Some Thoughts on Gluttony

I’ve already mentioned that I get really tired of the conflation of having a fat body with the sin of gluttony. The times that I’ve seen gluttony addressed in a Christian, religious context, “fat” is usually used as a shorthand for gluttony, and eating in any way that doesn’t make you thin (or at least thinner) is viewed as sinful. Particular foods, specifically anything fatty or sugary, are also treated as innately sinful. (And that language carries over into secular discussions of food….sinful chocolate and virtuous salad.)

But I don’t think any act of eating can be sinful in a vacuum. I think there is such a thing as gluttony, but I think it has less to do with eating too many calories and more to do with selfishly taking from others or refusing to share.  And there’s an example of exactly what I’m talking about in Corinthians:

17But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

33So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

One interpretation of this that I’ve heard is that the communal meal was supposed to be a way of providing for those who didn’t have enough food. But, the wealthy church members who brought food that was supposed to be shared arrived first.  And rather than actually share, they ate early and finished off everything they’d brought. Then, when the day laborers arrived, after working a full day, there was nothing left for them to eat.

So, is eating a piece of chocolate cake sinful? Not inherently. If it’s the last piece of chocolate cake, and you don’t wait to see if everyone else in the house has had some, then I’d say yes. It’s not the food itself, but how it affects those around you.

I can think of a specific time when I was definitely guilty of gluttony.  We were gaming, and there was a bag of Swedish fish. Another player really liked them, and so the bag ended up by me, partly to rag on him and partly so he wouldn’t just eat them all.  Instead, *I* ended up eating most of the bag.  It wasn’t malicious, more a combination of needing something to do with my hands while the game was going on and unthinkingly eating the food that was in front of me because it was there. (I’m usually pretty good at stopping when I’m full, but I need to physically move the food away from me to do so.)

It’s kind of a silly example, and I’m not wracked with guilt or anything (though I probably will bring a bag of Swedish fish to the next game), but it shows the difference I think is important. It’s not eating that’s gluttonous, but eating more than you need in a way that takes away from other people.

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2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Gluttony

  1. Jenny Islander says:

    I don’t think it’s only eating more than one’s share, but also obsession over any amount of food in a way that works against the happiness and peace of others. I can’t think of a better example than Lewis’s story of the woman who is so finicky about her modest meals and her bits of toast with nice little cups of tea that everybody involved in trying to prepare them to her impossible standards is exasperated to the point of fury. I suppose that a modern analogy might be the person who thinks of the excellent diet made possible by their comfortable income as the only sensible way to eat and refuses to consider that people who don’t eat like that may need help with the cost of food.

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