Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 14: Intemperance

Problems of the Age: 14: Intemperance

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XIV. – Intemperance

Prohibition. – Temperance is more than a code of laws which we call prohibition. It is a duty we owe to our God, our families; a duty to become our brothers’ keepers. The world has become greatly alarmed over the degeneracy of manhood and over the increased allurements to womanhood through drink. The banker found it an insidious enemy. The manufacturer bewailed the inefficiency of those who through drink obstructed his progress. It became more and more a great economic question. Through it the stability of business life was broken. As long as it had apparently no other evil than the destruction of the home, the hunger of children, the broken hearts of wives and mothers, the world tolerated it beyond belief. It was a sordid world and material gains outweighed spiritual values.

Once it touched business and laid its hands violently upon commercial life men of affairs rose up in antagonism to it, and yet all the arguments of dollars and cents were weak compared with the destruction it wrought in the moral and spiritual life of the world. The argument of business was that drink cost the United States six billion dollars every year. Men of science declared that two drinks a day would slow down the energy of the brain from eight to twenty per cent.

Increase of Vice. – We have introduced prohibition in many of the states of the Union. Will that produce temperance? It will help, but it will take time. There will be arguments against it, and statistics brought to prove the arguments and to prove the prosperity of the nation by what people can afford for drink. The following comes from the New York Sun of September 5, 1917:

Despite the high cost of living the people of the United States consumed 26,000,000 gallons more of distilled spirits in the fiscal year ending June 30th last than in the year before.

They needed for their comfort 879,180,583 more cigars and 9,440,000,000 more cigarettes – the later increase being ascribed by the ungallant internal revenue bureau to the increase of cigarette smoking among women. We refuse to accept the explanation.

Chewing and smoking consumption increased by 23,500,000 pounds. Snuff, – where it is used, – went up 2,200,000 pounds.

Washington officials point to this record of increasing expenditures for luxuries as an evidence of great prosperity. Perhaps it is. But it is a poor promise for future prosperity. The spectacle of a nation clamorous against the increased price of food and of every necessary of life increasing its annual expenditures for liquor and tobacco by millions is not ver inspiriting.

Downward Movement. – Nothing proves more strikingly the rapid slide downward which the social life of our nation is taking. Can it be stopped? What can stop it? Such a showing illustrates the fallacy of merely applying a legal remedy, and then awaiting complacently the coming millennium. Law is not the great remedy for vice. Law hits more forcefully at crimes – the grosser crimes along whose mountain sides lie the rolling hills of vice. But law can help. And it must be helped, or it will fail. It is perhaps one of the greatest objections to law that it lures men into the belief that nothing more is needed of them. Let the law take its course, is the fallacy of self-contented failure. Law requires, when it deals with vice, the aid of public opinion and individual effort. It is sustained effort that carries great reforms on to victory. It is to him who endures to the end. One of the greatest dangers in the prohibition movement of the world today is the false argument of a victory won. Victory is not won, it is merely a promise. To make laws successful in questions of vice (I make a clear distinction between vice and crime), there must not only be a strong, but a lasting public will. Any reaction invites defeat. Why does law against vice often fail so lamentably? The masses are prone to one vice or another. Men will excuse their own and tolerate kindred vices. Crimes are more loathsome, and are the practices of the comparatively few. In matters of vice it will not do to watch and wait.

Kindred Vices. – It may be well to note that vices are multiplying. Our forefathers would be appalled today at the sight of the great brood of vices which were wholly unknown in their day. They had evils to be sure, plenty of them, all they could endure. Vice has its fashions and many of them change annually; it is the fashion of fashions to change. It is not primarily a question of art with fashion. When it wins a certain following, it marches on to universality. Vice is in a high degree a fashion, not in its dress, but in its kinship to dress. Dress and vice in alla ges have had striking resemblances. It was so in ancient times. Fashion, drink, and sexual sin have always been the three graces of the underworld.

It is difficult to single out one vice and push it away from all its relations of cousins, aunts, and nieces. Sooner or later they will meet. Liquor is simply one of many vices. It is hard to banish when its pals are allowed to stay. To make prohibition fulfil its mission there must come into action a concerted movement against the kindred evils of the one it seeks to abolish. Temperance is what the world needs to correct the monstrous evil of drink. It is temperance in thought and action; temperance in high and low places; temperance in language and motives; temperance in fashion and pleasure; temperance in all the walks of daily life. It is reported of President Smith that when he was once asked his attitude on prohibition that he declared himself for temperance, that which corrects a multitude of evils, and prevents drink. Without temperance, prohibition must fight single handed. Drink is the companion of hilarity, frivolity, lascivious dress and immorality. The battle to victory must be along the whole line. If one only is attacked and driven back the others begin a flanking movement that lead sooner or later to the defeat of those who rush on to the attack of the enemy in one place. We hope and pray that prohibition may be a complete antidote for the evil of drink; but it must be supported by the spirit of temperance. The card table, the pool room, and excessive pleasures are all companions of drink. When drink is ordered out, her devoted friends will. By sinister ways invite her return. We warn, we admonish and expound the doctrine of temperance. The tide of a dissipated age is rolling up against us. Shall we brace and hold ourselves against it; or shall we yield and falsely comfort ourselves that it is moving shoreward; that we must go with the tide; that it is folly to move against it; that in Rome we must do as Rome does? There was in that ancient capital a body of devoted and despised people, the early Christians, that did not do as Rome did. But they paid the penalty, the cynic says. Suffering was not a penalty; it developed in them the power of redemption. Their good works survived, and out of them a new world sprang up, a new civilization was born, a new promise fulfilled. But other tides of life came in the recurring events of the nations. The old dies and the new is born. There is always a struggle between life and death. Intemperance has always been a potent sign of decay. It stalks in the world today; it is everywhere; it knocks at the door of the Saints, and would delight them with the sweet intonations of its voice. Temperance, that is the key-note of safety.

Dangers of Excesses. – Rivalry is the spirit of the age. Rivalry means excess; excess, intemperance. Who can have the best time is the ambition of youth. Seekers after a good time vie with one another in dress, in social pastimes, and in all kinds of physical excesses. We are reminded that we eat too much, as well as rink too much, that we eat the wrong kind of food, that we are extravagant beyond all reason. Men build big houses which they do not need; they waste time and money in joy rides; and they seek opportunity to display wealth that does not really belong to them. Debt is the fashion of the age. It is overwhelming the permanency of commercial life. Everywhere in life the laws of temperance are violated, if not positively outraged. He who stands for temperance is a benefactor to his people and his race.

As Rome Does. – And what is the argument in favor of all this life of intemperance? It is the old fallacy of “living in Rome.” Tides are always shattered at the shore; the break waters of life do not fall down from heaven to stop the rolling tide. They are made foot by foot, inch by inch. Little by little the forces of resistance are built up. We may not destroy the tide, but we may break, if we will, much of the power of its destruction. Here a man and there a woman braced in force against the evils of the day may dissipate many of them. As resistance grows, evils scatter. They may go on, but every fracture in them lessens the power of their destruction. The priesthood, for whom these words are written, stand to the front as a resisting force to the evils of the age.

Remedy. – An eminent U.S. Senator was asked if the treatment he received at the Battle Creek Sanitarium had helped him. He replied that it had; but that a “Mormon” might have told him all that he got there in three words – “Word of Wisdom” (read Sec. 89, Doc. and Cov.).


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