Summary: The third part of The Seven Deadly Sins looks at the sin of gluttony
Evagrius of Pontus, a Christian monk and ascetic whose ideas may have inspired St. John Cassian’s list of eight sins, gives us a very poetic, but comprehensive definition of the sin of gluttony: “Gluttony is the mother of lust, the nourishment of evil thoughts, laziness in fasting, obstacle to asceticism, terror to moral purpose, the imagining of food, sketcher of seasonings, unrestrained colt, unbridled frenzy, receptacle of disease, envy of health, obstruction of the (bodily) passages, groaning of the bowels, the extreme of outrages, pollution of the intellect, weakness of the body, difficult sleep, and gloomy death.”
Scripture concurs. Proverbs 23:20-21 warns us not to “join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” Proverbs 28:7 declares that “he who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.” Proverbs 23:2 advises us to “put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony,” and although that might seem a little too extreme, it is definitely indicative of how severely God views the sin of gluttony, which Merriam-Webster defines as excess in eating or drinking.
Why is gluttony a sin, though? Because gluttony is more than simply overeating (or overdrinking). It is abusing God’s gifts. Food, which is one gift, is necessary for good health, but when we overeat we abuse it and harm our bodies, which are another gift. Secondarily, gluttony leads to other sins like sloth. Daniel (of the den of lions fame) understood that.
King Nebuchadnezzar, who once ruled the Babylonian Empire, sent his army marching into Jerusalem one day (see Daniel 1:1-16). After securing a tremendous victory, they returned to Babylon with a bunch of prisoners in tow, among whom was Daniel, a devout, God fearing teenager. Soon after, Nebuchadnezzar instructed his ministers to select handsome, healthy and intelligent young men from among the captives and bring them to the palace in order to teach them Babylonian culture and traditions, so that they could be of use in his service. Daniel was one of those who were chosen.
Right off, Daniel faced a problem. Nebuchadnezzar had dictated that the new trainees were to be served the same food and wine that was served on the royal table. While this would have flattered most young men, Daniel was aghast. He was a vegetarian who drank only water and he resolved to consume nothing the king was offering. Why? Not merely because the food would probably have been offered to idols (a good enough reason for him to refuse), but because the richness of the food would have led to laziness, which in turn would have ended his powerful prayer life. (Ever try praying on a full stomach? Or doing anything else for that matter?)
Why do we become gluttons?
There are few things that are as difficult to manage as our appetites for pleasure and we seem to want to be self-indulgent in all aspects of it. The primary victim of these excesses is our self.
Christopher Rios, better known as Big Punisher or Big Pun, was a Puerto Rican-American rapper who admitted eating to seek relief from “emotional pressures.” While touring, he used a golf cart to transport him to the stage and often required an oxygen mask after performing. Pun died of a heart attack caused by his obesity in 2000—at the age of 28. What made him eat so much?
Or Marlon Brando? M. Moser, in the book Movie Stars Do the Dumbest Things speaks of the great star’s gluttony. “Like the actor himself, Marlon Brando’s eating binges grew to assume legendary proportions. Brando frequently consumed two whole chickens, half a cheesecake and a pint of ice cream in a single sitting. He was also known to don a pair of sunglasses and a large hat before driving to a food stand in the wee hours to gorge himself on several hot dogs. Food, as the producers of Superman soon learned, was an obsession...
“When the “Godfather of Bellies” was first approached about playing the role of Superman’s father (Jor-El) in the screen adaptation of the comic book classic, he was remarkably enthusiastic. In fact, he had several ideas of his own. For example, because he was an alien living on another planet, Superman’s father could look like anything: “What if,” Brando asked the film’s producers, “he was a giant bagel?””
A normal question, perhaps, for somebody whose life had begun to revolve more around food than around work. Close to his death he weighed over 300 pounds! What made him become like this?
Or Montezuema II? The last Aztec ruler in Mexico could put away chicken, turkey, songbirds, doves, ducks, rabbits, pheasants, partridges and quail, followed by tortillas and hot chocolate! Or the ancient Romans? Often given to excess, they crossed all limits during the reigns of Emperors Claudius and Vitellius, overindulging at lavish banquets and then vomiting so they could continue eating! What causes behavior like this?