either of body or of mind. Bleeding, cupping, use of natural laxatives, etc. were used to treat humoral imbalance. Too much cold was just as much a problem as too much heat in this pre-modern view of physiology. This being the case, why does the WoW not forbid excessively cold water as well as hot drinks?

    Still, this theory may hold some merit. In order to comprehend the connection, one would need to research the folk medicine of eighteenth and nineteenth century American folk medicine, looking for both theory and practice. As has been correctly pointed out, humor theory changed significantly, both chronologically and geographically, over its extraordinarily long life. It is impossible to generalize for any specific place and time without conducting a very thorough investigation.

    In the end, we must acknowledge that the WoW is a very complex document with a long and complex history. On the one hand, it is laden with folk medicine (e.g., tobacco is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle) and borrowings from other religious traditions (e.g., teetotaling, eating meat sparingly, etc.) and thus very much arises from its context. Yet on the other hand, it transcends its context (to say one will be physically healthy, rather than simply spiritually-blessed, by following this law is really significant). So Bushman’s argument that Joseph both arose from and transcended his time continues to hold true.

    Widtsoe’s theory about tannic acid sounds like yet another effort (perhaps he was the origin of this trend) to “prove” the validity of Mormonism via scientific or other intellectual discovery, much like the linkage of the Mayan feathered-serpent god with the Savior. It may hold some amount of truth, but it hardly serves as total validation for our beliefs. And excessive adherence to such theories can lead to trouble. Case it point–a group of young men in a South African branch I served in as a missionary took to castigating their leaders for drinking bush tea (rooibos)–something nearly every household, including most Mormons, in South Africa drinks–because it contained tannic acid. They began to preach tannic teetotaling in youth meetings (unfortunately, the entire young men’s presidency were the ringleaders of this movement) and young adult gatherings, and they nearly became convinced that their branch president, the missionaries, etc. were in an advanced state of apostasy because they drank Coke or Rooibos. Fortunately, a very powerful “clarify the doctrine” fireside, featuring myself and the branch president staved off an advanced secret combination. I found out recently that the most ardent anti-rooibos proponent is now the branch president.

  29. John Young on October 19, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    This connection between humor theory and the WoW may be worth looking into, but we need a more sound understanding of the theories propounded by Galen and his redactors right off the top. Humor theory held that the body maintains a balance of four basic humors–blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile–which correspond to temperature (hot or cold) and moisture (wet or dry). Though I need to refresh my memory (it’s been awhile since my undergrad medical history class), I think blood is hot and dry, phlegm cold and wet, black bile cold and dry, and yellow bile hot and wet (phlegm and yellow bile may be reversed, I can’t remember). It was thought that each person was dominated by one of the humors–hence the four personalities (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic).

    If the level of any one of these humors was out of balance, the body became inflicted with some kind of illness, either of body or of mind. Bleeding, cupping, use of natural laxatives, etc. were used to treat humoral imbalance. Too much cold was just as much a problem as too much heat in this pre-modern view of physiology. This being the case, why does the WoW not forbid excessively cold water as well as hot drinks?

    Still, this theory may hold some merit. In order to comprehend the connection, one would need to research the folk medicine of eighteenth and nineteenth century American folk medicine, looking for both theory and practice. As has been correctly pointed out, humor theory changed significantly, both chronologically and geographically, over its extraordinarily long life. It is impossible to generalize for any specific place and time without conducting a very thorough investigation.

    In the end, we must acknowledge that the WoW is a very complex document with a long and complex history. On the one hand, it is laden with folk medicine (e.g., tobacco is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle) and borrowings from other religious traditions (e.g., teetotaling, eating meat sparingly, etc.) and thus very much arises from its context. Yet on the other hand, it transcends its context (to say one will be physically healthy, rather than simply spiritually-blessed, by following this law is really significant). So Bushman’s argument that Joseph both arose from and transcended his time continues to hold true.

    Widtsoe’s theory about tannic acid sounds like yet another effort (perhaps he was the origin of this trend) to “prove” the validity of Mormonism via scientific or other intellectual discovery, much like the linkage of the Mayan feathered-serpent god with the Savior. It may hold some amount of truth, but it hardly serves as total validation for our beliefs. And excessive adherence to such theories can lead to trouble. Case it point–a group of young men in a South African branch I served in as a missionary took to castigating their leaders for drinking bush tea (rooibos)–something nearly every household, including most Mormons, in South Africa drinks–because it contained tannic acid. They began to preach tannic teetotaling in youth meetings (unfortunately, the entire young men’s presidency were the ringleaders of this movement) and young adult gatherings, and they nearly became convinced that their branch president, the missionaries, etc. were in an advanced state of apostasy because they drank Coke or Rooibos. Fortunately, a very powerful “clarify the doctrine” fireside, featuring myself and the branch president staved off an advanced secret combination. I found out recently that the most ardent anti-rooibos proponent is now the branch president.

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