Deadly Gluttony

The lukewarm Christian daily satiates his sensual appetites and avoids restraint

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Faith Virtue

Several of my neighbors are overweight. One young woman can hardly squeeze into her shiny sports-car, which she pays others to keep spotlessly clean and mirror-waxed. Another family’s grown kids are each well over 250 pounds. Though the parents seem in decent shape, their eldest son, in his forties and married, needs a wheelchair now. He gets SSI disability checks and his wife works to make ends meet. It appears his younger brothers can still work.

One hot sunny day, while an ice cream truck tooted for neighborhood kids to line up for sugary delights, those overweight guys and their buddies huddled over the open hood of a truck engine, trying to ignore the ice cream truck. I joined them to discover why the engine wouldn’t start, then helped jump-start it. In the process of doing so, I learned that all six of these young adults suffer from type-2 diabetes. One was disabled by a gangrene foot, the effect of failed circulation from diabetes.

Later that same day, I had to navigate around more gargantuan people in a supermarket. One middle-aged woman was trudging at a snail’s pace in a hazardous forward lean. I got exhausted sympathizing with her struggle and prayed for her and those suffering such physical degeneration.

When I got home, I searched for data on American obesity. The National Center for Health posts some shocking statistics. The percent of overweight American adults age 20 and older in 2017-2018 was 73.6%. It seems a hostile enemy has sabotaged America’s future, but in reality we’ve done it to ourselves.

Epidemiological studies show that greater than 85% of patients with type-2 diabetes are overweight (BMI>25) or obese (BMI>30), and have high mortality rates. Covid-19 isn’t the only epidemic killing people in droves. At least 2.8 million American adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

A Harvard Medical School report from 2012 mentions genetic, hormonal, metabolic, and behavioral factors that may play a role, but in most cases the blame rests on modern work, recreation, and dietary habits. The double-edged sword of advanced technology has reduced our need for strenuous physical exertion — backhoes versus laborers’ shovels, television and gaming devices versus neighborhood basketball or softball games — but has made us soft.

Teens average nine hours a day in front of screens, their only exercise being a walk to the kitchen. They gorge on a wide variety of convenient, colorful junk foods and soda drinks that contain 39 grams (8 heaping teaspoons) of sugar. Diet sodas use artificial sweeteners that in animal studies have proven to cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer, and other health hazards.

Atheists promote pleasures as their only goals in this world, but what about Christians? How many Christian parents know, but ignore, the signs of vice, even unto type-2 diabetes? The hard facts are out there, but many seem helpless to do anything about it. What prevents them from caring for God’s amazing gift—the human body, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14).

We Christians are familiar with saints and sinners. The saints among us embrace austerity, secret fasting and prayer, living the higher life. The sinners know that their adultery, stealing, drunkenness, and gluttony are wrong. Admitting they are sinners—and being contrite of heart—may lead them to join AA, OA, or search the Bible for guidance and comfort.

A third type, lukewarm Christians, do shallow confessions of our mortal sins, go to Mass, take the Eucharist, volunteer for parish work, eagerly attend family baptism parties, and pay our respects to the dead. We greet each day, however, as another opportunity from God to satiate our sensual appetites to our heart’s content, so long as we’re not breaking any laws or hurting other people. “What’s another chocolate éclair between friends? How about another shot of apricot brandy for the road?”

Lukewarm Christians know the royal highway to God but avoid it so as not to pay the steep toll of constant restraint of all unruly and immoral cravings—including sex, power, honor, and wealth. We thirst and hunger for the love of the Holy Spirit, but usually seek it in all the wrong places.

I’ve heard the excuse that Jesus said not to worry about what you eat: “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out” (Matt 15:11). Christ’s rhetorical exaggeration in this case stresses his point about ritual hand-washing. He knew that opiates defile human behavior and that hemlock killed Socrates. He knew we need a healthy diet and a clean lifestyle to keep us from going from sad to bad to stark raving mad — that body and soul are one.

What keeps us lukewarm Christians from doing what we should? Maybe carnal desires dominate our souls. The recently canonized Cardinal John Henry Newman preached for the sake of lukewarm Christians who think they “have no work to do” toward salvation: “You say, surely there is a middle way… to enjoy both this world and the next… You have attained salvation, it seems, before your time, and have nothing to occupy you… Is it your mission only to find pleasure in this world…?” (from God’s Will the End of Life).

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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