Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Tofu Causes Dementia!

I don’t like tofu. I’ve tried to eat it and it actually makes me gag. When I was dating, I suffered through several tofu laden meals for a particular liberal-leaning young woman I was attempting to woo… until I realized that if it worked out I would have to eat tofu for the rest of my life. Wonderful young woman, except for her love of tofu… and her fanatical belief that tofu was a miracle food that could cure all ills. To have challenged her “faith” in tofu would have meant an ugly fight to end our budding relationship… so I just broke up with her.

If today’s internet had been around, I might have scanned through some webpages, and found this article from 1999 which claims that tofu causes dementia. I might have dredged up a few similar articles that claim that tofu causes cancer, or loss of eyesight. I might even have found a few commentaries by conservative bloggers that the reason that liberals don’t “get it” is because the tofu-inspired dementia is already setting in. I could have brought all of those to her and tried to convince her of the evils of tofu, and how she needed to give it up or she would die a cancerous, demented, nearsighted, and short-sighted death, and that soon!

Instead, I told her that I really was not ready for a relationship (somewhat true) and that I needed to spend some time alone figuring out who I was (true, though I did not know it at the time). What I did not do was tell her that this line of thought had been inspired by the fact I just could not take any more tofu. Her faith in tofu was so strong that to have done that would have been like challenging the core of her being.

Now, before any tofu-lovers who read Celestial Lands passionately put fingers to keyboards, I do not believe that tofu causes dementia, or cancer, or nearsightedness, or general liberal-wackyness. While I do not believe that tofu has the miraculous health benefits my ex-ladyfriend did, I do believe that it probably has far more positive health benefits than negative ones. If you can swallow it without nausea, then it is probably a wonderful addition to your diet. My wife eats tofu from time to time, and even has an affinity for soymilk and endamame… she just does not make me eat it. I’m actually somewhat fond of endamame myself.

Hopefully having diverted the onslaught of pro-tofu emails and posts, I move on to the point I hoped to bring by telling this story… and that is that believing something passionately does not make it absolute truth. Nor does saying something loudly and often make it absolute truth. We have come to a time in our culture, in our lives, and in our politics where many people have become convinced their believing something imparts to it ultimate veracity.

Let’s take the example of my ex-ladyfriend… we will call her Kara. Kara was smart, witty, attractive, cute, and downright passionate… most of what I was looking for in a partner at that time. She had read some articles in a few magazines on the health benefits of tofu a few years before, and became a convert. She bragged that she had once gone a whole month where she ate nothing but soy-derived products. She took college classes on nutrition (not her major) just to try and learn more to support her beliefs about soy, and was angry when the professors found her fixation odd. If there was a “Soy-Party Movement”, Kara would have been at the front of it, and would probably have organized her life around it… and for all I know she has.

There is an aspect of human nature that seeks to absolutize the conditional. It has been a part of human nature for millennia, and perhaps it always will be. We humans are not comfortable with a universe that is complex, complicated, and conditional… where any absolute truth that exists within the universe is too deeply embedded for us to even perceive, much less articulate into truths usable in our daily lives.

And so, we create our own truths… we give them a capital T and we spend the rest of our lives attempting to keep them from “caving in on us”, as Mark Twain wrote in “What is Man?” We defend them passionately not because we know they are the Literal Truth, but because our passion around them is a bright light to keep away the darkness of our own doubts. We yell these truths, declare them to be “self-evident”, place them on protest banners, and talk about the day when we can either convince or enforce them upon everyone else.

Sometimes, we claim these truths are divine revelation, one of the most powerful strategies for preventing our doubts from overtaking us. Then we end up fighting not over what each of us “knows” to be true, but over what our “Gods” have declared to be true.

Those of you who are regular readers of Celestial Lands have heard this sermon before… I shout it pretty loudly, and it has been a passionate divining force in my life. You can say “David’s on that Idolatry thing again…” one of his regular “making the conditional into an absolute” sermons. One of the reasons I say it so often and so loudly is to remind myself of the challenge that Mark Twain issued… to become a permanent seeker of truth, not someone who has found truth and is trying to defend it… for I know that while Kara and I did not have tofu in common, we did share a tendency to use passion and commitment to keep our doubts at bay.

I talk about this struggle between the absolute and the conditional often because I live that struggle every day. Because I live it every day, and because my formation as a minister has required I bring so much about myself that was below the surface into the light of my own reflection, I see that same struggle all around me.

I see the struggle of the human need for certainty in a universe of the conditional in much of the religious evangelical furor in the world, be it conservative Christians who find their primary faith practice in conversion to Religious Liberals who advocate handing out pamphlets for “Peace” on public transit.

