Friday, December 26, 2008

Seven deadlies: Gluttony

Over the past few weeks, I’ve discussed many of the seven deadly sins. So far, I’ve written about wrath (one I struggle with), greed, envy, sloth, and lust. This week’s sin is gluttony. Given the way everyone overeats on the holiday we’ve just passed, I can think of only one more appropriate time to write about this particular sin.

So, what is gluttony? The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as “the excessive indulgence in food and drink.” So, how is that a sin, and more importantly to this discussion, how is it a mortal sin? Two ways: if one

“absolutely and without qualification [lives] merely to eat and drink, so minded as to be of the number of those, described by the Apostle St. Paul, "whose god is their belly" (Philippians 3:19)…Likewise a person who, by excesses in eating and drinking, would have greatly impaired his health, or unfitted himself for duties for the performance of which he has a grave obligation, would be justly chargeable with mortal sin.”

Many Americans are guilty of at least the latter. All we have to do is look at the obesity rates, and the sizes of the meals that restaurants serve. Not to mention the "all you can eat" specials that buffet restaurants specialize in. The way Americans have been trained to eat by the public sector definitely falls under the heading of "overconsumption."

As for impairing one's health to the point that he or she can't work, consider one of the newer, government declared, disabilities for which one can get a government check: obesity.

The former is a bit more problematic, in my opinion. It seems as if the former way gluttony is a deadly sin includes psychological comfort eating, something that most obese people do as a matter of course.

For those who don’t know why people comfort eat, imagine if you’d never had a friend. Never had the approval of your parents, or teachers, or anyone else, for that matter, for most of your life. The only thing in your life that hasn’t implied or said that it’s disappointed in you is food. So, you eat. While you eat, your brain releases little feel-good chemicals that last for a little while. And then, when you start to feel bad again, you go eat some more. Eventually, you’ll gain a little weight, and start to feel worse about yourself. So you go eat some more. It turns into a vicious cycle that’s really hard to break. In a lot of ways, this is a more severe, more insidious addiction than drug addiction. Everyone has to eat, after all, and you can’t quit.

Another reason some people might comfort eat is because that’s the way they were raised: if they were upset, their parents loved them with food. No time is this more apparent than the feast days in American holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter (to a lesser extent), and some of the secular holidays that involve eating too much at barbecues or picnics, or drinking too much waiting for midnight. Families celebrate with overabundant amounts of food, because “well, we see you so seldom, and we love you so much.”

Again, this isn't one of the sins that really appeals to me. I never found comfort in food or drink; however, my family and many of my friends do. And, as I love them, I understand how and why they overindulge. And, while I don't think that comfort eating would fall under the mortal sin category, I can see why the early church would: you're turning away from God for comfort.

However, I'll leave you this week with a question: why do people turn to food instead of God? Whose fault is it, the individual's, or the people around them that either drive them to it by cruelty, or simply don't care enough to notice their pain?


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