“Moderation in All Things”: A Poll

HawkgrrrlMormon 35 Comments

The phrase, “moderation in all things” is a euphemism usually (but not exclusively) associated (by Mormons at least)with the Word of Wisdom.  It usually means that we should not go too far, one way or the other, in abstaining to the point of becoming an ascetic or in indulging to the point of becoming an addict.  Of course, that leaves lots of room for interpretation and individual opinion, as well as plenty of opportunity for members to judge one another uncharitably.

The phrase “Moderation in all things” is attributed to Terence, a Roman comic dramatist who lived from 185-159 B.C. (or alternately to Plautus, same profession, who lived from 250-184 B.C.)  However, suffice it to say, the philosophy of living moderately (avoiding excesses) was common in ancient Greece and Rome.

First, a few quotes from church leaders about this concept of “moderation in all things”:

Joseph F. Smith:  “The saints should not be unwise, but rather understand what the will of the Lord is, and practice moderation in all things.”

Ezra Taft Benson:  “A priesthood holder should actively seek for things that are virtuous and lovely and not that which is debasing or sordid.  He does things in moderation and is not given to overindulgence.”

James Faust: “Part of the spirit of the Word of Wisdom is moderation in all things, except those things specifically forbidden by the Lord.” 

Dallin Oaks:  “Moderation in all things is not a virtue, because it would seem to justify moderation in commitment.”

It would seem there are some differences of opinion about whether moderation is good or not.  This seems like a question of personal philosophy rather than a matter of doctrine.

So, where do you fall on the path between abstinence and indulgence?  Do you tend to push the envelope, believing that the restrictions are already strict without making them more stringent, or do you define things as narrowly as possible, believing that even the very appearance of evil can lead to a weak person’s downfall?  Is it situational?  Personal?  Here’s a poll to see where you fall on some of these possible Word of Wisdom indulgences:  coffee, tea, alcohol, and meat.

 [poll id=”61″] [poll id=”62″] [poll id=”63″] [poll id=”64″]


Comments 35

  1. I definately try to live moderately, and the WoW is no exception. I do not drink coffe or tea, but DH does. So, I have a non-WoW-compliant home, but its a home where DH feels loved and cherished.

    I am not a vegetarian, but if I eat too much meat, it makes me feel lethargic. So, I try to eat more veggies and rice, stuff like that, along with the meat, fish or poultry. At least 3 nights a week we eat pasta or rice dishes that are basically all veggie.

  2. I think the word of wisdom had a purpose in the 1830s to teach a good principle, I don’t see it has much application today. We have so many options available to us at the grocery store, one just needs to be wise to avoid destructive and addictive substances…specific lists (coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, drugs) are an ok place to start in teaching saints the principle of living healthy, but there is nothing “magic” about avoiding a cup of coffee and living a longer happier life.

    My mission companion (many years ago) was appalled to see in my grocery list that I purchased coffee cake…”But Elder, it is the appearance of evil we must avoid”. When I finally realized he wasn’t joking, I told him there is no value to avoiding saying the word coffee or eating a cake that is named coffee cake.

    I think some people like specific laws like WoW so they can know they are trying to be good. I would rather be living a principle that has inherint value in becoming more like Christ, than a checklist of rules that make me feel holy. I live the WoW, but don’t sweat it.

  3. “..teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves…”

    I’ll have A beer, have a 1/2 cup of coffee if I’m driving late at night and need to be more alert, and I’ll have a glass of iced tea a few times during a hot summer.

    I respectfully submit that the WoW is not the “4-no’s”….

    I would not, however, have a cigarette because I know…for me…it would lead back to addictive behavior.

    I lean toward fundamentalist teachings and realize that this is not mainstream doctrine…

  4. I have so many sins I try to live the WoW extra-perfectly in hopes that it will cover for everything else. When I see a member drinking iced tea I just assume they are perfect in everything else so they can splurg on WoW sins.

  5. What about Vanilla extract (usually 30-50% alcohol) Okay for cookies (because it cooks off) but not in ice cream (because it doesn’t)? I know lots of members that would never consider “cooking wines” but have no problem with flavoring extracts. I think interpretation of the WoW is entirely cultural.

