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It is hard to know just how to take an invitation to write about gluttony. "We thought you would be the perfect person," the editor's letter read. "Gee, is it that obvious?" I thought, alarmed. "No, no, that's not really me. It's just these horizontal stripes."

But, if I am honest, I have to admit that it is me. It's most of us. Food is an intoxicating pleasure, and it appears superficially like an innocuous one. What is so bad about engaging in a little gluttony, anyway? It's not one of the bad sins, like adultery or stealing—we wouldn't do that. All gluttony does is make you soft and huggable. It's the cute sin.

But gluttony is not about appearance; our inclination to associate it with external effects alone shows how reluctant we are to confront the sin in the heart. The gluttonous impulse is a sign of disharmony with God's provision and creation, and it can disrupt the spiritual lives of people of every size. External dimensions are no predictor of internal rebellion.

Previous generations of Christians knew this. Overindulgence in food did not just lead to thickened waistlines and arteries; it led to spiritual disaster. These words from a nineteenth-century Russian monk, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, build in an alarming crescendo: "Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance."

If that doesn't make you take a second look at your second helpings, nothing will.

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In the Magazine

November 13, 1995

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