How to treat that whole “no brandy” story?

October 14, 2004 | 69 comments
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I was discussing the Word of Wisdom with my wife Mardell, and she came up with a really good question. One of the things which surprises many members who look at all into church history is the discovery that the current Word of Wisdom was not strictly followed by early church leaders. Joseph Smith is documented (post-Word of Wisdom) to have drunk wine and beer with other church leaders and smoked pipes. He also drank coffee regularly (thus, the fight he had with Emma about his coffee). In the end, this turns out to be less shocking given the historical context; as pointed out in prior comments, the Word of Wisdom did not really achieve its current status until around the time of prohibition. It wasn’t enforced as a commandment, and early church leaders, including Joseph Smith, regularly took substances that would be banned today.

That’s not a big deal so far; it’s just a historical misunderstanding, and makes sense in context. But then, as Mardell pointed out, a new question pops up: What are we to make of the oft-told “no brandy” story? You know, child Joseph Smith had to undergo an excruciatingly painful surgery, and he refused to take brandy to dull his senses. Today, we hear that framed as some sort of implied pre-recognition of Word of Wisdom principles. But why would Joseph Smith refuse brandy as a child (pre-WoW), sensing some cosmic rule, but then go on to use alcohol, coffee, and tobacco as an adult (post-WoW)? His later alcohol use seems to cast the whole idea that we can draw principles from the no-brandy story into doubt. So what (if anything) can we take from the no-brandy story, given Joseph Smith’s subsequent behavior? I’m not sure — any ideas?

69 Responses to How to treat that whole “no brandy” story?

  1. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 14, 2004 at 10:57 pm

    The point of the no-brandy story was that he refused to let himself be drugged into insensiateness. Moderation, on the otherhand?

  2. Ben S. on October 14, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    I think it’s a case of missionaries and others reading the WoW back into history. It’s “presentism.” It happens with missionaries and the NT too.

    Investigator “Jesus drank wine. Why can’t I?”

    Missionary: “Wine in the NT wasn’t alcoholic. It was just grape juice.”

    Brother S: “Actually, it was alcoholic. It’s called prophets. The Word of Wisdom is expressly given because of circumstances in our day (D&C 89:4). Joseph Smith said that “God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said, “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed.” But while Jesus did create good wine for the wedding at Cana in JOhn 2, he refused ‘hard’ drugs- wine with myrrh in it, which generally caused halucinations. The Bible doesn’t condemn alcohol, just drunkeness and loss of control.”

    Missionary: “Oh.”

  3. Julie in Austin on October 14, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    Gee, I’d think as a parent the answer to this one would be obvious: children will not drink medicine that tastes gross. Period.

  4. Jim F. on October 14, 2004 at 11:30 pm

    One night when my youngest daugher was about eight, she had a very bad cold one night and was unable to sleep. Finally I poured a couple of teaspoons of rum (from our cooking storage), put it in a glass of juice or something, and had her drink it: homemade Nyquil. She drank it but sputtered and complained. And she has never since been tempted to drink alcohol.

    I’m not making a recommendation here, either for having rum in the house or for giving it to your kids to teach them not to drink. Just telling a story that is vaguely relevant.

  5. Melissa on October 14, 2004 at 11:41 pm

    For some the no-brandy story has nothing to do with the alcohol but rather the numbing of pain. I’ve heard the no-brandy story given as a reason not to have an epidural during labor, for example. I think there are lots of good reasons (medical and other) for choosing not to have an epidural but I think trying to tie the decision to the JS no-brandy story is strange.

  6. Derek on October 15, 2004 at 12:41 am

    Maybe the temptation to smoke and drink was that much stronger after the WoW. You know, the same principle as the one where you can skip breakfast every sunday and not notice it, but when fast sunday rolls around, suddenly you get a craving for sausage and hash browns.

  7. John Jensen on October 15, 2004 at 12:44 am

    My guess is that Joseph Sr. and Lucy may have enjoyed alcoholic drinks from time to time, but I strongly suspect they absolutely forbade their children from drinking–on the principal that it’s simply not appropriate for children. Perhaps Joseph Jr. was just being a dutiful child in refusing to use alcohol because his parents had taught him he shouldn’t. He might, then, have felt as an adult that drinking in moderation is acceptable.

  8. Marc D. on October 15, 2004 at 3:13 am

    Maybe he refused the brandy because his father Joseph SR. was an alcoholic.
    Well at least that is what you could think when you read Richard Bushman’s book ‘Joseph Smith and the beginnings of Mormonism when he talks about the patriarchal blessing Joseph Sr; gives to his son Hyrum.
    He said:’Though he (referring to himself) has been out of the way through wine, thou hast never forsaken him nor laughed him to scorn.’

  9. uffo on October 15, 2004 at 3:39 am

    The recounting of this story in expanded sources, beyond what our devotional material gives, is much more powerful, IMHO.

    BH Roberts said this of the episode:

    “Of course the operation was performed with the crude instruments of the times, without the use of anesthetics; and as the boy refused to take stimulants or to be tied down to the bed, the manner in which he passed through the trying ordeal was a rare exhibition of pluck and power of endurance.”
    Comprehensive History of the Church p. 30

    The ellipses in JS-H v3 (“State of Vermont…My father”) represents text, including that recounting this operation, that were not included in the PoGP.

    Also, Kevin Barney noted in a different forum that Willard Richards added a note to the original MS in 1842 (after the Times and Seasons printing of the history) that referenced an account of the operation dictated to Willard by Joseph. This account is less detailed and doesn’t include any mention of his refusal of alcohol.

    The note can be found in either Dean Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:268; or Vogel’s VOL 1 of Early Mormon Documents.

