Sean at The Blue Boar is off on a new diet adventure, a circumstance with which I am intimately familiar. I'm one of the lucky ones, though, who has struggled with gluttony (not that this is Sean's situation, I'm talking about myself, here) and has managed to avoid paying any too terrible price for it in physical terms. I am overweight, but not so most would notice... but there are shadows looming, hints that the cost for the abuse of my stomach can't be postponed indefinitely; I now take blood pressure medication, my knees have begun to twinge, I am too easily winded.
In my younger days, as a nominal Christian, and even as a more committed, searching Evangelical, I saw this mainly as a health issue... something that ought to be addressed, but that was not really specially related to my spiritual condition. This is what I had been taught, or more properly, what I had absorbed from the culture and the media. Serious issues with weight were seen as primarily a physical problem, perhaps with a strong psychological or emotional element, but even that element was reduced to a matter of behavior modification, brain chemistry, enzyme imbalances or some such.
The idea of gluttony as a sin - one of the Seven Deadlies, according to tradition - had been completely deconstructed by the time I became an adult aware of such things. It went the way of the Index of Forbidden Books, which is a shame and a great disservice to those who struggle with their relationship with food, because there is a great deal of wisdom in this view of Capital "G" Gluttony.
By Gluttony I suppose I mean simply eating a good deal more than one needs. Not that there aren't occasions when this is okay... there are times for us to both feast and fast. Problem is, we Americans feast about every day and don't realize it, don't even think about it - at least this is the case for me. When I overeat (that is, binge... really fall off the wagon) it seems to happen almost without my notice. My mind is elsewhere and my hands and mouth are having a party. Well, except there's little joy in it.
It was only fairly recently (the last few years) that I began to really look at the mechanism of this process, this habitual movement of hand to mouth, and it came down to this; I see it, I desire it, I eat it. I don't think, I don't ask whether I should eat, whether this food should be saved for another meal, or for someone else, or even if I'm hungry - I just see it, want it and consume it. Sounds a great deal like Lust of the Eyes, doesn't it? Porn for the stomach. At least for those of you men who have ever struggled with porn (and that's most of us) this pattern ought not be too unfamiliar.
Then, sometimes it is more like Lust of the Flesh... the body is fine, but the mouth wants attention, wants to merely taste and chew for the sake of tasting and chewing... and lacking the discipline to tell my mouth to stop whining, I quiet it with a cookie. Or two, or five.
At bottom, it comes down to a sinful, self-centered response to Desire, and the mechanism is familiar; I want it, and I want it now. That's David and Bathsheba, that's Eve and the apple, that's... well, a lot of things.
In our time, though, the sinful aspect of gluttony has pretty well been dismissed. It's not that big a deal, nothing to get upset about, certainly nothing to (heaven's sake!) confess to a priest. It's a harmless sin, a sin so endemic to our culture, so transparent, so accepted that I wonder if it may be doing a great deal more spiritual damage than we think. Gluttony may send few people to hell, but in terms of weakening the will and preparing the way for greater and deeper sin, Screwtape could hardly ask for a better ally. Gluttony is, in our age of the drive-through and the all-you-can-eat buffet, a stealth sin, a nameless sin, and sin that is unacknowledged and unnamed can't be repented.
In this season of Lent, this touches on one of the really amazing advantages of good old Catholic confession; it lets us - makes us - name our sin, allows us to drag it into the light and lay it before Christ, where His grace can be brought to the battle. Adam named the animals in part to signify his authority over them. In the case of the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus commanded that the demons name themselves as he revealed his authority to cast them out. In a similar way, naming our sin is an important aspect of beginning to overcome it - through the Holy Spirit and in the grace of Jesus Christ.
A final note: " The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them." - 1 Timothy 5:24
For many who struggle with it, the sin of gluttony is manifested in front of everyone. The greedy, the liar, the pervert can often hide their sin very effectively from the world, whereas the glutton often wears the outward sign of his or her sin everywhere they go, and so are judged and quietly condemned. I have done this myself with a shake of the head and an inward "tsk, tsk", ("My GOSH, put down the knife and fork, fella..."). I have learned better. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more." - Mark 4:24.