    The difference between Elder Oaks and J.F.Smith’s opinions is crazy. Polar opposites. So much for corrolation. On of these needs to be stricken from the record.

  6. Interestingly I was just at a lecture today on health and the future of US health care. There is a direct correlation between obesity and type 2 diabetes, health care costs, work absenteeism, etc.

    He broke out some specific details for Utah. We are just about the US average in obesity rates, which have increased substantially over the past 2 decades. He also specifically broke it down into LDS and non-LDS statistics, which was very interesting. LDS in Utah are less active than non-LDS. LDS are also, on average, 10.5 pounds heavier than non-LDS in Utah. LDS in Utah also eat fewer fruits and vegetables than non-LDS. And any benefit in not using tobacco is countered by increased weight. The overall smoking rate in Utah is around 9% (well below national average), but California is also only around 11%, mostly because of smoking laws.

    Other interesting details. The LDS Church spends around $147,000 / DAY on prescription medications for covered people in Utah. The #1 prescription – antidepressants. #2, cholesterol drugs, And so forth…

    Perhaps we need to focus more on the meat and vegetable parts of the WofW (including moderation) and not so much on a glass of wine (which has actually been proven to be healthy, and perhaps might help decrease our ranking as the #1 use of anti-depressants in the country.

  7. On Elder Oaks’ quote, I’ve heard it said one should be moderate in all things except obedience (to the Lord). It was probably my mission president who told me that, and that sounds fine to me.

    I’m more or less with Jacob J on this one. I stay away from pretty much anything derived from coffee beans, tea leaves, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, etc. But then I also didn’t vote for decaf or near beer, because although I don’t think they’re prohibited, what’s the point?

  8. Before I went apostate, I basically kept the WoW by downing massive quantities of diet coke and snacking on French Silk ice cream. I’ve found that drinking a cup of coffee in the morning has eliminated my coke consumption entirely, as well as my ice cream habit.

  9. Without a doubt, the WoW is a monument to the prophetic calling of JS. Not because it discourages the use of alcohol, tobacco, or addictive beverages but because it states that alcohol is for the washing of bodies (bacteria would be discovered 50 yrs later), tobacco does have useful herbal values, eating too much meat results in obesity & heart disease, and that “conspiracy” was the reason that the US gov was able to fine tobacco companies for their marketing methods. Is there any doubt that the blighted world of drug traffic networks represent the modern day version of the band of Gadianton? As for the benefits on populations, not only does UT have the lowest national rates for multiple cancers but UT has the lowest per capita of medical costs in the country. Maybe JS was just “lucky.”

  10. Similar health codes were common in the US at the time that JS produced the WoW. RSR gives the example of Sylvester Graham, who in 1835 lectured about a diet based on whole grains and avoiding tobacco, tea, coffee, and alcohol.

    Moderation needs to followed in following the WoW. I’m a little uncomfortable when I see people rejecting sauces made with alcohol, mocha flavored ice cream (and not because they don’t like it), and researching chocolate to see if it has caffeine in it and is therefore against the WoW. It borders on fanaticism (or OCD).

  11. Re: #10 South Bend Cougar

    There are many other reasons to call JS a prophet. However, I would disagree with your statement that the “WofW is a monument to the prophetic calling of JS … because it states that alcohol is for the washing of bodies”. People have used alcohol to wash bodies for millennia. Granted, bacteria may not have been discovered until later, but that’s besides the point. That’s like saying that an Amazon tribe that found that a certain plant cured pain were prophets because it wasn’t until recently that we isolated the active drug in the plant. The logic is extremely flawed. And the true weight with which JS valued the “prohibition” on alcohol can be best determined by the fact the JS continued to drink wine and beer AFTER the WofW.

    There are many sources that show that much of the WofW is a product of temperance and other movements of JS time.