    This BYU Studies article on the operation is outstanding:

    Wirthlin, LeRoy S., “Joseph Smith’s Boyhood Operation: An 1813 Surgical Success” (1981), 21:2:131

    Free PDF download from BYU here.

  10. Austin Frost on October 15, 2004 at 4:28 am

    For the record, right before taking a final in Prof. Faulconer’s class, I took a glassful of rum. I don’t know if it worked, but it made the test much more enjoyable! ;)

  11. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 15, 2004 at 6:30 am

    A comment about wine and the ancient world.

    We know from reading Greek literature that the Greeks, at least, cut wine about 4-1 with water. Four parts water to one part wine.

    We also know from archeology and studies that what we call “wine” was about as strong as a grape beer 2-3% alcohol. New wine was bubbly, old wine was a bit flat, some vinegar in it. The “new wine in old bottles” (or wine skins) phrase in the Bible refers to the expansive power of the newer bubbly stuff and its potential to rend wine skins already expanded and aged.

    In standard Greek use (at least), the “wine” that would be drunk would be less than 1% alcohol, with criticism of those who drank the stronger stuff. Not to mention, you can “fortify” wine in the ancient world by letting it go flat and then letting it freeze somewhat and removing the ice. The Bible is critical of those who drink “strong drinks” or who pursue wine. At the same time, wine was understood for its ability to render drinking water safer (though current food storage guidelines suggest either boiling the water or using iodine or other methods rather than modern wine diluted 10-1 or better with water).

    For what it is worth in the discussion about wine then and wine now.

  12. Glen Henshaw on October 15, 2004 at 9:29 am

    I’ll probably be flamed for this, but what the heck.

    If I remember correctly, there is only one primary source for that story: the biography of Joseph Smith written by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith.

    Lucy Mack Smith loved her son and staunchly supported him. She was no doubt an excellent mother. That being said, she may have had a tendency to, well, exaggerate from time to time. It is at least a possibility that this story is either mythical or a combination of several different instances. In any case I don’t think you can make too much out of any story that doesn’t have corroborating sources and isn’t of primary importance to the gospel or the restoration.

  13. Ivan Wolfe on October 15, 2004 at 10:55 am

    I was always taught this story was one of the importance of trust bewtween parents and their children (especially fathers and sons) – where Joseph preferred to be held by his father rather than drugged.

  14. D. Fletcher on October 15, 2004 at 11:07 am

    When was the actual “commandment” of the Word of Wisdom put into effect? I don’t know the answer, obviously, but I think it was way earlier than Prohibition (1919). My own grandfather was born in 1884, and he said there wasn’t a time in his life when it wasn’t mandatory.

  15. greg on October 15, 2004 at 11:15 am

    Tom Alexander’s “Mormonism in Transition” deals with the new interpretation of the Word of Wisdom in detail. The key event is the death of Lorenzo Snow in 1902, who was replaced by Joseph F. Smith. He closed the saloon at Saltair, and started urging the 12 and stake presidents to teach adherence to the WoW. The First Presidency substituted water for wine in their temple sacrament meetings in 1906, the same year prohibition movements started around the country. Between 1921 and 1933 the requirement of adherence to the WoW for full fellowship was made explicit in the Handbook.

  16. a random John on October 15, 2004 at 11:39 am

    Melissa,

    Could you explain to me what the Mormon fascination with not having an epidural is? Does this concept extend to non-childbirth uses of an epidural?

  17. Larry on October 15, 2004 at 11:55 am

    The Word of Wisdom was put to the Church membership in General Conference, by Brigham Young, on Sept.9, 1851. They voted on the discontinued use of tea, coffee, whiskey, and tobacco. My source is the Improvement Era, Nov. 1942. This was done many years ago so I may not have all the info correct.

  18. greg on October 15, 2004 at 12:06 pm

    Larry,
    Alexander says that the 1851 date is often cited as the date the WoW became a binding commandment, but the fact is that the General Authorities, not to mention the membership, did not widely adhere to the WoW until Joseph F. Smith’s time. There were intermittent times of adherence, though.

    Interestingly, Alexander says that at the turn of the century, Wilford Woodruff took the position that the only aspect of the WoW that should be emphasized to the Saints was to abstain from meat.

  19. Kaimi on October 15, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    Glen,

    I think that idea was percolating through the back of my own mind. It makes a lot of sense to me. Others’ ideas, like Stephen M’s (focus on not becoming inebriated) also make some sense. These are good thoughts — that’s why I like this place, I can hear good ideas articulated about things that make me wonder.

  20. GAF on October 15, 2004 at 12:18 pm

    Regarding the Mormon women and epidurals: I find the opposite to be true. Here in MN, the Mormon women in general would not even think of getting through childbirth without an epidural. I’m one of the few I know who chose to do without for all of mine (others said they didn’t have epidurals because by the time they asked for it, the nurse said it was too late). I abstained not because of the WoW; I just didn’t want a needle stuck in my spine and I had enough confidence in my ability to handle the pain.

  21. Larry on October 15, 2004 at 12:18 pm

    Change takes time. At each stage of our development you can expect a generation or two or three to pass before it becomes universally practised.
    Just reflect back on changes the Brethern tried to implement re: removing some of the burden placed on Bishops by having more responsibility placed on the Elders quorum president and the High Priest group leader. That is at least a generation or two away.
    We are very slow to respond to counsel or commandments and I think the Lord is very patient with us as He was at the time of creation (Abr.4:18).

