Monday, June 27, 2016

Post-colonial non-gluttony

I've started preaching a sermon series on the seven deadly sins while my minister has been away. We've done pride and lust to date. The aim has been to focus on the positives rather than just the negatives, in these cases the value of self-forgetfulness over self-loathing, and sexual desire in marriage over rampant lust.

Gluttony is the next cab off the rank is gluttony - something you might not hear discussed. There are plenty of issues to cover - associated health issues (non-pejoratively, no one needs to guilt people with disorders), fast food, vegetarianism, poverty, famine, etc. There is of course the issues of sin, food as an idol, etc.

I have a copy of the 2007 Aquila Press book Still Deadly: ancient Cures for the 7 sins. I hadn't consulted it to date until starting research on gluttony. The chapter on this topic focuses on the views of Clement of Alexandria. It is interesting, because the chapter notes that his theology was affected by Greek dualism. I'd already quoted him in my lust sermon saying that women should cover their faces in church. It seems to me going for Clement for guidance on something as earthy as eating while noting his shortcomings would be a bit like saying "I know Hitler was an anti-semite but let's see what he has to say on race relations anyway."

That said, not everything Clement has to say is wrong, but I was kind of shocked when an application from him by the author, in reaction to the gourmand excesses of his day is to extol a plain diet. In particular:

"I live on a street with innumerable That restaurants, and an assortment of Chinese, Italian, French ... and I know what it is like to walk from one end of the street to the other unable to find something to eat."

Now I'm going to be somewhat charitable and take the view he means he is spoiled for choice. But in then going on to suggest we focus on a plain diet, pretty much baptising Clement's diet, intended or not, the following flows on.

  • This is preferring one period of time over all others. This kind of one thing for all time thinking smacks of Platonic idealism. More than that, it's a new form of food laws (ironic as the author notes Jesus dismissed those).
  • It's colonial - are we to suggest all these fancy cuisines are too fancy? Are they sinful? Is our simple fare less sinful than theirs? Is all conservative Christianity able to offer an endless critique of the unknown? While not intended, this "keep your wog food" is intolerably WASP gospel.
  • It ignores the every tribe and tongue messages from Revelation and elsewhere. Is the eschaton so monoculture?

I'm often reminded of how much God loves diversity when looking at the natural world. In an effort to combat the gluttony of taste, such theology condemns us to the dull, familiar, safe and the us, while judging the other and providing yet another fence to our theology. Will I even bother to critique such a view in my sermon, or toss the book aside?

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