C.S. Lewis once declined to speak against homosexuality since he, himself, had never been tempted with it. I agreed wholeheartedly and have tried to refrain from speaking much about sins with which I’ve never really struggled. Games are easily won from the sidelines. Wars are easily fought from the safety of the tent. Yet, I set out a path for myself to cover all of the seven deadly sins and I had no idea how tough it would be. This post has taken me three days.
So, a few caveats before reading. My overall purpose is to point out how the hierarchies of sin created by the medieval culture and today’s culture are at odds. Just recently, I glanced through a book that teaches about sex to kids from a Biblical perspective. He opined that sexual sin is perhaps the worst sin that a person can commit. Most of today’s Christians would agree.
This post challenges that assumption.
I purposely speak with the same strength of rhetoric and emotion that I’ve heard from the pulpit on sexual sin. If you struggle with weight, and these words sting, transfer these emotions to people who are challenged with sexual sin. I hope it will build your compassion for them.
What is fascinating about this layer of hell is not Cerberus, barking with his three massive gullets and his enormous paunch, straining to eat and nothing else, or the shades, guilty of gluttony, moaning, lying on the ground, turning, turning, turning, rolling upon one side to shield the other from the ceaseless downpour of cold rain, hail, and snow. The most interesting aspect about this layer of hell is its placement. It is the third layer of hell. Dante has just conversed with the adulterous lovers, Francesca and Paolo, forever glued together in an embrace, thrown against the ruined slope, lashed and scourged by the black air, by the endless winds of unrestrained passion.
And now, after tossing a fistful of mud into the gaping maws of Cerberus and safely passing by, he meets Ciacco, which reminds me of the Spanish Chancho, which, when translated, does in fact mean “Hog.”
If Dante were from our own culture, he would know that not only would it not be acceptable to call people “Hog” or place people who eat too much below the adulterers, it wouldn’t be permissible to include them in hell at all. Moreover, there would be a place in hell for people who judged fat people — perhaps at the very bottom where they would make a most delectable dish for demons.
Which culture is right? The medieval or the present?
Will gluttons go to hell? Or people who judge gluttons?
For most people, it is an irrelevant question. It’s a rarity to find people who believe in a hell.
But I’m struck by how a conscientious, medieval person would view an obese person condemning …
people who shack up, a “loose” woman or a cheating husband, or homosexuality.
The person from the middle ages would see the person who eats too much as the greater sinner.
Things have changed, haven’t they?
I guess I’m always wondering if, as a culture, we have a huge log in our eye? A blind spot that hideously mars the true picture.
Are Americans, as a culture, a defining example of gluttons?
Derived from the Latin gluttire, the word means to gulp down or swallow. Medieval church leaders such as Thomas Aquinas took a more expansive view of gluttony, arguing that it could also include the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods. He outlined six ways to commit gluttony:
- Praepropere – eating too soon. Consider the push for always having snacks on-hand. Are we training our children to never experience hunger? Are we robbing them of a chance to learn fortitude? To strengthen themselves? Are we sabotaging their health? I, too, am guilty of raiding the pantry whenever I feel a hunger pang. Perhaps there is a discipline in waiting for a meal. And then, once the food is laid out on the table, we shouldn’t dive in without a prayer of thanks. And the prayer of thanks should be simple, but said with reverence, and not with a sense of rush and impatience.
- Laute – eating too expensively. Being a foodie is hot right now. But the line is crossed when the focus is no longer the nourishment of our bodies. Think of Rome — it is a sign of a rotting culture when the privileged few are eating plates of humming birds’ tongues and the starving mob is being bribed with free bread at the Gladiator games. America is the new center of western civilization. The third world is the new starving mobs. History is repeating itself.
- Nimis – eating too much. None more need be said.
- Ardenter – eating too eagerly (burningly).
- Studiose – eating too daintily (keenly). Here is where Skinny Bitch gets her due. You can still be a glutton if you’re paying too much attention to food — even if it is about not eating it or only eating certain stuff. Do you refuse to eat certain foods when you’re a guest at someone’s house? Do you turn your nose up at foods offered because they are unhealthy or might make you fat? Or simply because you don’t like them? Perhaps there is never a reason to permit yourself or your children to refuse food simply because of dislike or distaste. I am not sure of where the lines should be drawn, but the overall attitude must be examined.
- Forente – eating wildly (boringly). This is a confusing one for me, but perhaps it means eating without gratitude or enjoyment.
Surely, every person can find room for improvement in one of these areas. I know I’ve been guilty on each account at some point or other. I think the anecdote is to become like a child as much as possible. To try to not think much about food when it is not directly before you. To be late to the dinner bell because you’re busy doing something else engrossing. To be the first to get down from the table and get back to what you were doing. And to forget to eat unless someone calls you to it. Snacks are unnecessary but okay for a special occasion. As much as possible, get the focus off of continuous food and quick food and a fear of hunger and focus on quality time and quality food at the table. Somehow, our minds and spirits should not be allowed to be governed by our stomachs or cravings. Most of our thoughts should be captivated by ideas and thoughts that are greater than food. It might go hand-in-hand with idleness. Hard work suppresses the recognition of hunger.
But the sin is not just about food. It is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste.
