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A Moral Issue?

20 Jul

So this is the post that I mentioned taking two weeks (now much more than that) to write. I know it’s kind of a delicate subject, which is why I’ve been agonizing over it, but I have been increasingly burdened lately that it’s a subject which we, as believers, need to get some clarity on. I will be mostly addressing women in this post, as this seems to hit them the hardest (or at least most overtly), but it is by no means limited to them.

We all know that here in the U.S., and as I understand it, in Western society as a whole, nearly all moral standards are becoming more and more relativized. Being able to sin as wildly as we want is becoming more and more of an “inalienable right” — e.g., “Who are you to tell me who I can and can’t marry?” and “Who says I need to marry the romantic partner I want to live with?” and “Freedom of speech guarantees me the right to view and produce ‘adult’ images,” and “I should be able to kill as many of my unborn babies as I want.”

Yet in all of this turmoil and moral confusion, there is one issue that is presenting a pretty unified front, one issue that society as a whole is willing to pass sweeping legislature to attempt to prevent and solve. It is decried daily across our talk shows, news networks, and magazines (both reputable and tabloid). It’s hard to think of the last time I had any media exposure without also being exhorted to steer away from this tragic course of action. It’s an issue that many in the church are even making a stand about, with many prominent preachers, teachers and authors joining the rallying cry to do away with this widespread evil.

Rather unfortunate that this terrible evil… well, simply isn’t.

I’m referring to weight gain. Or, perhaps more accurately, the possession of any visible amount of adipose tissue anywhere on one’s body at all.

While you can’t get anyone in the secular world to care about things like the death toll of the unborn or the rise of sexual immorality, our whole nation is in a quite literal panic about fat. People pay absurd amounts of money to join dubious weight-loss programs. They do workouts they hate, because fun things like sports, dance, running, weight lifting, or whatever their fancy, don’t burn enough fat, or else don’t burn it from the right places. They reduce their eating to levels that are literally below starvation levels (please read all four links’ hovertext), and sometimes even inject themselves with hormones as they do so.

Why go through such pain, expense, and even health risk to get rid of “excess” weight — whether in substantial, or inconsequential amounts? Of course, everyone has been well-programmed to fire back with health reasons (which are often ill-founded, or at least up for debate). But the reality is that it’s all about appearance for the people who get sucked into the undertow of the cycle of dieting. No one worries about that last five pounds because those are the five pounds that will give them the heart attack; they worry about them because that’s what stands between them and that fab pair of jeans that they haven’t fit in since their last pregnancy. That dress size or two has nothing to do with blood sugar, but everything to do with whether they can look in the mirror and be able to stand what they see. They don’t really think that their recent significant weight gain will land them in an early grave — or if they do, it’s a distant second place behind the fact that they think those pounds mean that they are now ugly, unlovable, undisciplined, sloppy, lazy, or stupid. Regardless of health practices or stage of life, that scale tipping upward is always a bad thing.

To these people, fat is not about health. Fat is now a moral issue. Fat doesn’t just mean that they’re bigger, it means that they are a bad person. Buying larger jeans is not merely an inconvenience, but a horrifying experience of shame at what one has become. Slimming down is not about preserving one’s health (which it doesn’t do, but that’s a whole other topic), but about becoming a better, happier, more worthwhile version of themselves.

This, friends, is very, very wrong. I’ve written a bit about it before. And while it breaks my heart to see this stuff running rampant in the world, it doesn’t surprise me. When people are without God, with no comprehension of their eternal value or destiny, no source for self-worth and no vision for anything beyond this brief life, it’s hardly surprising that they fall prey to all kinds of false measurements of self.

But what cuts me infinitely deeper is to see how widespread this is in the Church. And it’s not even a matter of people succumbing to this sort of thing despite the teaching and support of their local congregations, but a matter of people (especially women) who buy into it with the wholehearted endorsement of the teaching and support of their local congregation. Our homes, hallways, and ladies’ rooms are filled with chatter about dieting, weight gained or lost, how well or badly one is doing at one’s workout regimen, and what size we were able to put on or else outgrew. The attendance at the Bible study / prayer meeting might be rather anemic, but the Weight Watchers group is doing better than ever.