  22. John H on October 15, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    I think Glen makes an excellent point (that Kaimi seconds). Lucy’s wonderful memoirs are the only source we have for some of the earliest accounts of Joseph’s life and Church history. Yet she was rather elderly when she dictated the book and could have easily made mistakes. Remember, also, that memory is not a record of the facts; memory is our way of remembering what happened at the time. So Lucy’s worldview at the time she dictated the book would have influenced her memory.

    The WoW revelation, and Joseph Sr.’s reputed drinking problem may have influenced her to remember the event differently. There are other issues in her memoir that suggest to me she’s exaggerating or remembering things differently – she refers to Moroni as Nephi; she always blames someone else for their money troubles – the Smith’s are forever getting scammed, ripped off, mistreated, or just plain robbed. This is probably an oversimplification of what actually happened.

    Remember as well, there was most likely more than one surgery. Joseph may have refused alcohol for one, accepted it for another, etc.

  23. garnet on October 15, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    It was my understanding that Joseph disliked Brandy. I don’t know what to make of the refusal of wine.

  24. Greg on October 15, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Larry,

    I agree that change takes time, but the history of the WoW is not like the example you give. Prior to Joseph F. Smith, the First Presidency and Twelve explicitly decided that WoW adherence should neither be emphasized, nor be a matter which keeps anyone out of the temple or out of leadership callings. My grandfather told me of his uncle in Bountiful that was a longtime tobacco user and Bishop. It was only in the 20s that he was released because he refused to (or could not) quit using tobacco.

  25. Larry on October 15, 2004 at 1:28 pm

    Greg,

    Don’t forget B.H.Roberts either. I appreciate that my example wasn’t precise but my point has to do with change. The Brethern did not emphasize the WoW back then because they had the weightier matter of tithing. I believe that from time to time specific programs or principles are emphasized and others put on the back burner because the one being emphasized moves the Church ahead at that particular time. I may be wrong.

  26. Jana on October 15, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    In answer to the comment about the Smiths not wanting their children to imbibe any alcohol at all, I would respond that I’d be very surprised if that was their position. I’ve not seen it referred to in any of the literature, and total abstinence would have been extremely unusual for the time. Water, not wine, was viewed as extremely dangerous for children in early America, and with good reason. It was usually contaminated.

    Robert Fulller has an interesting little book about religion and wine in the 19th century. He gives about seven or eight pages to Mormons in the 19th century, including the use of wine at Mormon feasts and temple dedications.

  27. Kevin Barney on October 15, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    I apply a sort of eiusdem generis to my reading of the story, and understand the motive for refusing brandy as similar to the motive for refusing to be tied to the bed: a desire to retain as much control over a bad situation as possible. This was an incredibly scary experience for a seven-year old boy, to have a roomful of men come into your house, cut deep into your leg and actually break off three large chunks of bone. I can fully appreciate Joseph’s not wanting to be tied to the bed; I don’t think I would want that, either. I think he was just trying to maintain as much control over the situation as he could.

    Personally, I find his wanting his father to hold him and wanting to protect his mother from the ghastly scene to be the more interesting and touching elements to the story; the refusal of brandy was really just a sidelight adapted by later moralists. (Of course, even though Joseph sent her out of the house, he could not protect her completely. Lucy reported that when the operation was over and she went back in, she says something like “O what a sight for a mother to have to behold” [doing from memory, don’t quote me]; there was blood everywhere, and Joseph was as pale as a ghost.)

  28. Paul Mouritsen on October 15, 2004 at 3:09 pm

    Possibly the term “strong drink” was understood to mean distilled liquors (such as brandy), but not beer or wine. As Thomas Aldrich says:

    “Cleave to thy beer, an’ let strong drink alone.”

  29. Dave on October 15, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    Can someone give me the sources that relate Joseph’s use of tobacco, alcohol, and coffee? I believe that the sources exist, its just that I have never seen them.

  30. Hans Hansen on October 15, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    I was wondering if a study had ever been done on the use of hard apple cider among the early saints in America. Hard cider was quite popular in New England during the colonial period and after and was cheaper than beer. New York in particular was noted for its fine apples and that wasn’t just for making apple pies! Check out this link for information on hard cider in the US during the 17th through 19th centuries. (Then site also deals with other forms of alcohol in use at that time).

    http://www.2020site.org/drinks/cider.html

  31. diogenes on October 15, 2004 at 10:07 pm

    In standard Greek use (at least), the “wine� that would be drunk would be less than 1% alcohol, with criticism of those who drank the stronger stuff.

    Knowing a bit about the chemistry of fermentation, I’m afraid I don’t buy this. Without any means of refrigeration, in the Mediterranean area, even during the winter, I don’t see any way of keeping the alcohol content of fruit juices at “less than 1%,” even if you drank the stuff immediately after pressing.

    (For that matter, how could they possibly assay the stuff to know the alcohol content?)

    In other words, as Prof. Nibley once said to one of my classmates (responding to a comment about the supposed non-alcoholic nature of ancient grape juices), “Jesus drank wine. Deal with it.”

  32. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 16, 2004 at 9:39 am

    Diogenes, you manage to insult me, skip reading the essentials of my post and then tell people to “deal with it.” Sheesh.

    Lets take this a step at a time.

    It isn’t hard to have an alcohol content at the percentage I gave you if you have cut your initial product significantly. I didn’t say that the wine of the time had that percentage, I said that after you cut it significantly with water it had that percentage.

    It didn’t start at that number, at least with the Greeks, it ended at that number.

    Oh, and one can get a good idea of content by duplicating methodology or by forensic assays.

    Given that what they appear to have had is more of a grape beer than a grape wine you can probably brew some yourself in a day or two and do the assays to confirm the numbers. Not rocket science as the local politicians are prone to state.