I’m picturing garbage cans piled high after Christmas after we’ve purchased loads of cheap clothing made in sweat shops and little breakable plastic deal-i-os imported from China.
Or rivers being filled with bleach because we want our toilet-paper white.
Or school children being filed through cafeteria lines to consume subsidized corn-stuffed products.
Or the acres of rainforests that have been mowed down to graze cattle for McDonald’s restaurants.
Check out this presentation Paul showed the family on gluttony: www.storyofstuff.com/
I think the most salient point in that presentation is that somebody pays for everything we buy or eat. We think we are being good stewards by shopping and buying the best deal. But some other family or child or land has paid dearly so we can purchase that something or other for almost-nothing.
It’s a universal law: TANSTAAFL — There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
Somebody, somewhere is paying for your free lunch, or cheap purchase, or great deal.
Those too-cheap-to-pass-up school cafeteria lunches full of high fructose corn-syrup and GMOs and MSGs? Government subsidized. We pay. With our taxes. With our health. With our obese children who can’t even use the monkey bars because their weight is too great — who lose their inheritance of glorious childhood — of leaping and running and climbing and racing and falling and skinning up and winning and jumping. Somebody pays.
Cheap stuff, cheap food = cheapened lives. Either the land or other people have been exploited. Or we exploit ourselves. Often, we pay with our health, with the rise of cancer, with health costs, with the rise of obesity, with the rise of obese-related diseases, with headaches, with ADD, ADHD, and with other mind-boggling diseases that we just can’t or won’t understand why we’re living but not living.
We gulp down the illusion that is created by advertising and large companies. We have the illusion of competition — but the reality is a corporation owns all the competition. We are sold the illusion that we need to buy stuff — that our happiness depends on it. That we have choice. That we have control. But if we are taking our cues from the advertisers, we have none of those things. We are not free. We are enslaved.
People are often amazed at my children’s ability to be thankful and excited about everything. Every day is a joy. Every endeavor is taken to with excitement. They are ready to like. They are ready to love. They are delighted by the smallest gifts, the simplest entertainments, the dullest places.
Of course, there is no way to isolate the variable to discover what causes this. Is it her parents? Is it the homeschool? Is it genetic? Is it just their personalities? Is it prayer? Or training?
But Elsa was in her tweens when she asked her Auntie what a mall was. And we’ve never allowed television where advertisers could sink their demonic claws in our children’s minds and hearts. Who knows what effect the lack of advertisements has done for their happiness and self-worth? Who can measure how much those predatory efforts to get them to need something affects their ability to feel good?
We all know with our minds that we don’t need to buy something to make us happy. Everyone can say that. Delusional, we feel we haven’t really bought in. But do the facts support it? If we looked at our credit card or checkbook ledger, would there be evidence that we haven’t bought in?
Now, I’m just as tired as the next person of hearing anti-American sentiments from Americans who wouldn’t be able to be anti-American if it weren’t for the sacrifices of many other Americans. But, shouldn’t we question ourselves just a little?
Shouldn’t we wonder if we, as a people, are over-indulging or over-consuming to the point of waste?
To be fair, gluttony is also associated with a withholding from the needy and Americans are easily the most generous people on the planet. But what type of generous are we? Are we the Pharisees depositing huge amounts of money given out of our wealth? Or does it cut into our pleasure and desires at all? In other words, is there any of the widow’s mite in our giving? Is there any sacrifice? These are questions that can only be answered personally. We shouldn’t point fingers, just question ourselves. But until it hurts a bit, I wonder how much it counts in the kingdom of heaven.
Fasting is an anecdote. And I can recommend no better treatise on the subject than my oft-recommended Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster.
Excluding kids who should not fast and those who cannot fast because of health reasons, every Christian should examine fasting as a viable means to the freedom of the Christian life. And yes, I know that there are a multitude of ways to fast, but the fact that we are so quick to find them should make us examine all the more whether food is the very thing we should be giving up.
I remember when I first tried to fast and discovered that I got extremely cranky. I experienced an excruciating headache and an irritability that was irrational. I thought I might be hypoglycemic. But Richard Foster didn’t let me off the hook. Fasting reveals things. It brings clarity. It pulls back the curtain on ugly sins that reside in my life. When I fast, if I get cranky and angry, it is because I am cranky and angry and I need to deal with it.
Richard was right.
I did have a cranky and angry attitude. It needed to be faced.
Food clothes attitudes that may need to be stripped. Food calms sins that may need to be awakened and fought. Food hides trespasses that must be found.
It is a tool Christ assumed we would use — “When you fast …” And a source of power meant for exorcising tenacious demons — “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.”
Somehow, this ability to control our stomach corresponds closely to the self-control needed for a true, Christian life.
I say these things from a series of fumbling experiments. By no means have I arrived. I’ve had my highs (fasting for a week straight). I’ve had my lows (attempting to fast and popping something in my mouth ten minutes later and giving in completely and eating handfuls of chips and anything else I could get my hands on).
It’s a struggle to fast while providing for your family. It seems to me a cruelty to cook while fasting.
Just the same, view this post as an invitation. Being able to tell your unruly stomach to shut up is like opening up the door to your cage — there is a whole, wide world out there without being a slave to anything but Christ, and Christ alone. He is the only owner that won’t tear you apart. It is one of the great paradoxes. Slavery to Him is the path to true freedom.