Clearly, this is because we’re informed people. We watch the news. We’ve seen the internet sidebars. We have that one friend who lost some weight, and whose body we now idolize, I mean envy, I mean aspire to. It’s common sense that fat is bad and it is our duty as upright people to avoid it at all costs. We’re called to be good stewards, right? We know that obesity is the single biggest threat to our society, right? Therefore, weight management is a critical part of the Christian life, right?

After all, didn’t Paul say, “I thank God that I hit the gym more than you all”?

No, wait, that’s not it. I meant that time he said, “Therefore, if eating meat causes my weight loss plan to stumble, I will never eat meat again.”

Or maybe I’m thinking of James saying, “Submit to God, resist the devil’s food cake, and inches will flee from you…”?

Or perhaps the reason Jesus wouldn’t turn those stones to bread was because the carb count would be off the charts.

Okay, okay, seriously. All snarkiness aside, my point stands: that isn’t in the Bible. None of it is.

Why would the Bible remain so silent on such a huge moral issue? With all the health scares and epidemics and oh-my-lands-would-someone-please-think-of-the-children, you’d think that the Lord would be sure to caution us against it.

Unless it’s not actually a moral issue.

I can’t find anywhere in the Bible that anyone is rebuked for being ten, fifteen, fifty, or even five hundred  pounds over their “ideal weight” (whatever that is). Never is there a diet plan regarding weight. Check that: There is one place where a group of guys went on a hardcore vegan diet in order to pursue righteousness. God blessed them in their effort. As a consequence, they gained weight (Daniel 1:15 “…their features appeared better and fatter in flesh…”).

Yet mysteriously, despite the Bible’s silence on it, I can find lots of news articles and books about the evils of fat. Anyone with eyes and an internet connection / TV / outside world knows how prolific this is through secular media. Unfortunately, my friend feed on Facebook is oozing with it — mostly in the “I can’t believe I’m this size”, “OMG, I must go on a diet” type status updates — some in the “Yay, I’m losing weight” category — and even some dismissing their friends’ compliments of beauty with “No, I’ve let myself get fat”.

I also found, on a recent (6/8/2010) search on CBD.com,* a large online Christian book retailer, the following products in the “Women’s Interest >> Health and Fitness” section**:

  • 48 distinct product titles on diets
    • 32 of them were explicitly, either in title or blurb, geared towards losing weight.
    • This number (32) does not include any of the titles which may have disguised weight loss in the more innocuous euphemism of “improving health”
  • An entire section titled “Devotions for Dieters”. It contained 11 titles.
  • 28 workout DVD’s
  • 44 distinct titles on beauty
    • 9 of these were tips along the lines of makeup, wardrobe, and other self-makeover tips.
    • 3 were about self-improvement, reflected in or assisted by your look
    • 23 — that’s only about half — of these titles had anything to do with rejecting the world’s standards of beauty and seeking the Lord’s opinion of you

By my guesstimation, in trying to allow for overlapping titles, there are between 80-100 distinct options on this site to help us ladies lose weight or otherwise improve our image.

While there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with Christians putting out resources to help other Christians live healthy lifestyles, these numbers bothered me. Forty-eight ways to lose weight, available at our friendly Christian bookstore? Enough titles to merit a section on “Devotions for Dieters”? Seriously?

Suddenly, this is actually becoming a moral issue. But it’s not because thin is good or fat is bad, or because a salad is crunchy green virtue while a brownie is gooey delicious evil. None of that is true (well, excepting the adjectives “crunchy”, “green”, “gooey”, and “delicious”). What is true is that we’re looking at a moral issue because we’re swallowing — hook, line, and sinker — the lie that thin means beautiful, which, ergo, equals a worthwhile person. We gear our entire lives, including but not limited to our eating and exercise habits, around achieving this magical ideal body. We’ve bought into it so wholeheartedly that it has become a full-fledged idol to many, and dare I say, most of us.

