Home > John's Blogs, Temptation & Sin > The Seven Capital Vices, Part 7: Gluttony

The Seven Capital Vices, Part 7: Gluttony

This post continues looking at Rebecca Konynkyk DeYoung’s book Glittering Vices, which is a book about what we commonly call the “7 deadly sins” and she calls the “7 capital vices.”  We’ve examined Envy, Vainglory, Sloth, Avarice, Anger and this post will consider Gluttony.  That’s an easy one to spot, right?  If we’re overweight, we’re guilty.  If we’re not, then we can skip this post.  Not so fast.

It helps to understand the definition of gluttony.  DeYoung says:

Gluttony is really not about how much we’re eating, but about how our eating reflects how much pleasure we take in eating food and why.  Eating is meant to be pleasurable, and so is feeling filled after being hungry.  These pleasures, the food itself, and the act of eating are all good, God-given gifts…  Gluttony creeps in and corrupts these pleasures when our desires for them run out of control…  This vice degrades us into being mere pleasure seekers.  That is what gluttony is really all about.

In other words, gluttony is about wanting food and drink when and how we want it, and letting the pleasures of food and drink dominate us.  This significantly changes how we think about gluttony, because it means that the amount of food (or how much we eat) is not the only issue.  It is also about what we eat and how we eat.

Let’s take those last two in reverse order.  First, gluttony is about how we eat.  If we constantly eat past the point of fullness because we desire the taste, we are eating too much.  If we shovel food in as fast as we can, in order to get the pleasure of feeling full more quickly, then we are gluttons.

Second, what we eat is also an issue.  Someone who chooses foods because they help them feel full is guilty of this type of gluttony.  (DeYoung uses the examples of low-carb diets to make this point.)  This glutton is concerned about choosing foods that make them feel good and give the most satisfaction.

But we can also eat too fastidiously – wanting the food presented in just the right way, or refusing what someone has graciously set before us.  If we complain about another persons cooking, it is a form of gluttony.  If we are the sort of person who routinely sends food back at a restaurant, and send it back a couple of times, it is a form of gluttony.  About fastidious eaters, DeYoung says

The key to understanding fastidious gluttons is that they arrive at the table focused on their expectations of getting a certain pleasure and with an equally focused determination to do whatever it takes to get it.  They may use good manners and eat moderate amounts, but the desire behind it all is the drive to get pleasure for themselves.

So we can get too focused on what we eat, and make it all about our own desires.  The glutton in this case may be perfectly trim and fit, and not at all concerned about how much they eat.  But it is gluttony just the same.

We become gluttons in order to gain satisfaction, but that satisfaction does not arrive from food.  The satisfaction gained from food only affects our physical self, but we are also spiritual beings.  Gluttony is an attempt to find total satisfaction, but in the wrong place.

As such, gluttony is a form of pride (as are all the vices).  It is an attempt to find satisfaction in God’s creation, rather than in the creator.  Whether we eat too much, to too fastidiously, or too sumptuously, we are trying to provide for our own pleasure outside of God.

To test ourselves for gluttony, DeYoung points to Augustine’s three guidelines.  First, are we eating in a way that is appropriate to our overall physical health?  Second, are we eating in a way that is appropriate to our overall social health?  (I think this is an important point.  Eating is a social activity, and when we choose not to consume during a social activity we are refusing participation in that act.  But when we consume too much in a social situation, we are also refusing social participation.  In other words, when with others, eat as they eat.)  Third, are we eating in a way that is appropriate to our spiritual lives?

The third test leads to the solution for gluttony, as well:  fasting.  This could mean fasting from all food for a period of time, or fasting from certain types of foods for a period of time.  When we fast, DeYoung says “we learn anew to appreciate and be content with simple foods.”  Also, fasting “increases our appetite for spiritual goods, and makes us keenly aware of our dependence on God.”

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  1. April 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm

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