I see the struggle of the human need for certainty in a universe of the conditional in all of those who passionately believe that President Obama is a socialist/Marxist/Fascist who’s goal is to destroy America… as well as those who believe that President George W. Bush was a “Manchurian Candidate” of Saudi Oil interests who committed war crimes to further the financial goals of his “owners”. I heard both lines of “truth” from passionately committed believers, and realize that the “truth” about each of these men is far more complex.

I see the struggle for the human need for certainty in a universe of the conditional in all of the people who will believe something must be true because a politician whom they ideologically agree with says that something… and the politicians who go on camera and say things that are demonstrably untrue knowing that their supporters will believe it regardless. You do not have to worry about demonstrable truth if you are supporting the absolute truths of those who support you. That absolute truth is more powerful than any demonstration.

I see the struggle for the human need for certainty in a universe of the conditional in many of the slogans that have entered into our political and sociological debates… “Death Panels!” ; “Tea-Partiers are Racists!”; “Obama is Hitler!”; “Virtual Strip-Searches!”; “God Hates Fags!”; “Militias are Traitors!”; etc, etc…

I will make a bit of a “mea culpa” here. I know that my own passion around the issue of the intersection between the tea-party movement and the manifestations of racism in America have, at times, been a bit absolutist. While I do believe that some of the endemic racism in America is being expressed within the tea-party movement, that does not mean that all tea-party participants are racists, nor that racism is their primary motivating factor. As I said, I keep coming back to this issue of absolutizing the conditional because it is one I struggle with, everyday.

What is fascinating to me is the paradox of the role that religion has played in this human instinct to absolutize the conditional. The understanding of God as the only absolute should open up the space for the rest of the human-perceived universe to be understood as conditional… and yet what often happens is that the Absolute Truth that God is supposed to represent becomes the model for how we understand any and all other kinds of truth. Divine Logos transmutes into human Logos, until we commonly confuse our own understandings with the infinite truth of God.

The task (not the truth) of Liberal Religion is not to convince others that we have the divine truth… but rather to lessen our own certainty as to our ability to perceive or conceive of any absolute truth that might exist. It is to struggle every day to live in a world of the conditional, to learn to live intimately with the doubts and fears that such a conditional world often inspires in humanity, and to show that it is possible to live “on the shifting sands.”

Yours in faith,


6 Thoughts on “Tofu Causes Dementia!

  1. Yes! And most religions preach against the folly of absolute answers — see “Tower of Babel” or “Kill the Buddha.”

  2. I really like this.

  3. For what it’s worth, some research suggests that vegan/vegetarian diets that are higher in phytoestrogens (plant-produced analogues to estrogen) lead to a greater incidence of hypospadias (a type of intersex condition).



  4. Tofu doesn’t have much taste by itself. It does absorb spices well, and can be cooked in many different ways.

    Usually its health benefits are touted in comparison to animal based foods. I’ve not heard claims that it actually cures anything.

    Most of the people I know who eat it are vegetarians who do not believe other beings should suffer for a human taste preference. That’s not a liberal or conservative position. It has more to do with mercy.

    Matthew Scully is a conservative and a vegetarian. He’s a former speechwriter for President G.W. Bush. His book Dominion demonstrates how compassion transcends political viewpoints. http://www.matthewscully.com

    Maybe in our culture vegetarianism is radical, but it’s becoming less so, and today’s radicalism sometimes becomes tomorrow’s conventional wisdom. Here’s a thought to consider, from Dean Ornish, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco:

    “I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open and put them on cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.”

    Seitan is another vegetable based protein – derived from wheat, not soybeans – that goes well in dishes.

  5. Ok, this is the last thing I’m going to say on Tofu… Tofu is not the point of the article, just a cute way into the point.

    It’s not the flavor that I don’t like… or the health benefits… Just the texture and consistancy make me gag. I dont like bananas either….

    Yours in Faith,


  6. I, too, have been guilty of painting with the overly broad brush, or working with too many primary colors in my argument. The same can be said of many social movements. If you look at the propaganda (a good thing) of the civil rights movement, you’ll see they, too, painted with a bright, broad brush.

    When we’re in a struggle, we should always try to be better than our opponents. That’s part of how we can deserve to win. But we should try to be so much better that we place ourselves at a losing disadvantage. That’s also got ethical implications.

    About tofu: It’s just unbearable to contemplate, isn’t it? I handled it back when I was a co-op member. It was icky and slimy and it made me nauseous. My roommate once made a pizza with it, and hungry as I was in those days, I couldn’t touch it.

    However, when my friend’s tofu cookery was running, one day he asked me if I’d like to taste some that was still warm, freshly strained through the cheesecloth. I steeled myself to look at it, and it was crumbly. When it’s first out of the vat, it’s not bad. If only they could make it stay that way!

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