Monday, September 29, 2014


"God, Satan, Paradise and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith. I recall it vividly. I was at school in England by then. The moment of awakening happened, in fact, during a Latin lesson, and afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down. I remember feeling that my survival confirmed the correctness of my new position."
--Salman Rushdie

"I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."
--Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism)

In some religions there is a subtle but significant difference between doctrine and cultural norms. For instance, it is common for Hindus to abstain from eating animal products as they tend to view the practice as cruel. But this is not a hard-line rule as many Hindus still choose to eat meat. It seems that for some Hindus it is a matter of upbringing and what is common in the surrounding culture rather than religious beliefs. It is rare for individuals to challenge religiously-inspired cultural norms, even if such norms are not strictly doctrinal.

A common practice within Mormonism--even among my own family--is to abstain from caffeinated soda. This is a practice thought to be a logical extension from Mormon scripture which states that one should not drink "hot drinks" (i.e. "coffee or black tea"). The reason for such a prohibition is often expounded upon by members and church leaders, but to my knowledge the church has never officially explained the reasons god would even care about such a thing.

Nonetheless, it is generally accepted among Mormons that since both coffee and black tea contain caffeine (a slightly addictive stimulant) that this commonality must have something to do with their prohibition. Further more, other drinks which also have caffeine must be similarly discouraged by god, therefore one should also abstain from caffeinated sodas. This hypothesis was reinforced in the 90's when the then-president of the Mormon church Gordon B. Hinckley did not deny that the church discourages the consumption of caffeinated soda during an interview on 60 Minutes.

Despite the fact that church leaders often encourage such extrapolation of commandments (at least when it leads to even more conservative practices, like many Mormons who don't view PG-13 movies when the church only discourages watching R-Rated movies) in 2012 the Mormon church sent out a press release to clarify that caffeinated sodas are not explicitly prohibited by the church. As one might suspect, this pronouncement caused a stir among members and many people began to ask follow up questions about how this will change things for Mormons in general and the various church functions and institutions, most notably church owned universities and schools.

When asked how this would affect the largest of the Mormon schools, Brigham Young University, the response was that there was "no demand" for caffeinated soda on campus, therefore the local vendor who stocks the university's vending machines with non-caffeinated soda upon the request of BYU dining services--not the university administrators or the church--would continue to do so.

Is it true, though, that there is no demand for caffeine on campus? I, for one, would often drink Mt. Dew or Dr Pepper while attending BYU. I did most of my studying at home, but I knew many people who would bring caffeinated soda with them while they studied on campus.

One does not need to take my word for it. Just last year an incident occurred which illustrates my point splendidly. The company which stocks BYU's vending machines accidentally put caffeinated Coke Zero in a machine in the Brimhall Building on campus. It did not take long for word of the error to spread among students via social media, and within hours, all of the caffeinated soda was snatched up. Keep in mind that Coke Zero is among the least popular flavors of Coke. But this did not matter to those seeking caffeine on a campus which systematically limits its use.

There is also a student-run online service called Caffeine On Campus (I'm not sure if this is still active) which allows students to order any caffeinated beverage they like and have it hand-delivered to them anywhere on campus for a nominal fee. No demand? Really?

So, the question stands, why does BYU not offer caffeinated soda on campus when the church has officially declared it "OK" to drink? 

Perhaps rather than teaching people correct principles and allowing them to govern themselves they have created slaves of culture, non-confrontational pushovers (for contention is of the devil), who will blindly follow those around them for the sake of conformity and who passively await clarification on life's difficult questions from spiritual "authorities."

This principle is why I find religion not to be a moral system. In no way do those who follow commandments make a moral assessment of a situation and decide the best course of action. It is infinitely easier to simply do what you are told by a supposed prophet than to think for yourself.

Instead of asking what you should do from a self-appointed authority (especially one whose authority extends only as far as you allow), maybe you should ask yourself what you should do based on your desired outcome. If you don't like caffeinated soda, fine. Don't drink it. But take the time to formulate your own thoughtful and compelling reasons to do so. 


Richard Dawkins on secular morality:

The Atheist Experience on the cost of religion:

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