Ladies (and any gentlemen who have persisted this far): We have got to stop.

I’m not pretending like it’s as simple as saying, “Oh, okay, I’ll just stop caring about it then.” I know quite well from personal experience that the prevailing idolatry of our culture is maddeningly hard to ignore. I wish I could say that I’ve never wished for a different body. I wish I could say I’ve never been embarrassed about eating in front of my friends. I wish I could say I’ve never cringed when catching a glimpse of myself on the webstream. I can’t.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But what I am saying is that it’s a battle we all need to fight.

Hating our bodies means hating what God loves. Hating our bodies means harboring accusation that God did not do well by us in making us. Hating our bodies means hating ourselves, which cripples us when it comes to effectively loving and caring for the people around us. That gnawing desire to lose weight saps our emotional and mental energy, not to mention our time and money. Believing the lie that our “less than ideal” state makes us unworthy, ugly people hinders us at every level of fellowship with the Lord and with those around us. Body shame might be normal in our culture, but it is certainly not right. Just because all women struggle with it does not make it okay. It is not more okay if you’re “really” overweight (as opposed to all those “other” women who are just obsessing over it when THEY look just fine). It is the spirit of this age that sets up some mythical perfect woman as the one ideal for all of us, and it is the spirit of this age that heaps shame and condemnation on us for failing to match up.

If you are considering dieting to lose weight, I beg you to not. If you are currently dieting to lose weight, I would urge you to (safely) stop. If you are fasting to lose weight, begin (safely) breaking it immediately and please seek help (not eating to embrace weakness = fasting; not eating to lose weight = anorexia).

Unless you are under some kind of doctor’s orders, consider getting rid of the scale. Ask the Holy Spirit about what kind of magazines / TV / websites you’re taking in, and be quick to cut loose any of it that makes your battle harder than it needs to be.

If you really are concerned about your health, then great. Eat foods that make you feel good and exercise enough to not feel sluggish. But in that process, let your body do what it does, and be whatever size it is.

Ultimately, we need two main things: 1) We need to declare war on body idolatry. We can’t excuse it as “a girl thing”. We can’t pretend like it’s valid. We need to recognize that it is compromise to agree with the world’s values of outward appearance, and set our hearts to agree with truth.

2) We need deliverance. We need to ask the Lord to move on our hearts and help us to hear what He is saying about us, and what He thinks and feels about us (including how we look).

If you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to watch this video. The current move of the Spirit actually took off when a young woman from our midst shared her testimony regarding her freedom from eating disorders and shame of her own body.

May the Lord release grace on your heart and mind. Please keep fighting to agree with His declaration over your life.

———————————————————-

*For the record, I really like CBD. They have a big selection, fast service, and good prices. While I am troubled by the search results I found there, the whole thing is much more symptomatic of what we as the consumers are demanding than what CBD as a company is endorsing.

—————–

**I also looked at the “Men’s Interests // Health and Fitness” part of the website on the same day (6/8/2010). Here’s what I found in the Health and Fitness section:
  • 6 titles total. In the entire section.
    • 3 of these titles explicitly did not have anything to do with weight loss.
    • Only 1 did.
There are scads of troubling observations one could draw from this disproportionate focus. It is certainly a whole other post if I ever decide to address it. For now I leave it to you to come to your own conclusions.
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7 Comments

Posted by on July 20, 2010 in Heart Stuff

 

7 responses to “A Moral Issue?

  1. Jonathan Greene

    July 20, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Insightful article. I posted it on Facebook.

     
  2. Deborah

    July 21, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Amanda,

    Having inhabited the body hatred category from a very young age b/c of things done to me, I appreciate this post. It has been bad news for my body and mind and took many years to untangle.