    Statistics can be used for anything. True, we have the lowest rates for some cancers. We have higher rates for other cancers. We have the highest rate for use of anti-depressants. We have the highest rate for non-prescription use of prescription drugs (ie. Lortab, Valium, Percocet, etc.) As mentioned above, California’s rate of smoking is nearly as low as ours, in a state that is 20x bigger. Our health statistics mirror many of those in surrounding states. And within Utah itself, if you are LDS, you are more likely to get less exercise, eat fewer fruits and vegetables, and weight 10.5 pounds more than if you lived in Utah and were non-LDS. And I would argue that the lowest per capita medical costs in Utah (not exactly true) are actually more related to the policies of Intermountain Health Care than the WofW specifically. That is a correlation, not a causal inference.

    To be honest, if we truly let the medical literature guide us in “WofW” areas, we would live near-vegetarian diets (eating meat sparingly), we would have a glass of wine with dinner as that’s been shown to be healthy, we might practice “moderation” with regards to beer (maybe a glass at most per day), we would probably avoid hard liquor and drugs, we would stop drinking diet Coke and all the other junk like that and have a cup of coffee (which hasn’t been shown to be bad for you) or, even better, have a cup of tea like many Asians drink their entire lives and live into their 80s and 90s. We wouldn’t be obese, and is you were LDS, you should probably weight 10 pounds LESS than your non-LDS neighbors rather than 10 pounds MORE.

    So, I think the problem with the WofW isn’t with the document itself, but that fact that it has been twisted into a code of obedience as opposed to a code of health. We ignore the parts we don’t like, and elevate other parts to the point where my kids, unfortunately, look at someone with a beer as a “bad person”. I obviously correct that emphatically, but it’s what they’ve picked up at Church.

  12. 10. Joe borrowed from other temperance movements at the time, he did not come up with anything new. And, if you believe the accounts of those around him, he was not much a follower of the WoW himself.

    9. My experience exactly. I replaced all caffeinated ‘pop’ drinking during the day with a single cup of coffee in the morning. I dropped 10lbs immediately.

    And then I had an epiphany…my health was my responsibility. Conflating healthy living with obedience to an out-dated code of conduct is going to work against you.

  13. My never-Mormon father’s favorite catch-phrase when I was young was “Moderation!” He was a big fan of the concept, and applied it to almost everything, including alcohol, food, coffee and tea, and exercise. His mother was also a great moderation advocate. She will be 99 on Christmas Eve.

    Moderation is a great approach toward life in general, whether you are Mormon or not. Sometimes I think Mormons are extreme self-deniers in some areas (WOW stuff), so they are extreme self-indulgers in others (dessert, anyone?).

    Maybe I’ll moderate someday.

  14. MikeS-

    “And within Utah itself, if you are LDS, you are more likely to get less exercise, eat fewer fruits and vegetables, and weight 10.5 pounds more than if you lived in Utah and were non-LDS.”

    I don’t know about LDS men, but as far as LDS women go, I wonder if these 10.5 extra pounds have to do with having more children in general than non-LDS women, not necessarily from not exercising or eating well. Women, especially as they get older (40 and above), have to deal with horomonal changes which can cause weight gain (especially in the waist line), in addition to the weight that has been accumulated from the natural process of childbirth. I see a lot of women exercising daily in my ward and at the gym and they don’t necessarily weigh the so-called “perfect weight” but they are physically fit and healthy. In other words, just because an LDS woman is carrying around an extra 10 pounds doesn’t mean she isn’t exercising or eating well. I don’t know where ya’ll live, but I see a lot more healthy LDS men and women than unhealthy ones. Be careful not to judge people by their weight, but by the care they give their bodies. Weight can be deceiving, we all aren’t built the same and a bigger person can be much healthier than a skinny one depending on the care they give their body.

  15. As far as moderation in all things, I think we each need to try and follow the Spirit in relation to our individual circumstances. Because we each have different weaknesses (chocolate, overeating, undereating, etc.) we have to listen to what the Lord wants us to do personally to care for our bodies and spirit.

    I also think that the WoW in relation to alcohol, drugs, smoking, etc. is clear in relation to what the church expects and we shouldn’t assume that it is ok for us when it has been clearly stated it is not, at least if we want a temple recommend.

