Posts Tagged ‘gluttony’

Entitlement and the American way of life

October 2nd, 2010 No comments

I don’t post too much on other issues but sometimes the overlap between my usual topic and others is instructive.  My usual topic generates from a fundamental bewilderment at the extent to which our notions of what constitutes necessary consumption seem to have degraded our ability to exercise our very humanity in relation to non-human animals.  Learning about the ways in which our basic concrete need for food has been completely subsumed into a dispersion of other abstractions, the way in which food is more the thing signified (class, ethnic, and gender identifier, emotional pacifier, etc.) than the thing itself (mere nutrition), has opened my eyes to the other areas in which we seem to prefer to deal with the symbolic over the real.

We’re  dealing with war and oil in the same ways in which we deal with animals.  We don’t have a framework to deal with the new specifics, the new realities so we just don’t … as if what we don’t want to see won’t hurt us.  We don’t have a framework for parsing knowledge about the extent to which they (other animals, or other people if they stand between us and getting what we think we’re entitled to)  are sentient, self-aware, conscious beings into behavior change so we try mightily to deny that they are and clutch ever more tightly to the fiction of our own uniqueness in those respects.  Similarly, we deny that our lust for cheap meat is coming at a price we don’t want to pay ethically and environmentally.  We’re entitled to it after all.  It reminds me in a way of the story about Israelites longing for meat and being destroyed by their own desire.  Kibroth-hattaavah means “graves of longing.”

“If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—” (Num 11:18–20 NRSV) … But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague. So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.” (Num 11:32–34 NRSV)

We seem to be at a place where we prefer seeing through the glass dimly for fear clarity will come with a call.  It’s as if the positive aspiration of freedom to choose how we meet our needs has morphed into the negative notion of freedom from having to choose at all, and isn’t that the essence of entitlement?

In that light I share these words from an interview with Andrew Bacevich

Guernica: Throughout this interview you’ve suggested America scale back its global presence and its policy of interventionism. But that seems increasingly unlikely in light of our dependence on foreign oil. We’ve passed peak oil and it seems likely that many future wars will be fought over it.

Andrew Bacevich: This gets to the heart of the dilemma. What we call the American way of life is premised on expectations of a very high level of personal mobility, which presumes the availability of large amounts of very cheap energy. Given the way the economy has evolved over the last eighty or one hundred years, to cut to the chase, American freedom as we understand it requires lots of cheap oil. Therefore, in order for us to make a serious effort to wean ourselves from this ever-growing dependency would require us rethinking American freedom—revising the American way of life. Were we flexible in that regard, then options to significantly reorient our energy policy would become available. But there is very little evidence that we are willing to bend. The Jimmy Carter malaise speech of 1979 that I wrote about in my previous book continues to be a very telling episode. Carter was courageously and farsightedly trying to get Americans to recognize that there was something very insidious about this dependence on foreign oil. He connected it to our understanding of freedom and he challenged us to re-think freedom. We rejected that council and opted instead to listen to Ronald Reagan who said we could have everything we want forever. We are living with the consequences. And Carter’s abject failure to get Americans to acknowledge the negative consequences of the American way of life scared the bejesus out of the entire political class so nobody is willing to talk about sacrifice; nobody is willing to talk about American culture as part of the problem— but it is part of the problem. It is that fact which emphasizes the extent to which there really are no easy solutions. We are our own worst enemy.

Guernica: When you say ‘revising the American way of life,’ what do you mean—a simpler life?

Andrew Bacevich: To define freedom in a way that is not as intimately connected with conspicuous consumption and individual autonomy. And yes, that probably means in a material sense to be willing to live with less. Try to have that be your campaign slogan and run for the presidency: ‘Vote for me and I will help you live with less.’ [Laughter]

Moses had that problem too.

Lent, Sacrifice, and the Fathers

February 21st, 2010 No comments

Eschatological abstinence is an element of a broader perspective on the Christian life, a perspective that envisions a world that existed prior to the Fall and a world that will be restored at the end of the age (eschaton, literally,“last thing”).

For Church Fathers such as Chrysostom, Jerome, and Cassian, one’s diet is particularly relevant to the goal of embodying the Edenic state,because they consider the original sin of Adam and Eve to be gluttony.26 Thus,dietary renunciation is seen to be a means of redressing this situation and returning to an Edenic state.Furthermore,Basil of Caesarea and Jerome note that fasting from flesh foods is an image of life as it was in the Garden of Eden because in paradise there was no sacrifice of animals or eating of animal flesh.27 While neither rules out all consumption of animal flesh as inherently and necessarily sinful, Jerome notes that the allowance of flesh eating occurs only after the flood and is a concession to “the hardness of human hearts.”28


For many of the patristic authors,a recreation of the Edenic state involves not only abstaining from eating animals,but also,as Basil notes,abstaining from sacrificing animals.37 This brings us to the other important eating practice in Christianity.The Eucharist is the remembrance of the sacrificial death of Jesus, a remembrance of thanksgiving in which believers share in Christ’s body (I Cor.11). Through this practice, Christians are incorporated into Christ’s body (Christ’s body being understood both individually and corporately). In light of this,it is not surprising that some opponents accused the early Christians of cannibalism.  Although there was significant diversity of food elements in early Christian eucharists and/or agape meals,or both,there is no evidence that animal flesh was ever a part of these celebrations of thanksgiving.What significance,if any,should be made of this?