    Anyway, I put it in quotes to note that “wine” = the stuff they served after they cut it between 4-1 and 20-1 with water. 20-1 with water, would, of course, get you sarcastic comments and written about, so it wasn’t an accepted practice (unless people were mocked for routine useage). 4-1 was.

    I’m not sure if your real purpose of posting was to just insult me or not, as it is pretty clear you had to read through a good deal of my post to get to the part you quoted.

    What didn’t you understand? I’m curious.

    I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t drink an alcoholic beverage. I’m not saying that when he turned water into wine that he cut it with water at all afterwards.

    All I’m saying is that for mortals of the time period, at least civilized Hellenic mortals (since we don’t have enough Jewish writing on their wine culture) a the time period (and yes, wine technology improved over time — and the accepted dates for various improvements could have changed since I looked last, wine technology is not an area I update myself on regularly).

    Of course I could always say “I’m right, I’m going to ignore any elements or explanations that don’t allow me to insult people churlishly, deal with it” but that seems a little extreme, unless I’d been drinking some of that modern wine technology product, without diluting it with water.

    BTW, I actually logged on to change my saved info, as I’ve got a blog now (doesn’t everyone) at http://ethesis.blogspot.com/

  33. diogenes on October 16, 2004 at 12:10 pm

    Ethesis — Sorry if I was unclear.

    Although you mention dilution initially, you’ll note that your post doesn’t indicate that your comment about the 1% alcohol content was related to that earlier comment. If you’re talking about watered wine, then I’ll certainly grant that it would have a lower alcohol content, simply by virtue of having a lower wine content (although I still have doubts about the about the percentage — particularly since a 4-1 dilution isn’t likely to get you below 1%).

    The Nibley quote was, as I mentioned, the answer to Mormon apologetics about ancient wine, which is the context in which most factoids of this sort arise.

    You needn’t take offense. I assure you that if I’m ever out to insult you, I’ll do a considerably more thorough job than whatever it was you read into my last post.

  34. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 16, 2004 at 1:10 pm

    Diogenes, sorry that wasn’t clearer, but they didn’t have any pre-reform “college town beer” (in a number of states, before they moved the drinking age, they had 2% beer for college students) in the ancient world. 3-4%, good, solid stuff.

    But, after being cut, it did have considerably less alcohol than we would think of wine having. A modern wine has 12% or so alcohol (24 proof or so). But, a “wine” that is actually grape beer is going to have around 3-4% or so alcohol.

    So, I was trying to talk about what they actually drank, rather than what they put away in bottles (ok, urns by various fancy names, and wine skins) before they diluted it for drinking.

    Still a fruit of the vine, still has alcohol.

    The real difference, if you want to get into commandments, culture, etc., is that being a winebibber would have been harder for the average person in that day, due to comparative cost. In our culture, it doesn’t cost any more than being a smoker — less for many.

    I think that influences the rules we live by.

  35. Ashleigh on October 17, 2004 at 2:15 am

    Random John,
    My experience with epidurals is much like GAF’s. We have a LOT of babies being born in my ward and as far as I know every single woman (except me) has had an epidural. In fact I’ve heard (but it could be wrong) that the epidural rate in Utah is one of the highest in the country.

  36. Jessica C on October 17, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    Speaking from experience-the epidural numbs the body, not the mind! Not experiencing pain after I received the epidural made labor more enjoyable as I was able to focus on the experience, rather than have my mind cluttered with thoughts about the pain. This is just my opinion from my experiences. I greatly admire women who do not receive the epidural.

  37. Renee on October 17, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    >So what (if anything) can we take from the no-brandy story, given Joseph Smith’s subsequent behavior? I’m not sure – any ideas?

    There is nothing to take from the story. What is the purpose of bringing it up? Are people looking for an excuse to drink now because drinking occured in the 1800s by the Saints? If so, where’s the people lining up for their extra wife; that was practiced back then, too, but isn’t now.

    I stumbled onto a website today from a google ad and I think it’s worth noting here. I suspect it might be exactly what a lot of T&S’ers are looking for – some church doctrine with none of the expectations. In fact, they “do not view God as someone who requires obedience”. With every tenet of their faith I read (for they consider themselves not to be LDS Mormons but an entirely different church), I realized this is exactly the church many Times and Seasons regulars are seeking.

    Now, my husband said that posting this website may be construed by God as leading people away but if it helps anyone here find their true church, it’s probably worth it. http://www.reformmormonism.org/

  38. Kristine on October 17, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Renee, that’s a little insulting, and more than a little unfair. The mere fact that someone is more interested in an obscure episode of church history than you are, or analyzes it a little differently than you might, does not mean they are lacking faith or looking for an excuse to be disobedient. If you want to contribute something to the discussion, please do, but try to do it without impugning other discussants’ faithfulness or suggesting that they belong in a different church.

  39. Jack on October 17, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    Renee,

    IMO the kind of folks you’re talking about would comprise a very small minority at T&S. I’m confident that most of the regular commenters here are active in the church, holding callings, temple worthy, etc.

  40. Jim F. on October 17, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    Renee, Kristine hit the nose on the head, but not hard enough. You seem to go out of your way to read bad motives into the things people who disagree with you say. No one has seriously suggested that we ought to be able to drink wine. Very seldom have we had comments on this site by people who are looking for another church in any sense, much less a church like the one you point to. Your posts should show more charity for those to whom you respond.

  41. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 17, 2004 at 6:28 pm

    http://www.reformmormonism.org/ .. hmm, wasn’t that Nate’s thread on the new Godbeites?

    No one had much interest then, Renee, I don’t think they will have much now, but you never know.

  42. Kaimi on October 17, 2004 at 6:29 pm

    Test comment.