    When it comes to how much meat we should eat or not eat, etc. I think that we should spend time reading the WoW and then pray about what that means for us and how to best implement that in our lives.

  16. I was just giving numbers from a conference yesterday – I don’t have any reasons why. I have my own opinions, but as a doctor, I don’t like saying much that isn’t more substantiated or more than anecdotal. I do take a bit of issue with your claim that we aren’t all build the same, and that a bigger person can be much healthier. While there are always specific instances where this is true, in general, being overweight or obese is directly correlated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and cancer. And I hear every day in my practice that someone is just “naturally big” or “big boned”.

    Here is a very interesting map showing how we have changed in this country in the past 20-25 years:

    We haven’t changed our “genes” or anything else. We just changed our practices.

    With regard to the WofW, I follow it merely out of obedience and not out of health. I actually think I would be healthier if I drank a glass of red wine with dinner. I actually think I would be healthier if I drank coffee instead of diet Coke when I had to stay up all night operating (and even better would be tea, like Asians who live to be 80-90 do). I actually think we wouldn’t have the highest rate of anti-depressant use in the country if more people in Utah had a beer. I actually think that if I didn’t have to go to so many church meetings, I’d have time to exercise more and would be in better shape. But, in order to keep my temple recommend, I follow the rules.

  17. MikeS-

    When I say “bigger” I don’t necessarily mean overweight, but within a healthy weight for their height. This can range a bit and many women feel they have to be on the very low end of that range or they are “fat”. I see a woman at the gym who has been working with a personal trainer for two years and she gets a good work out every time I see her there. She is just a bigger woman in general, but she is exercising regularly with cardio and weight lifting as part of her workout. I think she is healthier in general than another woman I know who is thin but doesn’t exercise at all. I completely understand what carrying extra weight can do in relation to disease, but not exercising at all because you are thin doensn’t mean you are healthy by any means.

    “I actually think that if I didn’t have to go to so many church meetings, I’d have time to exercise more and would be in better shape.”

    I think that is just an excuse! 🙂 Anyone who wants to exercise makes time to do so. I know a man who gets up at 4 am to train and exercise. It’s just about prioritizing time, like letting go of TV time or some other leisure activity.

    As far as drinking coffee instead of diet Coke when you had to stay up all night operating, I am assuming that was when you were a resident? I take issue with the way residents work ridiculous hours and their patients are put at risk because they are so tired and much more likely to make mistakes. I think it is insane that doctors of all people don’t recognize the risk of putting tired residents in a position to do great harm because of extreme fatigue. I think laws should be put in place like they have been with truck drivers, with at least 8 hours of sleep before resuming work. That’s a different post though, and probably not one on MM. 🙂

  18. Unfortunately, people don’t just get hurt, get infections, or have heart attacks between 8-5 on Monday through Friday. They get in accidents in the middle of the night. Things still happen – residency or not…

  19. I recently read a study about cooking with alcohol. The conclusion was that it takes at least an hour of boiling for most of alcohol to cook out – and even after 2.5 hours there is still 5% of the alcohol remaining. I had always heard that as long as you boil it, the alcohol cooks out but this is apparently a misconception. http://www.ochef.com/165.htm

    I’m going to refrain from mentioning this to my mom, who often cooks delicious meals that contain wine and is so strict on the W of W that she won’t drink Coke. I’d hate for her to stop making those amazing scallops that are drenched in Vermouth.

  20. 12 & 13 thank you for both “missing the point” There have been lots of “movements” related to alcohol, tobacco, coffee, & tea. I must have missed those that were “centered” on the concepts that I cited. While it may be true that people have “washed” with alcohol containg liquids for mellenia, I would argue yhat it was more based on the physical properties of the “liquid” rather than any direct & “unknown” benefit of the germicidal effect of alcohol.

    Please don’t be like Obama & give undue credit to IHC for the “health” of Utahns & the LOWEST per capita health care costs in the country. I believe IHC represents the most successful “secret combination” in Ut history.

