Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 39, Overindulgence

Chapter 39 of The Rule of St. Benedict deals with "The Proper Amount of Food." Benedict asks that there be enough food provided for the monks and that there be diversity of food so that tastes might be accommodated. The rule governing food isn't extreme asceticism but, rather, the avoidance of overindulgence. As Benedict summarizes:
8For nothing is so inconsistent with the life of any Christian as overindulgence.
As I ponder this I wonder if this isn't one of the great weaknesses of Christianity in the modern world. To not put too fine a point on it, I don't ever recall hearing a sermon about gluttony in my life. And if you are like me you regularly struggle with over eating.

And the issue here really is less about self-mortification than about acquiring basic skills of self-mastery across the craving, appetitive spectrum, from the physical to the psychological. I believe this is a part of what fasting, from anything, is all about.

How much of church life is aimed at helping Christians gain rudimentary levels of self-control and self-mastery? And can much be accomplished by way of spiritual formation if these basic skills of self-denial aren't in place?

Think about it. How much self-mastery is involved, say, in forgiving others or loving enemies or spending time with difficult people? How much self-mastery is involved, say, in listening rather than talking, in taking take the last place, in stooping to serve?

And if those are the high hurtles of self-overcoming, how much are we practicing, on a day to day basis, on much smaller challenges?

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11 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 39, Overindulgence”

  1. Excellent! I have always thought that of all people who should be in control of weight and what they eat, it should be Christians. I've read that for many Christians its the acceptable "drug." I know I've been guilty of it.

  2. I wasn't trying to meddle, and my reference to obesity wasn't meant to stigmatize, just give an example. Because the forms of over-indulgence are legion.

  3. What you're talking about sounds boring and invasive and not-fun, and also suspiciously like "work."

    Maybe if you spiced it up a bit... like how tantric-sex-aficionados swear up, down and, er, sideways that eschewing le petite mort actually increases the pleasure of the experience. "You've NEVER tasted a burger like the ONE BURGER OF THE YEAR!!" and that sort of thing.

    On second thought, no. That sounds like delayed gratification... which is not only un-pleasant, but also un-American. We're trying to kick-start an endlessly-expanding economy, here, and you're going off about moderation? What!?! If there was still a house committee on un-American activities, you'd be inferit.

  4. To not put too fine a point on it, I don't ever recall hearing a sermon about gluttony in my life. This despite epidemic levels of obesity in America today.

    No. The "epic levels of obesity" as you refer to them are not an effect of gluttony, but of a 60 billion with a b dollar weight loss industry using their clout to change the markers considered healthy and convince people through advertisements that overeating causes obesity, despite ample scientific, peer-reviewed evidence to the contrary.

    Using language like this is fatphobic, a microaggression, and contributes to the discrimination fat people experience every day.

    Plus, there's a little thing this guy once said about not judging your neighbor. You might have heard of him. Goes by the name of Jesus. Has this thing about how every person deserves dignity and respect. Don't remember him saying nothing about unless their BMI fits into a certain range.

    So don't you DARE use me and my fat siblings in Christ to convince yourself that you're going to be more virtuous by not overindulging like those fatties because you are judging us as overindulgers based on the way we look. I sincerely doubt you've been given by the almighty Father in Heaven the power to psychically determine what and how much I'm eating, let alone my metabolic health markers with one glance. And preaching to us about how we should stop overindulging? Shove off, buddy. If fat shaming worked, there wouldn't be a single fat person on the planet.

    Lots of people are going to read this and go, "BUT! SCIENCE! YOUR HEALTH!" in which case I direct them to read every single article and peer-reviewed scientific paper linked here before you attempt any concern trolling.

  5. And hey--the spiritual issue here isn't about being fat, it's not about appearances, it's about eating too much, and too much of the wrong things. BMI is only about conventional notions of attractiveness. I agree with what you are saying but given how wrong we've gotten sex and money in the church I don't want to sanction another realm where we can judge people willy nilly based on appearances.

  6. Weight is not something to be controlled. Your weight set-point is genetic, and cannot easily be changed. You can work out, gain strength, eat nourishing foods, and maybe you'll see some health improvements. But trying to control weight through dieting isn't going to get you anywhere, as it doesn't result in permanent weight loss unless you develop anorexia.

  7. P.S. Tony Campolo addresses gluttony in "Seven Deadly Sins." I was offended, 'cause he was ignorant of the heterogeneous nature of obesity, and consequently judged fat people harshly. :P

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