  43. Ken on October 17, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    Jim. Hit the nose on the head??

  44. Charles on October 17, 2004 at 10:52 pm

    I think what Renee is getting at is something I have noticed from time to time here and at other blogs. While it may be a small minority it is sometimes a very vocal small minority. There is a lot of intellectual discussions that seem to discect into very small detailed ways any particular commandment or counsel. WoW, what does it mean, what can we do to skirt the edge? Is alcohol okay if we burn it out or can eat it with a fork? How do we reconcile the inherrent differences between the genders? Oh wait, we are all equal there aren’t any even if the official church doctrine, vis a vis the Family proclomation says there is.

    There are numerous discussions where people want to assert that they are active obedient loyal saints but are more than eager to discect the comments and actions made by imperfect men simply because thier status on this earth is a prophet or apostle, regardless of the innumerable imperfections in old testiment prophets.

    That is why this was such an intersesting site and commentary on the sometimes vocal group at sites like this.

    Ethesis, I’m not sure how much it will stir up but I can certainly see that it ruffled a few feathers in the short time it was posted here.

    Jack, I have already commented that the minority may be a vocal minority, but I must say that most of the commentors here are as you said active in the church. But I have known active people in the church, through personal experience, conversations and reading, who were able to hold callings, even bishops and temple recomends while at the same time participating in grievous sins. Is it any stretch of the imagination that realistically, some of those same people may call into question motives and comments in a quiet setting?

    Kristine, I don’t think that being interested in obscure church history is the point. The point is that people are attacking modern revelation because the person who had it or had a hand in it was not himself living up to those standards. Shame! Then what is to be made about the faith promoting story of him not using liquor? Perhaps this wasn’t the best thread to leave the comment on but the comment is more than fair against many of the comments made in the past.

  45. Charles on October 17, 2004 at 10:53 pm

    I think what Renee is getting at is something I have noticed from time to time here and at other blogs. While it may be a small minority it is sometimes a very vocal small minority. There is a lot of intellectual discussions that seem to discect into very small detailed ways any particular commandment or counsel. WoW, what does it mean, what can we do to skirt the edge? Is alcohol okay if we burn it out or can eat it with a fork? How do we reconcile the inherrent differences between the genders? Oh wait, we are all equal there aren’t any even if the official church doctrine, vis a vis the Family proclomation says there is.

    There are numerous discussions where people want to assert that they are active obedient loyal saints but are more than eager to discect the comments and actions made by imperfect men simply because thier status on this earth is a prophet or apostle, regardless of the innumerable imperfections in old testiment prophets.

    That is why this was such an intersesting site and commentary on the sometimes vocal group at sites like this.

    Ethesis, I’m not sure how much it will stir up but I can certainly see that it ruffled a few feathers in the short time it was posted here.

    Jack, I have already commented that the minority may be a vocal minority, but I must say that most of the commentors here are as you said active in the church. But I have known active people in the church, through personal experience, conversations and reading, who were able to hold callings, even bishops and temple recomends while at the same time participating in grievous sins. Is it any stretch of the imagination that realistically, some of those same people may call into question motives and comments in a quiet setting?

    Kristine, I don’t think that being interested in obscure church history is the point. The point is that people are attacking modern revelation because the person who had it or had a hand in it was not himself living up to those standards. Shame! Then what is to be made about the faith promoting story of him not using liquor? Perhaps this wasn’t the best thread to leave the comment on but the comment is more than fair against many of the comments made in the past.

  46. Julie in Austin on October 17, 2004 at 11:10 pm

    Charles–

    While I can appreciate why you might take offense at what you call the dissection of doctrine, my suspicion based on what I know about (most of) the regulars around here is that their dissection is done for a different reason.

    Let’s take the WoW. I don’t think anyone is looking for a ”loophole” when they wonder whether alcohol you can eat or whatever violates the WoW. Around here, what I think most people are striving for is a better understanding of the WoW, and pinning down the fine points of what does or doesn’t constitute a violation is part of better understanding it. For example (but I have no interest in reopening a WoW debate), one might think it wrong to eat something where the alcohol is burned off, because they are still buying alcohol and financially supporting evil and designing men. Another person might think it OK since they are not taking the alcohol into their body and denying themselves the physical blessings associated with the WoW enumerated in the D & C. This niggling test case is one way to explore what God intends for us to take from the WoW–not in an effort to circumvent it, but to better understand it.

    In other words, perhaps we might be more charitable about the motives of our fellow commenters.

  47. Jim F. on October 17, 2004 at 11:17 pm

    Ken: “nail,” not “nose.” I should proofread before I hit “enter.”

  48. Jim F. on October 17, 2004 at 11:22 pm

    Charles: people are attacking modern revelation because the person who had it or had a hand in it was not himself living up to those standards. Where did they do that in this post and its comments? To ask questions about that story and how it accords with the Word of Wisdom is not to attack Joseph Smith. As Kaimi says, it is to seek understanding.

    I certainly won’t commend everything that has appeared on this blog. Some of the threads and some of the comments have been, in my view, inappropriate. In spite of that, I have yet to see any permanent blogger attack the Church or its leaders or its doctrines, and I’ve seen few commenters do so.

  49. John H on October 18, 2004 at 1:10 am

    The pattern is inevitable. Someone will bring up a topic for discussion. Others will respond thoughtfully, offering a variety of viewpoints and ideas. Enter those uncomfortable with the very existence of the discussion, who see the divergent thoughts of others as proof of a desire to sin. Switch the topic from whatever is being discussed (in this case, WoW) to the new topic of the faithfulness of those having the discussion, their motives, and their lack of obedience.

    Renee, et al, I’ve been down this road too many times to travel it again. Have fun protecting us all from ourselves.