    Finally as for JS’s use of anything in the WoW, you will note in section 89 that it was originally sent by “greeting; not by commandment or constraint.” In the histories that I have read regarding JS, I can’t ever recall that he was ever described as being “drunk” or “inebriated.” The WoW has too many isolated variable to have been assembled into one cohesive document by an unschooled 25 yo in frontier Ohio in 1833 to be by random chance.

  21. Where I draw my personal line is that chocolate is okay, vanilla extract is okay, but I don’t eat foods cooked with alcohol since I learned what Chelsea stated above. Though I drink caffeinated sodas sometimes, I prefer not to have that much caffeine usually. It has rather powerful effects on me so I try to avoid it altogether. Sometimes I use it as a medicine to help with headaches or if I have to stay awake for some very important reason. I try not to, though, because it can cause some really severe headaches withdrawing from it if I use it several days in a row.

    For tea, I don’t drink anything that calls itself tea, though I realize in some cases that’s overkill. In fact, my son and I call boiling hot water served in a mug “Mormon tea” and I don’t disqualify it for that reason. =)

    Am I the only one who thinks antidepressants are less unhealthy than beer? I totally think that would be a bad trade, if we started drinking beer to lower our antidepressant use. Alcohol is so much worse!

    But I definitely think WoW borderline decisions are up to the individual, and I don’t expect everyone to follow the guidelines I’ve made for myself. I voted based on my own personal interpretation, though.

  22. Post

    “Am I the only one who thinks antidepressants are less unhealthy than beer?” No, I totally agree with you. Anti-depressants are administered under the care of a doctor at least. Self-medicating through drinking alcohol is never a good idea, IMO, Mormon or not. Alcohol is a depressant, not an anti-depressant. It generally adds to the problem.

  23. #24: South Bend Cougar

    I can’t believe that you think IHC “represents the most successful “secret combination” in Ut history”. It is an offshoot of the LDS Church when they divested themselves from medical properties. The board of trustees is primarily stacked with prominent LDS members. And, as an employee of IHC, the LDS culture permeates much of the business. It’s probably the most “LDS” of the major non-Church owned businesses in Utah. So in calling it a “secret combination”, what are you implying?

  24. I agree with Bruce on point #3, and realize others don’t agree with me either, but the WoW is simply a commitment on arbitrary rules that only have their foundation on revelation from a prophet. There is no other reason for the demarcation line, scientifically or biologically. Simply put, you are asked to be committed to following the leadership because “the Lord said so”. Period. So I will humble myself to that, regardless of any scientific documentation.

    The principle of moderation in all things is a great christian practice. I think we need moderation in the number of rules or checklists we need to live to be deemed worthy in the church. Addiction to rules (as much as substances) dampers our intellect and spiritual growth. All commandments are spiritual in nature.

  25. 24.

    Your point was that the use of alcohol to wash the body was somehow prophetic in that it preceded an understanding of germ theory. I will reiterate what others have pointed out; the use of alcohol as an antiseptic has been around for hundreds of years. This was nothing new. The temperance societies active at the time provided everything Joe needed for the WoW. Nothing random, just borrow and repackage.

    Now, had the WoW admonished physicians to wash their hands between patients, that would have been worth something.

  26. I heard it from Arnold Beckman even though it is attributed to Petronius, but I like “Moderation in all things, including moderation”

  27. I do think there’s some merit to the idea of looking at the Word of Wisdom more as a social code than a health code – we abstain from certain substances to signal our membership in a community and to symbolize our commitment to other gospel principles. If health was the main point, we would exercise more and probably wouldn’t have mint fudge brownies at every single ward function.

