Lent and (one) of the seven deadly sins

Posted: March 19, 2022 in Uncategorized

One of the doctrinal projects of medieval Christianity was to identify and catalogue the deadliest of the sins. This all fit with their heightened reward-punishment system which we don’t have time to get into now. Suffice it to say that if you have a system based on sin/repentance/confession/penitence you need a list. Who makes the choice as to what’s on the list and if there should be a list at all is debatable.

But there was a list. A list of the seven deadly sins. These were the sins that could twist the soul in such a way that it is hard to find the original godly image cast there in the first place. You should flee the things on this list like a sailor swimming madly away from a sinking ship.

One of them was gluttony. Not every religious tradition identifies this as deadly, but most discourage excess and extreme indulgence. For example, if you’re a Buddhist, you know that indulging the senses is flight to a world of illusion. Christians, too, know that you shouldn’t confuse needing your daily bread with binging on it. You end up worshipping the wrong sort of god.

One of the things that cemented gluttony into the seven deadly sins list was the ancient practice of upper class Romans for whom conspicuous consumption was an art form. Anything worth anything was worth doing to excess. Food was no exception. Their lascivious bacchanals made use of vomitoriums. When you got full you voided so you could enjoy the whole thing all over again. Christians found that practice an affront to any kind of moderation, a misuse of the gifts of food, an indulgence for indulgence’s sake. Especially when other people went hungry. Gluttony made the big list.

Of course, gluttony is not an eating disorder. When a person is sick with bulimia they eat and purge for a altogether different reasons, a compulsion related to body image and a desperate longing for social approval. That’s not gluttony. It’s not on the big list. It’s on another list of how we get broken and and need to heal.

For many who can, America has become a culture of excess. We have more of everything than anywhere on the planet. We gather mounds of stuff around us. Even the poor take their cues from this, hoarding mounts of useless stuff just to be surrounded by mounds of something. So they can point and say, “Look at all that, there’s lots.” We have so much excess and are so used to it that whenever we can’t have whatever we want at the moment we call it a crisis. We actually whine. Have you heard people whining in the store aisle because they couldn’t find their favorite brand of whatever when twenty-five other brands are stacked up staring them in the face? Oh my, such deprivation.

Our gluttony is most usually different than a Roman strolling down to the vomitorium. Our gluttony has to do with an expectation for ease, immediate gratification, and, yes, excess. Where else in the world has a diet culture industry emerged around excess and accompanying remedies for the consequences of excess?

When gas prices raised at the pump because of a combination of supply and demand, the price of crude, and sources interrupted as a result of the Russian war on Ukraine, people howled. I grimaced every time I filled my tank. That was noticeable.

The root cause of our indignant response at the pump, though, has to do with our conditioning as gluttons. We’ve been drunk on cheap gas. And because it has been so relatively cheap compared to anywhere else in the world, we’ve binged to excess, roaring down the vomitoriums of our highways with impunity. I’ve been one of them.

From a spiritual point of view, we have to say that this kind of excess is bad for soul. A real spiritual practice includes intentional simplicity and better stewardship of the gifts we have been received. But that’s not really what has made our gluttony on gas the sin that it is.

What has really earned this form of gas gluttony a prominent place on the seven deadly sins list has to do with its consequences. When we indulge like this we also cause other things to happen, things related to our gluttony.

We gorge ourselves on fossil fuels to the detriment of the ecosystem itself. The proof of our gluttony is revealed when the gas supply chain is interrupted and prices soar and we don’t ask ourselves how to achieve more moderation, how to move with dispatch away from reliance on fossil fuels toward other energy sources. No, we double down in an act of gluttonous rebellion and insist that the answer to our dilemma is more drilling in protected reserves, off shore drilling, and running pipelines across indigenous lands. That is the glutton’s solution – finding other ways to stay a glutton. Violate anything to have as much of what we want at the price we want whenever we want. The bacchanal of American addiction.

Of course, our addiction on oil has led to war after war. We fight to protect oil. We arm ourselves to have it. We send people off to die so we can pump it without reserve. We allocate enormous shares of the Federal budget to having an oil-protecting military at the ready. An addict will do anything to have the object of his addiction.

But that’s not the only consequence of our gluttony on oil. Our gas gluttony has financed and enabled oil-producing regimes like that of the Russians and the Saudis. We fill their coffers so that their autocrats may have all the power they desire at their disposal. We have funded the Russians in their siege of Ukraine. We are the Russian enablers, even as we push other after-the-fact sanctions. A glutton will get his junk food at any cost.

Any one of us can construct a seven deadly sins list and include the practices that utterly twist the soul, violate the neighbor, and distance us from harmony with our god. Our lists will probably be different and have different accents and emphasis. They will reflect the values we hold dear and identify those things that tear us all down.

For my money, I’m keeping gluttony on it. Because gluttony has to do with appetite, and the unbridled appetite to consume, possess, and take at any cost may be the most dangerous sin of our time.

  1. Dawn says:

    Thank you for sharing this excellent article and perspective.

  2. Dawn Dillon says:

    I love this exploration of gluttony and over-consumption. I also appreciate the mentioning of eating disorders as an illness. The fear, judgment and shame around gluttony is often an undercurrent in the whole spectrum of eating disorders, from severely restricted eating to binge eating. None of the eating disorder behaviors are enjoyable for those suffering, they are simply painful and life-threatening disorders that no one chooses to have. I hope the separation of gluttony discussions from disordered eating issues continues in the religious community.

  3. Linda Smith says:

    Well said, Tim

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