The appetite for sex, thought C.S. Lewis, is in “ludicrous and
preposterous excess of its function.” How else, he wondered, can we
explain the fascination men have with watching a girl publicly undress
on a stage? The “strip-tease” shows the absurdity of our propensity for sexual titillation:
Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a
theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then
slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the
lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon,
would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with
the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a
different world think there was something equally queer about the state
of the sex instinct among us?
One critic said that if he found a country in which such striptease
acts with food were popular, he would conclude that the people of that
country were starving. I agree with him that if, in some strange land,
we found that similar acts with mutton chops were popular, one of the
possible explanations which would occur to me would be famine. But the
next step would be to test our hypothesis by finding out whether, in
fact, much or little food was being consumed in that country.
Nor is the hypothesis of ‘starvation’ the only one we can imagine.
Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites,
grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do
gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.
In a country that spends more money on “adult entertainment” than
pro-football, basketball and baseball combined, we shouldn’t be
surprised that other appetites are also prone to overindulgence. While
we may not have special theaters where food in seductively unveiled (at
least not yet), there is certainly something “queer about the state” of
the food instinct in America. Take, for example, the MONSTER THICKBURGER by the fast-food chain Hardee’s.
Described as a “monument to decadence,”
the burger contains an artery-clogging 1,420 calories and 107 grams of
fat. When combined in a “combo meal” with large fries and a medium
drink, the total tips the scales at 2,285 calories. Such a meal would
comprise 77% of the daily caloric intake for the average male (175 lbs., moderately active) and 99% for the average female (150 lb, moderately active). To work off those calories
a person would need to jog for over 3 hours, walk briskly for 7.5
hours, or simply sit in front of the TV for 31 hours straight.
The MONSTER THICKBURGER is an iconic representation of America’s
embrace of gluttony, a sin that has long been forgotten. While many
churchgoers have heard sermons warning against the dangers of sexual
sins such as adultery or fornication, they’re not likely to have heard
their pastor speak out against gluttony. It’s doubtful that many
Christians would even consider it a sin. An openly homosexual couple
attempting to join the congregation would be looked down upon by the
obese deacon showing them to the door; and no one in the pews would
even recognize the irony. The stink of our hypocrisy is so overwhelming
that it’s amazing we can hold down our order of Super Size fries.
Gluttony was once listed among the seven deadly sins.
But now it’s considered, when it’s thought about at all, as a private
health matter. We may realize that overeating has led to weight gain, a
change in appearance, or diminished health. But we never recognize it
as a spiritual problem.
Oddly enough, with the exception of those related to sex, American
Christians tend to take an antinomian view of “physical sins.” We act
as if corrupting our bodies will have no impact on our souls. Such an
un-Biblical view, however, must be rejected by anyone who acknowledges
that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Lest we start to feel superior to the obese neighbors, we should
remember that not all gluttons are overweight. I’m 5’10’, 180 lbs and
though I no longer have to endure the rigors of Marine Corps martial arts,
I’m still in relatively decent shape (pear-shaped, perhaps, but
still…). But while my waistline may not completely expose my shame,
I’m prone to overindulging in food. I eat several snacks between meals.
I eat when I’m in my car. I eat when I’m bored. I eat when I’m
restless, when I’m frustrated, when I’m watching TV, when I’m on the
computer–I eat constantly for no other reason than that I can.
In stuffing my face, I neglect my spiritual life. I turn to the
refrigerator instead of turning to prayer. I pause at the vending
machine instead of pausing in meditation. I seek out a piece of bread
instead of seeking the Bread of Life. I fill my life with food in order to avoid filling it with God.
“Their end is destruction,” the Apostle Paul warned, for those for whom “their god is the belly.”
We worship a false idol when we succumb to the sin of gluttony. We
replace the focus on the Lord with a focus on our own indulgences. We
make a god of our belly and allow our souls to turn softer than the
creme filling in our Twinkies.
[Note: This is a modified version of a post that originally aired in November 2004. I’m reprinting it as a “sermon to myself.”]