Mormons and caffeine

I have written before about the absurd dietary rules imposed by religions. The Mormons have their own bizarre prohibitions and one of those was supposed to be to avoid caffeine. Hence I was surprised to read in some news reports that Mitt Romney drank Diet Coke because by all accounts he is a devout Mormon with the rank of bishop, not just some ordinary guy in the pews (if Mormon temples have pews in their temples).

In response to an NBC special report on the Mormon church, the church put out a news release that corrects some misconceptions. It turns out that their prohibition was not against caffeine as such. What happened was that in 1833, Joseph Smith had a revelation in which god said to him that “The use of wine, strong drinks, tobacco, and hot drinks is proscribed”.

‘Hot drinks’ seems remarkably broad but later church leaders interpreted it to mean just hot tea and coffee. So caffeinated soft drinks and even hot chocolate are fine. It is interesting that these are claimed to be ‘health’ guidelines not religious ones, though they are the result of divine revelation. God’s revelations seem to be always limited to the knowledge available in those times. He did not tell Smith what stand to take on transfats, for example.

The Mormon leaders were also upset that the TV show showed pictures of their sacred underwear. The church goes so far as to tell people how to report on the underwear.

Because of the personal and religious nature of the temple garment, the Church asks all media to report on the subject with respect, treating Latter-day Saint temple garments as they would religious vestments of other faiths. Ridiculing or making light of sacred clothing is highly offensive to Latter-day Saints.

I always find it amusing when religions lay down rules about how other people should talk about them. It is really a telling sign of the deep sense of entitlement that religions have. Sorry, Mormon bigwigs, you do not get to decide how other people talk about you or your underwear or any other aspect of your religious practices that strike them as funny. Mormon underwear can be as much a target for humor as (say) the funny hats that leaders of other religions wear.


  1. raven says

    When I went to college on the west coast, there were a fair number of Mormon kids.

    They didn’t drink coffee or tea, that being prohibited.

    What they did was take caffeine tablets that you can buy anywhere including the student bookstore. Nodoz and such.

    Sensible IMO, but mildly amusing nonetheless.

  2. Chiroptera says


    When I was in college, one of my friends was a Mormon. I recall that he didn’t consume anything with caffeine, not even soda pop.

    I guess not every Mormon has read every directive?

  3. Bishop says

    I did some consulting work for a Salt Lake City Based bank a few years ago. I was told definitively that the wellness guidelines “revealed” [lol] to Joseph Smith prohibited coffee and tea. This also includes iced tea. The idea was to eliminate all the known “vices” such as tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea. Before I completely clued in, I would check out their break rooms ever hopeful I would find my coffee or tea. I never found any. However, there were always vending machines stuffed with high caffeine energy drinks, not just Cokes and Mountain Dew!

  4. stoferb says

    It’s been a debate in the mormon church for a couple of decades now wether it’s caffeine itself or coffee and tea that is prohibited. The mormon leadership being divinely inspired and all have handled the controversy of caffeine the way they always do:

    First they were mostly against it, then they were silent about it leaving it up to every member to decide, and just recently they decided caffeinated beverages weren’t evil afterall. And ofcourse, with shameless amnesia, they never were against it in the first place.

    The same thing is currently happening with masturbation. A few decades ago it was a horrible sin. Recently they have decided to go silent about the issue, they have even rewritten a famous talk about it for plausible deniability. With the ever-growing numbers of mormons that considers it natural and healthy I predict that in the future they will declare it completely kosher, and Io and behold, ofcourse they will maintain that that is how it always was.

  5. Anonymous Atheist says

    Just like Catholics et al, some Mormons take some tenets more or less seriously/strictly than others, and official interpretations of some tenets may shift to become more or less accommodating over time.

    (And for the record, some people choose to avoid caffeine et al for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.)

  6. Anonymous Atheist says

    History of Mormon ‘hot drinks’ debate:
    The ‘only coffee and tea’ interpretation dates back to the early days of Mormonism, when colas (much less high-caffeine energy drinks) didn’t yet exist, so some people see that it would make sense to include these newer beverages in the category too, but others (including the current officials) see that it’s convenient to stick to the original interpretation literally since it leaves a very popular loophole.

