2016-07-27
Those who deem the United States a gluttonous nation have a lot of evidence on their side: "Fast Food Nation," Eric Schlosser's chronicle of Americans' love affair with Big Macs, is on the New York Times bestseller list; millions of Americans tuned into Fox television recently for "The Glutton Bowl" (in which contestants vied for the title by gorging on revolting foods); each year, there are dozens of contests in pursuit of what the International Federation of Competitive Eating has termed "gustatory supremacy."

Stunt eating that glorifies gluttony should not be confused with simply eating too often and too much. For instance, Takeru Kobayashi, winner of the recent "Glutton Bowl" and who shattered the record for hot-dog consumption at Coney Island's annual contest last year, demonstrates that being overweight is not necessarily directly linked to gluttonous eating: Kobayashi weighs in at a bare 130-pounds.

But the faithful should still be concerned--for their souls, if not their wasteline. Nearly all religions have strong injunctions against gluttony and overeating, and don't often make much distinction between the two. A 1998 Purdue University study found that religious people are more likely to be overweight than other Americans. The Purdue researcher called overeating the overlooked sin in religion, compared to other fleshly sins like lust or adultery. Read on to see how gluttony is viewed in all religions.



Buddhism

Buddhism encourages avoidance of sensory excess. The third Buddhist precept is the avoidance of excess of sex, but many Buddhists interpret this precept as avoiding gluttony in all areas. Buddhists try to transcend the senses but this is not necessarily achieved through suffering.

Though overeating is not propers, the Buddha warned that complete lack of eating is not proper either, and advised appropriate attention to the body's needs. The Buddha said: "You should lose your involvement with yourself and then eat and drink naturally, according to the needs of your body. Attachment to your appetites--whether you deprive or indulge them--can lead to slavery, but satisfying the needs of daily life is not wrong. Indeed, to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear." (Discourse II)

Christianity: General

The book of Proverbs states, "Be not among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)." The New Testament also encourages moderation. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)."

The Christian diet craze has been in full force in the past few years, spearheaded by writer Gwen Shamblin, whose recent books include "The Weigh Down Diet" and "Rise Above: God Can Set You Free from Your Weight Problems Forever." Shamblin's work is rooted in basic Christian theology about gluttony: overeat and bear the consequences.

Christianity: Catholic

Catholic doctrine urges temperance as a way of respecting one's body and to "moderate attachment to this world's goods." According to the Catechism, "The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine." Gluttony is seen as the opposite of self-restraint and living uprightly, as both the New and Old Testaments show. The Bible cautions: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites (Sirach 18:30)" and "live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world (Titus 2:12)."

Catholicism teaches that gluttony is a sin when excessive eating or drinking impairs one's health or mental capacities. In most cases, gluttony is considered a pardonable sin, but there are people for whom, as St. Paul wrote, their "god is in their belly" (Phil. 3;19), and this constant overindulgence, and especially impairment because of it, would be a mortal sin. In Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that gluttony is indeed a sin, but it is not the greatest of sins.

Christianity: Eastern Orthodox

Orthodox Christianity emphasizes self-control in humans, and restraint in eating is seen as one of the foremost indications of self-control. Gluttony is considered a capital, or mortal, sin. The consensus of the early church is "stop eating while you are still hungry and don't allow your stomach to be filled to satisfaction," according to the 4th-century saint John Cassian. Overeating is associated with the dulling of intelligence and a decreased ability to guard against temptations. Orthodox Christians believe that, as humans fell initially through eating (when Adam and Eve took the apple in the Garden of Eden), people must have a proper relationship with food to restore themselves to union with God. Orthodox Christians also abstain from certain foods during fast periods to gain strength in self-control.

Christianity: Mormon

Mormons are often thought of as the poster-children of self-control, with many dietary and other restrictions, including no tobacco, alcohol, tea, coffee, or other caffeinated foods. Brigham Young reportedly said, "The greatest curse of the latter days will be gluttony." Mormons fast on the first Sunday of every month, in hopes that it will bring them closeness to God. A strict health code, called the Lord's Law of Health, emphasizes taking good care of one's body and avoiding excess eating. It states, "Because our bodies are important, our Father in Heaven wants us to take good care of them. He knows that we can be happier, better people if we are healthy."

Hinduism

Hinduism teaches the importance of avoiding excess in several areas of life, including food consumption. The Hindu text the Tirukkural warns against overeating: "The thoughtless glutton who gorges himself beyond his digestive fire's limits will be consumed by limitless ills (95:947)."

The Hindu health system of ayurveda teaches that certain foods have spiritual elements. Proper intake of these foods keep the psyche and intellect in balance.

Contrary to a common perception, Hindus are not required to follow a vegetarian diet. Many Hindus do observe religious dietary restrictions by practicing vegetarianism. However Hindus are often vegetarians because they adhere to the principle of ahisma, or non-injury, rather than due to practicing self-restraint.

Islam

While members of other religions often fast for a day at a time to strengthen their resistance to gluttony, Muslims fast for an entire month. The fast--no eating or drinking--during the holy month of Ramadan lasts from sunrise to sunset. Other prohibitions during the month include smoking and sex. The fast and other laws in Islam help Muslims eschew gluttony. As the Qu'ran says, "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may learn self-restraint (Al-Baqara, Surah 2:183)." Muslims are also discouraged from being too gluttonous when breaking the fast with the iftar meal., which is eaten immediately after sunset.

In addition to Ramadan, Islam places conditions on day-to-day eating. The Muslim dietary laws are called halal. Halal means "lawful" in Arabic. Halal meat must be killed according to Muslim slaughtering laws, similar to the Jewish laws of kashrut.

Judaism

Jews are known for noshing, but gluttonous overeating is certainly not the Jewish way. Observant Jews turn every instance of eating into a sacred act, and the blessings uttered over any food that gets ingested are an impediment to uncontrolled eating. Judaism also discourages gluttony by the laws of kasruth, or keeping kosher, the strict dietary laws. The word kosher's Hebrew root means "proper" or "correct." Rules governing what can be eaten help people impose and understand self-control.

But Jews are not staunch ascetics, and Judaism does allow for occasional over-indulgence. On the holiday of Purim, for example, Jews are encouraged by the Talmud to drink until they cannot tell the difference between the words "Blessed be Mordechai" and "Cursed be Haman."

Paganism

Earth-based religions are often associated with gluttony because of stereotypes of ancient pagan revelry, including eating and drinking. Pagans do celebrate food--the pagan festival cycle that is still followed originates from the agricultural cycle of planting and harvest. Contemporary pagans tend to treat their food and their bodies with more reverence, especially because of their awareness of human's place in nature, their concern for the earth, and their treating all living things with respect. Modern Pagans also emphasize taking care of members of the community, and overeating or gluttony leaves less for others.