  50. John Jensen on October 18, 2004 at 2:37 am

    Jana, you’re post makes good sense. Let me refine the issue: Do you know if children as young as Joseph was at the time of his operation were commonly (that is not to say “frequently”) allowed to drink?

  51. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 10:03 am

    I personally do all of my blogging with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. ;->

  52. Kaimi on October 18, 2004 at 10:16 am

    Nate,

    Exactly — after all, it’s too much trouble to try to hold them both in the same hand. (Of course, the two-hand approach does make typing a little tricky).

  53. Charles on October 18, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    No one here is foolish enough to outright attack church athority. But there are many discussions where commenters and posters would rather debate the intellectual design of doctrine rather than appeal to those who made it doctrine.

    Not to beat the WoW horse but debating things like when is it okay or not to consume alcohol and claiming it is all about better understanding it is borderline farce. I recal many cases where some of this doctrine is debated and rarely does anyone point out that many of our commandments are not always about the commandement itself but rather obedience. That is because those commentors that do so are ridiculed as non-free thinkers and blind lemmings. I’m not suggesting we follow people blindly but finding out for yourself and sincerly asking why is different from playing the “i’m not touching you” game.

    The comment brought up earlier is that there are many people that enjoy walking the center line of intellectualism that so many are warned against. That is not saying you can’t be a strong rational intelligent person that enjoys learning and improving yourself but it must be tempered with faith. Faith is after all an action and a choice, somethings without evidence or in light of evidence to their contrary must be still be believed in if you are to excercise faith.

  54. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    Charles: Of course we would rather debate the intellectual design of the doctrine! That is one of the reasons we set up the blog in the first place. Furthermore, understanding the intellectual design of doctrine is not such a bad way of getting some insight into the mind of its Designer, which I take it to be a worthy goal.

    Frankly, if you want to drink and your Mormon, I don’t think that anyone thinks a clever interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is going to make it just fine to do so in the eyes of the Church or its members. It is much easier to simply say that Joseph and the prophets are full of bunk and start swigging away. All of the beer-swilling apostates that I know take this approach. None of them try to justify their drunken antics as being really consistent with the Word of Wisdom. Hence, I am led to believe that Kaimi is probably more interested in playing around with interesting questions about the Word of Wisdom than in justifying his nigh-on-constant inebriation. In particular, lawyers are trained to think about rules by finding borderline cases where the application is ambigious. It is not an exercise is sophistry but casuistry. The assumption is that grasping for gossamer distinctions for deciding the borderline cases provides you with a better understanding of the core of the rule.

    It isn’t farsical, just lawyerly. Of course, maybe THAT makes it farsical…a position taken by many lawyers, incidentally. (e.g. Jerome Frank or Morris Cohen)

  55. Kaimi on October 18, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    I can confirm Nate’s intuition on a few different fronts. I’m not interested in finding excuses to disobey the Word of Wisdom. I live the Word of Wisdom myself, and I’m quite happy doing so.

    I also like to figure out how issues work. I’ve taken classes in legal interpretation, and I enjoy discussing how texts can or should be interpreted.

    This post was mostly meant to try to think through and discuss issues relating to the brandy story. A peripheral (but important) point was that Joseph Smith and other early church leaders didn’t follow the Word of Wisdom as we know it. But I wasn’t focusing on that issue.

    But since that issue seems to be your focus, I’ll just clarify that I don’t find it difficult to resolve the behavior of early church leaders with the changed rules of today. That issue seems pretty easy to me — Joseph Smith was following a law as given in his day (when the Word of Wisdom was not mandatory) while we are given a different version of the law in our day. That’s fine with me. I don’t pretend to be following the laws that every other person is given in his or her day — I don’t build arks, marry plural wives, chop heads off of drunk people in the street.

    Perhaps I glossed over that too quickly in my original post — the sentence “That’s not a big deal so far; it’s just a historical misunderstanding, and makes sense in context” was meant to convey that. In any case, my question was, given my willingness to accept that Joseph Smith was operating under a different law (and my desire not to be “presentist” in imposing my own belief system on him), what can I take from the brandy story?

  56. Last_lemming on October 18, 2004 at 3:15 pm

    I recal many cases where some of this doctrine is debated and rarely does anyone point out that many of our commandments are not always about the commandement itself but rather obedience. That is because those commentors that do so are ridiculed as non-free thinkers and blind lemmings.

    For the record, I am sighted and agree with Nate’s response.

  57. Charles on October 18, 2004 at 3:39 pm

    “I may not be a big city lawyer type…” he said as he snapped his suspenders against his white suit reminiscent of Colonel Sanders while rocking back and forth on his local, not imported, snake-skin boots.

    The WoW is not my concern here, it is the issue used in the discussion to point out the discection of certian doctrine. I tend to participate here because I do find the discussions of certian issues very interesting, but I am at least willing to accept that the appearance of some of the discussions are not entirely to gain a better understanding of the law.

    Maybe it is just a lawyerly way of looking at things, to argue about every facet of the issue to better understand its intent. It is certainly part of the scientific method to tear apart certain laws until you find one that cannot be torn apart then that becomes the basis for the next generations of laws. But I must disagree on personal experience, that lawyers do this to better understand the core law. Maybe for professors who live in the world of theory that is fine and dandy, and maybe I’m mistaken but I would suspect there are far more practicing lawyers that law professors and as such, in practice the loopholes and discecting are done to pierce through the law and find ways around it. That is after all one of the reasons lawyers are procured, to ensure that a person does not break the law or to protect them from those attempting to bend it.

