Here’s something to think about as we fire up those grills, dish out the potato salad and dig into some corn-on-the-cob, watermelon and ice cream tomorrow (at least here in the States): gluttony. Check out this piece today on the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog delving into the physiology behind competitive eating, referencing this peer-reviewed study out of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine which comes to the following (shocking! truly shocking!) conclusions:
Our observations suggest that successful speed eaters expand the stomach to form an enormous flaccid sac capable of accommodating huge amounts of food. We speculate that professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting, and even the need for a gastrectomy. Despite its growing popularity, competitive speed eating is a potentially self-destructive form of behavior.
Well, at least they had the sense to put in that last line… though the implication in a medical journal would tend to be that the self-destruction is purely physical. As anyone who’s ever been around someone with an eating disorder knows (and they come in all shapes, sizes and flavors): it is much more than that. (I was, once, for about eighteen months, anorexic (as a teen)… Yeah, I know men aren’t supposed to ‘have’ that. I did. Quite acutely. So did John Lennon. He was a much better singer-songwriter than I am.)
I once watched a couple of these contests on television. They were fascinating… for awhile… in a voyeuristic, sickening, ‘what’s going to happen next’ kind of way. That’s the same thing that Howard Stern used to say, by the way, about why folks tuned in to him (back when I listened, that is): to see what would happen next and (subtext) just how depraved it might get. Voyeurism. The engine of all temptation. The notion that watching is inseparable from being tempted. Stern thought he knew where that line was… until his wife left.
After not too long watching a hot-dog-eating contest one day, it became harder and harder to distinguish the sensation I got from that of watching hard-core violence or porn. Or listening to Stern. (One can remember, even if one does not indulge anymore). One feels vaguely, then acutely… ill-at-ease (if one has a conscience at all, that is — and we all do — though some consciences (those Holy Spirit whispers) have been put on starvation rations in the cellars of our being).
It just feels… off-base somehow… an abuse of God’s purpose for this gift of a body.
But it goes beyond that. There’s the fact that they’re doing it to themselves, of course. The eaters — and others. In the purely libertarian, atheist framework I used to inhabit, one would simply laugh and say (either): silly people… they’ll have to live with the consequences or non-consequences of their actions (and that’s true, though it’s not all of it), or else what clever people… they’re earning money and fame for something so idiotic. Good for them. That’s America: idiosyncratic, even idiotic from time to time… but free. Yes, gloriously free. Pass the pork chops and the remote… or at least turn up the volume, please.
The fact that they’re doing it publicly, that it’s being celebrated, that the contests and prizes are serving to normalize an activity that isn’t and shouldn’t be though… That all makes it worse. Much worse. Then there’s the fact that I’m watching, that they know that I (or at least numbers of people like me) are watching and then that people are making money based on the fact that they know that lots of people are watching.
It goes round in circles, you see, and it spreads, like a virus: the idiocy, the normalizing, the voyeurism, the money, the idiocy. No, lets not call it idiocy. Just for a moment. Bear with me. Lets call it… sin. Yeah, I know. It’s an outdated word. An outdated concept. It’s unfashionable. It’s judgmental.
Sorry. I’m not judging you or even them. I’m just writing. I’m raising a topic for discussion. Pointing out some laws of the universe that I didn’t invent. God will do the judging. All you have to do is think… or not. Pray… or not. Your choice. The links below may help you do that. They come from a pretty wide range of perspectives. Take your pick. Or go Google it. It’s a free country, thank God.
My two cents (or maybe five), having scanned a bunch of those links and thought about gluttony as sin in the context of other things designated as sinful in the Bible: we’ve become so de-sensitized, as a society, to most of what used to be called sinful that we don’t even recognize sin most of the time anymore. At the same time though, some parts of the religious community have reacted far more strongly to some sins than to others.
The reasons for that are myriad (including the late William F. Buckley Jr’s famous adage that it is the burden of the conservative to stand athwart the world yelling “Stop!” while others propose all kinds of things that should never have been proposed in the first place.) Yet it’s also true that with some of them (some sins, that is), it’s a whole lot easier to point fingers and scapegoat a small group and feel like one has somehow cleansed oneself by doing so. As they used to say when I was growing up: Danger Will Robinson!
For example: I’m not gay. Never have been. Don’t plan to be. I’m not as prone to gorging myself on donuts as some people, either. Some very good friends are, though. Both things. And each. I love ‘em. The friends. In fact, we’re going to have dinner with some of them tomorrow (you guess which ones; I’m not telling).
Here’s the thing though: my status as un-tempted in those directions (or in the case of food, less tempted) doesn’t give me the right to condemn the people who do do those things. The sins: yeah. I have to. If I don’t, I’m remaking God in my own image and that’s perhaps the biggest sin of them all. He is who He is. He’s unchanging. And that’s the tough part. The discerning part. The forbearance and praying part. The asking: who is He? He’ll tell you. In His time and His ways, if you sincerely want to know and keep at it. You may be surprised what He says. I sure was — and still am.
That knife-edge is bounded on one side by the temptation of a ‘whatever’ mindset that eventually flows to celebration, nothingness and the snake’s words: did God really say?, or else, on the other side, to the real biggie: pride, and its close evil sibling, self-righteousness. It’s a narrow gate. We cannot say we weren’t warned. (Side note: the most toxic combination may be ‘whatever’ plus pride. But that’s another post.)
Here’s another quick thing. Sins like self-centeredness, egosim and pride — the ones that apply to all but one or two elite saints over the centuries — those don’t get near as much coverage. They splatter. They’re hard to run from. They’re impossible to scapegoat. That’s worth thinking about, IMHO. Happy Fourth, everyone!
Some links on gluttony worth perusing:
Is Gluttony a Sin?
Gluttony: sin of lust and greed
Seven Deadly Sins (Gluttony)… with a recipe for double peanut-butter paisley brownies…
Avoiding Gluttony… and being deceived by those who quote scripture
The Sin of Gluttony
Confessions of a Glutton