“No man who simply eats and drinks whenever he feels like eating and drinking, who smokes whenever he feels the urge to light a cigarette, who gratifies his curiosity and sensuality whenever they are stimulated, can consider himself a free person” –Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
In a world where mass consumerism is normative, where one can purchase a cheeseburger for thirty-five cents, an easy day’s earning for even a homeless individual and, for most people, the minimal amount under one couch cushion, it is easy to become enslaved to our appetites without ever knowing of the addiction.
In many cases, addiction can be an insidious and apparent manifestation, obvious to any onlooker. However, for many of our society it is unseen, even to the person who possesses the problem. You could have a problem and not even know it.
Sometimes the issue is simply not perceivable. At other times, like in the case of gluttony, it is simply ignored by the person and our greater society. The bottom line is that many do not even know they have an addiction, or refuse to recognize it as such. If we refuse to call the problem what it is, we run the risk of leading our youth astray.
Take for example the child who grows up in the low-income home of a single-mother who has little choice but to bring home fast food after she finishes her shift at her second job. The adolescent succumbs to childhood obesity, and people just attribute his or her build to “baby-fat.”
In other words, people care little to see the glaring neglect for health in many homes. Once we see a problem, we are morally culpable to address it the best we can. Willful ignorance is the easier route for our society since the issue is so prevalent. The child grows up to be an adult who enjoys the comfort of a full and heavy stomach and is never informed that what he or she is doing is leading to an early death. Yes, they may see the occasional TV News special on heart disease, but our overall culture simply does not get up in arms about harming the self with food as we do with, let’s say, cigarettes.
The truth is that this person does not know his or her addiction because he or she has never had to refrain from assuaging his or her appetite. If you ever want to know the extent of addiction and have never battled with one, try changing your diet to exclude those foods you most enjoy. If you are like me, it is a battle. You will go to great lengths to justify a cheat. Our society is full of people who are enslaved to their appetites, and they do not even know it.
Is this such a problem?
The Bible tells us that we are to feed the hungry. In the biblical world, this was an immediate and local problem. In our society, we don’t run into the hungry everyday. Does this mean we are off the hook? By no means! The principle still applies. Hunger is suffering, and can lead to an early demise. Obesity brought about by overeating is suffering, and can lead to an early demise as well.
This is a cultural issue we need to answer. Someone might say, “Yes, but the obese can control the issue, while many hungry people have no other option.” All the more reason for the church to raise awareness about the benefits of self-discipline, is it not?
It is not merely the child from the low-income home who has never learned of the risks of unhealthy eating that has the problem. How much more can this be a problem for someone who has all the means in the world to have whatever might be purchased and lives with no real concern for restraint?
This one’s life is not dictated by any higher drive than bodily compulsion. The most base of human desires is fulfilled day-in and day-out to somehow give this person a sense of satisfaction, but it is not a satisfaction with any sustenance. It expires as soon as it is experienced, and it is once again replaced by want. His or her flesh enslaves this person.
It is a cyclical life that moves nowhere. Even many persons who are highly successful, who can do whatever they want to do, cannot yet be considered free, for many of these persons pursue success simply so that they can have more of what they want. If one is the sort of person to bow to every desire he or she has, he or she is a slave to those base wants. If you cannot say no to yourself, you have no real control over your life.
And isn’t this the human condition?
We must learn to manage our bodies through active discipline and fight for those who suffer from addictions that eventually lead to premature death. Part Two coming soon.