    I would add a caveat that healthy weight when feasible–something that usually involves a far greater poundage spectrum than dieting ideals would suggest and perhaps also than doctors’ charts would suggest if one truly has a “big” build–is important as a part of stewarding our “vessels.” However, it is not the end all be all. Also, gluttony is a sin and, as some church-goers would acknowledge, along w/ accumulating “things” or controlling others, the one addiction the church allows them.

    BUT I totally agree w/ the gist here. I have regularly heard church chatter regarding the following:

    (a) women who would not be okay with their bodies if they did not fast 1-2 days a week and who think that doubling this up w/ spiritual reasons to fast is totally ok as they worship at the body-altar (I don’t mean anorexic women but those who eat normally or even heartily other days of the week),

    (b) spiritual mentors who include watching their mentorees weight as part of their exercise in godliness and who immediately pounce on one’s “issues” that must call for some sort of deliverance if you go up more than 5 lbs. (ok, so I’ve HAD that kind of mentor and watched her mentor a number of other slim girls),

    (c)”biblical” marriage helps that stress that a wife’s weight maintenance is the most key message they can send their husbands about their care of themselves for him and is the thing that is hardest to ignore in diminishing attraction when one fails(although I do know couples who mutually discuss agreements to be good stewards of their bodies for each other as part of pre-marital counseling; in couples where there are not weight fixations and where it is clear they are wanting to accept one another in whatever the life stages bring but who simply feel it is good to indicate a dedication to generally watching portions, exercise, and rest as their bodies allow, this can be a good thing, imo, perhaps especially w/ our obesity problems… indeed good enough that I think I’d discuss it when that time arises),

    (d)husbands w/ gorgeous wives who are on them about their weight a la the victoria’s secret ideals, and

    (e) various troubling scenarios regarding using Christian dieting materials (where, yes, you do sense that not gluttony but mere weight is a sin, and you are morally better if thinner, and the diets are often very unhealthy in the types of things you eat and/or the severity of portion control).

     
  3. Deborah

    July 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    p.s.–glad you’re back 🙂

     
  4. Rob

    July 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I’m a frequent lurker on your blog and enjoy it greatly. I’ve found my way here via the writings of Aaron Salvatore and Kyle Gebhart. Thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful essays.

    Your concerns over body image are very well founded. The past two generations have been dealt a very rough hand. First, we have inherited an increasingly atomized, self-actualizing, and convenience-oriented culture that on so many levels encourages unhealthy lifestyles.

    Secondly, while we are right in noticing that something is terribly wrong with us physically (many of us are probably physically incapable of doing the work our grandparents did), we have been conditioned by mass media to channel that awareness in a bad direction. TV and most media dull us to reality and deceive us into focusing on externals. It forces us to be passive observers of people-like-images and we have trouble telling the difference between those images and the people we meet on the street. I actually think that on some deep level we really don’t understand that the people on the TV aren’t watching us like we are watching them (I’m picturing a young girl emulating dance moves she sees on the screen). So not only do we become neurotic by separating ourselves from others to consume the mass media, we get a totally warped understanding of how the world views us. As we become more accustomed to viewing people as images and sounds, we have trouble viewing ourselves as anything else.

    Without even a clue of what our real problem is, we try to fix ourselves by shopping through a host of predictably atomized, self-actualizing, and convenience-oriented “diet” solutions. We believe that we can simply purchase some new lifestyle, and can’t even realize that it is completely unrooted in reality and is destined to failure. Satan laughs as we prop ourselves up with the same stick that culture uses to beat us down.

    As a church, we can evangelize the culture. We can reject the diets and media images and simultaneously form a culture of life that is loving, affirming, and devoted – not atomized, self-actualizing, and convenience-oriented. I think you have a realistic shot at forming that culture in Kansas City.

     
  5. aieharry

    September 20, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Great post… and I get more information from this post
    Thanks a lot

     
  6. giterdonedave

    May 30, 2011 at 4:59 am

    Moral attitude comes in a different way on how they live.
    I experience a moral change for some people. Some tends to get good and other become bad

     

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