Kataphatic’s post about dieting as an anti-gospel really resonated with me.
And then I read this, a devotional about how taking care of your body (by which the author mostly means losing weight) is a spiritual discipline. The author starts with a statistic about how many people are “obese” and how many people will die of chronic diseases “due to being overweight.”
First off, there is not a single disease that fat people get that thin people don’t. Not heart disease, not diabetes, not anything. Weight is a risk factor, not a 100% certain cause. And for things like thyroid issues, PCOS, and other diseases, it’s neither a cause nor a risk–it’s a symptom. But we assume, automatically, that if Person X is fat and Person X died from Disease Y, fat caused disease Y.
“Your body is God’s temple. If you were walking down the street and saw some gang vandalizing a church, you’d do something about it, right? When you don’t take care of your body, you are vandalizing God’s temple.”
Wow. Just wow. The body as a temple, sure, I won’t argue with that. But we’re equating eating a donut or failing to go for a jog with throwing a rock through a stained glass window. Seriously. Not. On. The. Same. Level.
You want to talk about vandalizing God’s temple? How about skipping lunch day in and day out? How about walking a mile or three in dress shoes, wrecking your heels and ankles? How about gall stones, or ruining your metabolism?
Also, the idea of a religious duty to be healthy is all kinds of problematic, because it creates the idea that if you’re sick, it’s your fault. Oh, and not only did you fail yourself, you failed God. That attitude reminds me of nothing so much as Job’s so-called friends telling him how his troubles are his own fault, and he must have offended God in some way. This article seems to imply the same of people with diabetes or heart disease, that they’ve offended God, and ill health is some kind of divine punishment for eating “sinful” foods.
What makes conflating religion and the pressure to be thin so dangerous is that believing that God wants you to do something can thoroughly side-track your common sense. That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. Common sense helps you interact with the here-and-now physical world, and faith goes beyond that. I mean, it wouldn’t have gone real well for Noah’s family if he’d been focused on the likelihood of that amount of rain falling, instead of getting his tail in gear on the construction and rounding up critters.
But when the message isn’t actually from God, that same derailing of logic can have awful consequences. Even without religious reasons, people do really dumb things to try to be thin. Make it a religious duty, and the potential for self-harm just increases.
One other thing about the “body as a temple” metaphor. I’m not finding the reference right now (it’s somewhere in 1 Kings, I think), but if I recall correctly, God was supposed to have told Solomon what the dimensions were supposed to be, what the building materials were supposed to be, and how it was to be laid out. To me, there’s a huge parallel there with the fact that body size is largely genetic. God sets the size and composition for each human temple too. And if the body is a temple, is it respectful to the builder to try to force it into another shape from what he created? Sure, we try to change our bodies in all kinds of ways, to fight nature for all sorts of reasons. Some good, some bad, some pretty much neutral. But I don’t think you can use “your body is a temple” to argue that everyone should view thinness as a religious discipline without addressing the issue of whether God *wants* his temples remodeled to human specifications, and probably damaged in the process.