Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The other day I had the unexpected pleasure of defending Mormon theology against some, shall we say, misinformed ex-Mormon vegans. It all started with a post on Facebook:

"If you are Mormon and you eat meat, you are breaking the word of wisdom... Just sayin'"

This was mostly a "tongue in cheek" jab at what appeared to be a slam dunk case of hypocrisy by Mormons. As anyone who has read even a few of my posts can plainly see, I think that there are a large number of things for which to criticize the Mormon Church, both docrinally and in their methods of operation. But pointing out that Mormons who eat meat are breaking the Word of Wisdom (part of the Mormon canon) is not a valid criticism.

Before I get to my response, here is the passage of scripture in question:

"12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
"13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine."
It should be noted that at the time this "revelation" was recieved by Joseph Smith, it was not to be considered a hard commandment or even really doctrine (this came much later--several years after Joseph Smith's murder), and should therefore be taken more as sound advice, which I will get to later. But first, my response:
"This’ll be fun…

"D&C 49:18-19

"18 And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
19 For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance."

"And just for clarity, “forbiddeth” = “biddeth” according to the footnote (I know, crazy old-school English, right?). Also, the Word of Wisdom says nothing about animals which are neither beasts nor fowls (ie. fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, arachnids, slugs, maybe rodents (?), etc.). Neither does it advocate abstaining completely from meat, but to use it “sparingly” and with “thanksgiving”. So to say that if a Mormon eats meat they are breaking the Word of Wisdom is entirely too simplistic. Also, it IS winter, and it’s rather cold. Just saying…
"Furthermore, the Apostle Paul describes apostasy thusly:
"1 Timothy 4:3-4
"3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:"

"OK, I’m done. I don’t actually care what you do or don’t eat.

"2 Nephi 28:7
"…Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die;"


Mostly I was having fun, and I think the original poster was as well. But still, even a little research on his part could have cleared up his confusion before making it public.

Going back to my statement that the Word of Wisdom was intended more as advice than doctrine, we need to look at the literary and historical context of this passage in order to really understand what is being said. After all, Joseph Smith was notorious for desperately, and often unsuccessfully, trying to sound more intelligent, inspired or official by using the 17th century English of the King James Version of the Bible.

In Smith's day the term "beast" would have meant animals which are commonly hunted or domesticated (by and large this is still the colloquial meaning of the word in the context of food). This is why in my response I made the distinction between beasts and "fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, arachnids, slugs, maybe rodents (?), etc." You see, at that time meat was one of the best, and yet, most difficult to come by sources of protein and fat, both of which are essential to our diets. So, for Smith to say that meat should be used sparingly and in times of winter, cold or famine would not have been a mandate of morality, but frugality and prudence. In other words, people would be wise to save it for a rainy day, of which Smith and his merry band of Pioneers had plenty. This makes even more sense when you consider the Church's current admonission to members to have ample food storage.

Interestingly, my response, which fell mostly upon ex-Mormon vegan ears, recieved only 1 "like".


Anonymous said...

Matt, part of the problem is that you do not correctly understand section 49. For a correct understanding of D&C 49:18 you need to read this recently published article in Interpreter. http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/whoso-forbiddeth-to-abstain-from-meats/

matt said...

Thanks for the comment.

I read (or rather skimmed) your linked article on the phrase "forbiddeth to abstain" and I think maybe you misread what I wrote:

"And just for clarity, “forbiddeth” = “biddeth” according to the footnote (I know, crazy old-school English, right?)."

In other words, I wrote basically the same thing as your article, I was just less wordy. The meaning of the phrase "forbiddeth to abstain from meats", as I noted, is to bid to abstain from meats. This is clarified in the footnote for verse 18, again, as I noted. I don't see a "problem", as you put it.

Forgive me, but I get the feeling that you did not actually read what I wrote. Did you just "Google" the phrase "forbiddeth to abstain from meats" and then leave a comment on my page to promote that article? Too bad you posted anonymously...