  7. JoeBuddha says

    From my research (My first wife was an ex Mormon) it seems there was a meme going around that hot drinks were unhealthy. The original “revelation” seems to have been about God agreeing. When it was determined that was hogwash, they decided it must have been about the caffeine. Kind of a face saving move.

  8. Charles Sullivan says

    Old Mormon joke:

    What happens when you take a mormon fishing? He drinks all your beer.

    What happens when you take two mormons fishing? They watch each other.

  9. Uncle Glenny says

    Back when I used to bake a lot, I would bring leftovers/leftover experiments in to the office. Typical ingredients included lots of cocoa/chocolate (caffeine), cream and butter (milk), liquor flavorings (in genoise-moistening syrup or even in ganache) (alcohol), and various sorts of buttercream or mousse or pastry cream fillings, which I sometimes stabilized with gelatin (meat).

    Of my very limited sample, those with potential religious objections partook; one strict (philosophical?) vegan would not.

    I also had neighbors who objected only to the use of gelatin due to mad cow.

  10. Anonymouse says

    I was told by a former Mormon that the whole coffee/tea thing was a petty retaliation: someone had a “revelation” that beer was forbidden, and in retaliation had a “revelation” that coffee/tea were also forbidden. “I can’t have my beer? Well, well, well, God says YOU can’t have your tea!”

  11. Jared A says

    Anyway, it wasn’t until relatively recently that it was considered BAD to not follow the so-called Word of Wisdom. According to family lore my properly English great great grandmother had no interest in giving up her tea, but she was still considered a good-standing mormon for the time.

    I recall learning that the original debate about whether the WOW applied to hot chocolate more or less ended when the then president of the church complained to his councellors that if they kept going they’d eventually rule out hot soup.

  12. Sunny says

    God’s revelations seem to be always limited to the knowledge available in those times.

    – Strange how the Mormon God has not granted any revelations recently. Perhaps an update via Facebook or Twitter would be nice. I think Twitter would be especially useful for such divine commandments.

  13. jba55 says

    I myself am ex-mormon and what I learned as a youth in the 80’s was that it was strictly coffee and tea, not caffeine. My parents are both in excellent standing in the church (they both work in the SLC temple) and they drink enough Pepsi to make a programmer nervous. I have Mormon relatives on the east coast, west coast and in Utah and they all eat chocolate and drink soda and such.

    “by all accounts he is a devout Mormon with the rank of bishop, not just some ordinary guy in the pews (if Mormon temples have pews in their temples)”

    To be fair, being a bishop in the LDS church isn’t hard to achieve. It’s a temporary post and if you’re a male in good graces then it’s not surprising if you get called upon to do it at some point in your life (also, he is no longer a bishop, you surrender the title when your time is up). It only lasts a few years and most of it is officiating the weekly services and making sure the flock is obeying the rules. They accomplish this by having interviews, it’s pretty lame.

    Oh and as far as pews go, I don’t know about the whole of any given temple, but the chapels do have pews.

  14. jba55 says

    I heard a similar tale, only it was that Joe Smiths wife told him and his buddies they could get drunk and spit their tobacco juice on the floor any more. So his reaction was “well, if I can’t, no one can”.

  15. TGAP Dad says

    …the Church asks all media to report on the subject with respect, treating Latter-day Saint temple garments as they would religious vestments of other faiths.

    I so want to see PZ do a crackergate-style desecration of the magic underwear now!

  16. Jared A says

    actually, you picked the wrong religion for that joke.

    “The Latter Day Saint concept of revelation includes the belief that revelation from God is available to all those who earnestly seek it with the intent of doing good.”

    This of course leads to ridiculous amount of “revelations”. The number of young men explaining to their crushes that God “revealed” that they should be married is sickening.

  17. Corvus illustris says

    And of course, with shameless amnesia, they never were against it in the first place.

    Can’t the folks in SLUT write the Vatican for a copy of their playbook? The Romans have been doing this, infallibly, since Joe Smith was about -1300 years old.

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