In his extensive study of all the food elements that appear in early Christian ritual meals, Andrew McGowan notes that while bread and wine seem to have been the dominant elements from the beginning,the occasional choice of other elements is not insignificant. The appearance of oils,vegetables,and salt seem to be a means of emphasizing the rejection of meat and its association with bloody sacrifice. Similarly,the appearance of milk (and sometimes cheese, or both),honey,and olives in some celebrations can be seen as celebratory elements of a restored paradise-like state,also distinguished from a society built on bloodshed.38

J Berkman, “The Consumption of Animals and the Catholic Tradition,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 7 (2004): 174-190.

Belly and Body, pt. 4

February 20th, 2010 No comments

We’re looking at the work of Karl Sandnes in Belly and Body in the Pauline Epistles.

6 – 8. After looking at the belly theme in Graeco-Roman conceptual field, Sandnes turns our attention to the analogous material in the OT and other Jewish sources.  The linguistic field of the belly and mastery of the passions remains in view as he begins to map the Pauline material.

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Belly and Body, pt. 3

February 7th, 2010 No comments

We’re looking at the work of Karl Sandnes in Belly and Body in the Pauline Epistles.

4-5 Epicureanism, Banquets, and their Ancient Critique

Epicureanism was a major school of ancient moral philosophy.  As with many things, the actual teaching of the school could be seen to differ from what the masses had in their heads about it.  So too can the actual teaching differ from the ways in which its opponents tend to characterize it.  Understanding the arguments around Epicureanism as ancient moral philosophy is made more complicated by the way the word Epicurean is used today as is highlighted here:

In modern popular usage, an epicure is a connoisseur of the arts of life and the refinements of sensual pleasures; epicureanism implies a love or knowledgeable enjoyment especially of good food and drink—see the definition of gourmet at Wiktionary.

This can be attributed to a misunderstanding of the Epicurean doctrine, as promulgated by Christian polemicists. Because Epicureanism posits that pleasure is the ultimate good (telos), it is commonly misunderstood as a doctrine that advocates the partaking in fleeting pleasures such as constant partying, sexual excess and decadent food. This is not the case. Epicurus regarded ataraxia (tranquility, freedom from fear) and aponia (absence of pain) as the height of happiness. He also considered prudence an important virtue and perceived excess and overindulgence to be contrary to the attainment of ataraxia and aponia.

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Belly and Body, pt. 2

February 5th, 2010 No comments

We’re looking at the work of Karl Sandnes in Belly and Body in the Pauline Epistles.  Let’s remember the language of Paul’s that we’re looking at.

  • Primarily:
    • Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. (Phil 3:19 NRSV)
    • For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.(Rom 16:18 NRSV)
    • “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Cor 6:13 NRSV)  where the quote is a Corinthian slogan that Paul is responding to
    • Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” (1 Cor 10:7 NRSV) Paul’s borrowing this quote from Exodus 32:6


    • It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12 NRSV) where the quote serves as reference to the larger available stereotypes in Greece at the time
    • If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor 15:32 NRSV) where the quote is a Corinthian slogan that Paul is responding to

So what exactly was the Graeco-Roman body/belly background into which Paul was speaking?

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Belly and Body in the Pauline Epistles, pt.1

February 3rd, 2010 No comments

So before I get into this let me make one thing clear.  None of the particular discussion that follows is directly about the moral status of animals.  It’s about one aspect of the concept of food in antiquity generally and early Christianity particularly and most specifically in Paul’s letters.   You could get from here to current moral debates about animals a few different ways but that’s absolutely not what the context of this is.   That said.  Let’s take a look at something you probably don’t hear much about on Sunday.

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2048. The End of the Line. Oceans Without Fish

June 18th, 2009 No comments

To quote Brian McLaren, “Everything Must Change“.  No but seriously,  Everything.

for theological reference … The Belly and the Body in the Pauline Epistles.

Sadism Is As Sadism Does

March 7th, 2009 No comments

I’m reading the book “What Was God Doing on the Cross” by Alister McGrath,  which is essentially a short discussion of the major atonement theories.   Anyway.  The first chapter begins in a conversational tone, getting into the cultural location of the execution of Jesus.  The author is setting the scene, gearing up to tell the reader about how the Romans are oppressive, about how cruel they are, etc.  Here are some of the highlights from his description of the scene at Calvary from pages 12-13 …

(The Romans) call the preferred way of execution ‘crucifixion’.  The word, which sounds neat and clinical in its precision, refers to nothing other than legalized sadism.  It is probably one of the most depraved forms of execution ever devised. … they begin by … whipping him … it tears the victim’s backs to shreds … usually they nail them through the wrists; if you nail them through the hands, they fall off, and you have to start again … it is a horrifying and pitiful scene … there have to be limits to the length of time it takes to crucify … they devised a neat way of speeding up the process … and, as we watch, such a pathetic scene seems to be happening in front of our eyes … victims are stumbling past … one of them seems to be in a really bad way (and) just collapsed, it’s a sickening sight.

Legalized Sadism.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.   Read more…