    Those who fall away, I am certain do not wake up one morning and simply take a swig and declare the prophet bunk. It starts with challenging the smaller counsels and commandments given to us. Wondering why one thing is so, but others are not. When those people continue down that road without checking themselves against circumstance or whatever else there may be they begin to open themselves up to finally falling away. How long can you criticize someone or something before you begin to believe your criticisms and fail to have faith in the object of it?

    Last lemming, you were not cited. I used the word “lemming” in its noun format not in reference to your name.

  58. John H on October 18, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    “It starts with challenging the smaller counsels and commandments given to us. Wondering why one thing is so, but others are not. When those people continue down that road without checking themselves against circumstance or whatever else there may be they begin to open themselves up to finally falling away.”

    I love the circular, built-in fail-safe these arguments have. “We’re the true Church of God. DON’T QUESTION ANYTHING or you’ll lose faith in the true Church!”

    I think I’m going to start selling a product that no one can question, and if they do, they lose the benefits of it, but they can’t find out if it really works until after they’re dead. Any takers? Anyone? Charles? Renee?

  59. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Charles: I think that your little riff about lawyers and professors misses the point. Lawyers play with grey hypotheticals to find out the countours of the law for their clients. This IS an attempt at understanding the law, not merely an attempt at sophistry to “get around it.” Frankly, too-cute arguments designed to circumvent the law are likely to be given short shrift by the courts, and a lawyer who induces a client to rely upon them is not doing his job very well.

    ” Wondering why one thing is so, but others are not. When those people continue down that road without checking themselves against circumstance or whatever else there may be they begin to open themselves up to finally falling away.”

    I confess that I don’t understand what the second sentence above means. What do you mean by “checking themselves against circumstances”? Furthermore, I am at a total loss as to how it is possible to understand something WITHOUT asking the question of why it is the way that it is rather than some other way. Furthermore, it seems rather obvious to me that God at least wants us to try to understand things. Why on earth would we be called upon to study the scriptures, ponder, pray, etc. if we weren’t supposed to try to understand the Gospel. Sheesh!

    “How long can you criticize someone or something before you begin to believe your criticisms and fail to have faith in the object of it?”

    Is this meant as a real question or a rhetorical question. The answer, of course, is 78 hrs 37 minutes and 15 seconds. Kaimi has a stop watch that he uses to insure that he has not exceeded his alloted criticism time. I actually do think that there is some substance to the fear that taking a relentlessly critical approach to things is spiritually dangerous. On the other hand, I don’t honestly know enough about the lives of the people on this site to know whether they take a relentless critical approach to things. To be sure, a diet consisting wholely of arguments on T&S is probably not the most spiritually nourishing thing. But this is rather like objecting to salad bars on the ground the people need to drink a certain amount of water each day to survive. The claim is both truth and a non-sequitor.

  60. Nate Oman on October 18, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    “I think I’m going to start selling a product that no one can question, and if they do, they lose the benefits of it, but they can’t find out if it really works until after they’re dead. Any takers? Anyone? Charles? Renee?”

    John H.: I think that this is a bit of a straw man. I don’t agree with what Charles is saying here, but it seems like one can criticize what he says without imputing to him something that he doesn’t say. I doubt that Charles or Renee think that faith is belief in the absence of any reason to do so. Furthermore, there IS something to the concepts of faith and hope that is rather crassly dismissed in your analogy.

  61. John H on October 18, 2004 at 5:12 pm

    Fair enough Nate. I temporarily switched from Regular John (already a bit whiney) to Rhetoric John.

    Apologies, all.

  62. Charles on October 18, 2004 at 10:32 pm

    John H,

    I would add that in several of my posts here as well as at other threads and blogs, I have never endorsed the “all faith, no reason” approach. I have often believed very strongly that discovering for yourself through prayer or reason or whatever to determine if something is true. This is in my opinion different from using reason to pick apart something. I did use reason and intellect when determining that this church is true before I joined. I did that coupled with prayer and a strong personal feeling that I should join, even when doing so was completely against my character to do so. These things led me to believe even more that the church is true.

    But I did not use that same reason to decide what things of the church I would and would not beleive in. There are things that even now I do not fully understand. I pray about them and I ask those with more experience and I appeal to the words of the prophets and apostles when possible.

    I think there is something to be said however, for something that was instituted a long time ago. ex WoW was done at a time when we understood less about it than we do now. Now we have a better understanding that those who adhere to it can, in general, enjoy better health because of the benefits. Hindsight allows us to better understand some doctrine. Sometimes we have to be patient.

    Nate, my second sentence was an attempt to include the caveat mentioned in the primary post of historical context. What I meant is along the lines of why one person might question something said by a prophet in light of how that prophet acted. I intended to mean that understanding the context of why one thing is different from another is important in understanding how it might relate to us in our day. This may still not be as eloquent as I would like it to be but I am trying to think out of my normal paradigm. Normally, I believe most everything can be broken down into categories of good or bad. I don’t believe there is as much room for the gray area as many others would argue. Consequently, I don’t see much difference in discecting a law, commandment or counsel for understanding of the intent of that law as I see in doing so to circumvent. Sometimes Leaving things simple is the best way to let everyone understand it.

    I am in no way saying that the people here are bad or will fall away from the church but I find myself reminded of the story of the 3 truck drivers interviewing for a mountain journey. One right up to the edge, one with the wheel half over, and the other far away from the ledge.

  63. Jim F. on October 19, 2004 at 12:05 am

    Charles: I did not use that same reason to decide what things of the church I would and would not beleive in. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that I think everyone of the permanent bloggers here could say the same thing, as could those who comment whom I do know. There may be people who comment here who couldn’t say this, but I don’t know of them. What justifies your assumption that there are people here using these discussions to decide which things they will and will not believe?

