Gluttony. Not a word we use much anymore. We’ve replaced it with softer words, like ‘combo meal’, ‘super size’, ‘large’. We view obesity as a health epidemic, which it is, but completely remove the concept of vice from every arising. That is not to say obesity is gluttony. Not everyone who is obese is a glutton and not all gluttons are obese. I would have a hard time accusing someone who’s overweight of being a glutton, since there are several other factors to obesity. And just as obesity is bigger than gluttony, so is gluttony far more than over eating, it’s over indulging. Drinking to drunkenness, drugs, and all sorts of things we indulge in to excess are wrapped up in gluttony.
What I would say is this: we live in a society that not only allows but encourages gluttony. Through advertising, restaurant offerings, and lack of training, we point to excess as something good and desirable. Some people are forced into this trap through food deserts, places where affordable healthy food is unavailable and is replaced by a plethora of fast food restaurants that excess eating. These areas lack health education, cooking skills, and access to good groceries to effectively take care of themselves. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about how we glamorize drunkenness and drugs?
And gluttony has many other names including ‘materialism’, ‘wasteful’, and ‘frivolous’.
We think that more is better. Some of my friends spend tons of money on clothes. I’ve heard more than a few people tell me they had to unsubscribe from emails and apps because they would get suckered into deals. As I go into marketing, I have to face the dilemma of making people ‘want’ things that they don’t ‘need’ (not to say that marketing is bad, on the contrary marketing has raised the standard of living considerable).
At what point does eating or shopping become gluttonous? That I cannot say. In fact I think it is the wrong question to ask.
Instead, we should ask “What is temperate?”
Temperance. One of the long forgotten heavenly virtues and one of the cardinal virtues. We focus so much on our vices that we often forget to aim at virtues, which ultimately point to God. We work out to avoid gluttony and sloth but fall into lust and pride. While it is good to be healthy and exercise, being lean isn’t temperance in itself. A six pack may not be gluttonous or slothful but it can be prideful, giving way to envy and lust.
C S Lewis notes that society has forgotten almost all the virtues but one. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis harps on the virtue of kindness.
Perhaps my harping on the word ‘kindness’ has already aroused a protest in some readers’ minds. Are we not really an increasingly cruel age? Perhaps we are: but I think we have become so in the attempt to reduce all virtues to kindness. For Plato rightly taught that virtue is one. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbor’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease. Every vice leads to cruelty. Even a good emotion, pity, if not controlled by charity and justice, leads through anger to cruelty. Most atrocities are stimulated by accounts of the enemy’s atrocities; and pity for the oppressed classes, when separated from the moral law as a whole, leads by a very natural process to the unremitting brutalities of a reign of terror.
The Problem of Pain, Chapter 4
We have forgotten the other virtues. We do not aim at anything except to get away from what we have determined to be vices. We run from obesity to pride. We have cast our ballast of true and weighty virtues overboard. Surely, we have added in our own virtues, including tolerance, humanitarianism, extroversion, and hard work. These are all good things to practice to an extent. The old lists are not complete. However, the old lists should not be forgotten. What is the use of tolerance (which is hardly truly known and even less practiced) if it does not come out of the virtues of charity and kindness? If we cannot master the old virtues, how can we ever practice our new ones?
But how should we go about practicing the old virtues? Benjamin Franklin made a list of virtues that he wanted to work on, but ultimately failed. The best way to learn virtue is by dwelling with God. Ask him for the grace and mercy to teach your virtues, to grow fruit.
We cannot bear fruit or exercise virtues without Jesus, the true vine.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
Bearing fruit requires us to actively abide in him and passively allow him to abide in us. Others, like Franklin, may be able to practice virtues for a time, but their fruit is not the spiritual fruit that Paul speaks of in Galatians. Virtues and fruit come from a life of abiding in the vine, and he will nourish us. Sometimes that includes the painful act of pruning, but ultimately we will bear more fruit to the glory of God the Father.
So while we should be aware of our vices of gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride, we should be more aware of abiding in Christ, that we may bear spiritual fruit, virtues, and all goodness.