    That said, I’m personally pretty lax about the gray areas. I don’t drink coffee, black tea, alcohol, and I don’t smoke anything. I do drink lots of herbal tea, have a Vanilla Coke Zero a couple times a week, and I have no problem with foods that are cooked with alcohol or coffee. They’re going to have to pry the tiramisu from my cold, lifeless hands. 😀

  28. [quote]He broke out some specific details for Utah. We are just about the US average in obesity rates, which have increased substantially over the past 2 decades. He also specifically broke it down into LDS and non-LDS statistics, which was very interesting. LDS in Utah are less active than non-LDS. LDS are also, on average, 10.5 pounds heavier than non-LDS in Utah. LDS in Utah also eat fewer fruits and vegetables than non-LDS. And any benefit in not using tobacco is countered by increased weight.[/quote]

    Note, however, that the comparison between LDS and non-LDS is a very biased way of looking at the data. LDS people have had over the past 100 years strong cultural reasons for staying in the stat. Non-LDS people have needed a reason to move in — and those reasons may induce a bias in the sample of non-LDS people. For example, most foreigners I have met know Utah as a place that is excellent for the outdoors; thus one might guess that non-LDS people move in to be outdoors, and thus have better health due to exercise, not because they are not LDS.

  29. Somehow I read coffee-flavored candies as “coffee-flavored *candles*,” and thought, “what are you doing with these candles? Eating them?” And then I was very confused when I read “alcohol-flavored candles”. Time to get my glasses prescription checked. Doh.

  30. #4 Jacob J – I am the same way. When I was having trouble in other areas of sin, I was super strict with the WoW. Since getting those other areas straightened out, I was a little more lax in WoW areas and had an occasional cup of coffee or tea. However, since I value my temple recommend and temple attendance, I’ve been sticking to the WoW rules. I do think that a cup of coffee would be better for me than the non-diet Mountain Dew I drink when I work night shifts as an RN. Though lately I’ve been trying out yerba mate for a caffeine fix.

  31. Comment 11: To the person who is “uncomfortable” with someone else’s choices..Why? Worry about your own. OCD is far more than observing the WoW strictly. It’s an actual medical condition. If you’re that bothered, simply avoid those people whose choices “bother” you.

    Comment 29: Using Alcohol as an antiseptic has been around for a long time yes… but the discovery of bacteria is what she was referring to since that happened later and a complete understanding of WHY it is beneficial used in that regard didn’t come for many decades.

    And I do think that there is a mixture of things going on inside Utah with LDS health that is interesting. Because of our beliefs, more than the WoW, LDS people are less likely to self medicate with alcohol and tobacco, and various other drugs, but are more likely to self medicate with foods, and sodas, and so forth. I also believe that the child bearing idea bears weight.. literally. Having had 3 children, and being an active part of a typical LDS RS here.. I can say that there are LOTS of conversations that circulate about fighting off the baby pounds. When you have 0-2 children it is a lot easier to drop the weight than if you have 3,4,5 or even more. Catholics and LDS are more prone to baby-weight due to having more children in general. Another factor to consider about anti-depressants – in general among all kinds of people, not just LDS, the useage has skyrocketed in recent years for more reasons than “LDS people are just depressed, unhappy, and unhealthy”. 1) Depression has been recognized in the last decade or two as finally being something that CAN be discussed without humiliation, recognized as a real medical issue. 2) Utah in particular has a period of time in the winter that SAD patients find difficult due to the overcast weather day in and day out, thus the need for more light therapy and anti-depressants. 3) There are a lot of SAHM’s among the LDS Utah population, and being one myself, it is very hard to live in your work environment 24/7, and to do a job that does not get much reward other than hugs and kisses, no promotion, no raises, no salary, no adult socialization (other than that specifically sought outside the home). Depression among SAHM’s is prevalent regardless of religious affiliation. This issue of Utah LDS health is FAR more complicated than simple statistics of LDS versus Non-LDS and the typical lifestyle differences between them. As a doctor I’m sure Mike S. would agree.

    Honestly, I think how one lives the WoW is about their personal decision in regards to their lives and personal revelation on the matter. I simply don’t judge anyone for their choices, and hope they would do the same.

    Concerning moderation – when it comes to foods, this is dead on good advice. Too much of or not enough of nearly anything nutritionally is not a wise idea. There are also various health situations that require some alteration to the basic WoW. When it comes to obedience to commandments, moderation is not a wise idea because it implies you think you know more than God and pick and choose when or how or what to obey. I think the quotes are basically speaking about moderation in different contexts and that’s the simple situation here.

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