    The problem with the truck-driver analogy is that it assumes we are engaged in a dangerous activity. That questioning can be dangerous–which I think all here agree is true–doesn’t mean that it is in itself dangerous. What makes this particular discussion–a question of how we understand and use the story of Joseph’s refusal of brandy–into a dangerous discussion?

  64. John H on October 19, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    “It starts with challenging the smaller counsels and commandments given to us. Wondering why one thing is so, but others are not. When those people continue down that road without checking themselves against circumstance or whatever else there may be they begin to open themselves up to finally falling away. How long can you criticize someone or something before you begin to believe your criticisms and fail to have faith in the object of it?”

    I think Scott Kenney, in his essay, “At Home at Sea: Confessions of a Cultural Mormon” responds well to this sort of thing.

    “If I no longer believed that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and Ezra Taft Benson is a living prophet today—if I no longer believed those things—I would fall into apostasy, and there is an incredibly powerful aura of “evil” surrounding apostasy. Apostasy is a black hole. If you fall into apostasy, everything will come crashing down and your whole life will be in ruins. Apostates lie, cheat, and steal; apostates fornicate, adulterate, and do drugs. . . Have faith to doubt. Liberals gesture at doubt. They “question.” But few dare to really doubt. Jesus said, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” In search of truth I came up against doubt. I knocked on the door. It opened. I walked in and found nothing. Nothing. Just me. No bogeyman to drag me down to hell, no slippery slope to crime and debauchery, just me. I continued to the next door. I knocked. It opened. I walked in. Nothing there either. Just me. And so on, door after door, opening windows and portals, letting the sun shine in and fresh breezes blow. Doubt produces nothing, and that is a valuable contribution. It cleans out the clutter.”

  65. Nate Oman on October 19, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    John H.: I hardly think that Kenney provides a good response to the fear of falling away. To be sure, he demonstrates that one can be an apostate without being a drug dealing, fornicating, drunkard. On the other hand, a person whose spiritual journey through Mormonism ends with visions of a clean and empty room has suffered a tragic loss in my opinion. Faith in God, prophets, and the Restoration is not something to be glibbly traded for nothing, even if one has a sense relief that the nothing is not the the straw man demon of evil and immorality that one had once feared. Indeed, a clean and empty room free of clutter has always struck me as an apt image of Outer Darkness, the complete absence of any worrying relationships with anything other than one’s own mind. (It is also a nice image for the doubt-exalting solipcism of Descartes.) Sartre put forward this vision as the ultimate form of authenticity and heroism. Joseph put it forward as the ultimate tragedy.

    I find Joseph much more compelling that Sartre. Or Scott Kenney for that matter…

  66. Kaimi on October 19, 2004 at 5:37 pm

    Nates writes:

    I personally do all of my blogging with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. ;->

    Perhaps you should rephrase that, to say that you blog with “brandy in one hand and sherry in the other.” That way, the reader is left to wonder whether you’re talking about two drinks, one drink and one woman, or two women; and to further wonder, if you’re talking about two women, whether you are talking about Keith Richards hedonism or Tom Green fundamentalism.

  67. John H on October 20, 2004 at 11:13 am

    Nate, I think you’re looking at Kenney’s comments far to critically. It’s not exactly the same path I’d follow, sure. But I’m more interested in what he doesn’t find in the room rather than what he does find. I didn’t read this and think, “Oh no, he didn’t find Jesus – how sad!” I don’t think he was talking about knocking on the door that Jesus was supposed to be behind. He was knocking on the doors he was told not to approach, because behind it he’d find utter darkness. He didn’t find it, and when I’ve bothered to knock and open, neither have I.

    He’s right – there’s an aura of evil around the word “apostasy” and everything that accompanies it. Charles was pointing out that these kinds of discussions might lead to ugly places. I’m merely suggesting that for some of us, maybe that isn’t the abominable, desperate place he and so very many others like to portray it as.

    As I harp on everywhere, because the faithful make up Mormonism, the faithful therefore control the discourse. In their discourse, people who travel a different path aren’t merely taking a different faith journey; instead they have “lost” the faith, they have “apostatized.” Those are powerful words that bring up powerful images. But as you can well imagine, the people who have moved on from some things in Mormonism probably won’t define themselves that way. And what’s more important – how a critical group of people who find fault for not believing the same way they do define you, or how we define ourselves and see God as defining us?

    For sure, some people lose when they leave or go down a different road. But I believe some (and Scott Kenney is one of them) end up better off. You (Nate) feel a sense of loss at the empty room. Scott (and to a lesser extent, myself) feels liberation, freedom, and a greater sense of who he is.

  68. Nate Oman on October 22, 2004 at 8:34 am

    John H.: I am deeply offended that you turned my pretentious, Sartre-allusion studded post into a trite “He didn’t find Jesus — How sad?” ;->

    I guess that my problem is that I don’t find the vanquishing of what I see as rather silly straw men to be nearly as important, profound, and liberating as you do. So Kenny found out that is is possible to leave Mormonism and still be a good and decent person. My problem with this insight is two fold. First, it is banal. Second, focusing on this banal insight allows one to dismiss discussions and concerns about apostacy and a loss of faith as little more than vacuous ad hominems. There is, I think, more than a little glib dishonesty involved in this position.

  69. John on February 9, 2005 at 12:03 pm

    I know this is dead, but I’m surprised no one has mentioned the reason (besides the WoW) that I think this story is told: to show how tough Joseph was. In addition, I have heard the story framed as “look how close Joseph and Hyrum were as brothers” as Hyrum stayed with Joseph all night pressing his leg to relieve the pain.