The deadly sin of gluttony

January 29, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 3
Melissa Miller |

A disturbing cartoon from childhood has stayed with me. In the cartoon, a pig—of course!—was over-eating, stuffing himself from a heavily laden table. At the very end, the pig stood up, pushed himself back from the table and, with a filled-to-bursting gut, took a few wobbly steps. But then he saw just one more thing on the table that he had to eat, probably a drumstick or maybe a slice of cake with gooey icing. He grabbed the food and stuffed it in his mouth. As it slid down his throat, it reached his out-of-capacity stomach and—in the drama of cartoon graphics—burst the pig! His whole body exploded with a great and ugly spewing of its edible contents.

The pig awoke from his nightmare, for he had been dreaming about gorging, ran to his mother with sobs of guilt and promised that he would never, ever be so greedy again. I guess that was the moral of the story: to warn children of the dangers of gluttony and over-consumption. It seemed to be in a different, more intense category than the usual cartoon fare: Tom and Jerry with their amusing cycle of cat and mouse, or the hapless coyote as he schemed to catch the elusive road runner.

The pig was guilty of gluttony, and the creator of the cartoon delivered its moral message with a blast: you will come to a horrible end if you overeat. Perhaps the writer/illustrator was influenced by a list of sins known variously as the seven deadly dins, capital vices or cardinal sins; gluttony is on the list. Perhaps the individual struggled with the sin of too-muchness. Perhaps it’s useful for us to consider the sin of gluttony early in this new year, while memories of recent holiday feasts and consumption still linger. Perhaps, given the riches and excess of our North American culture, it is a sin worth noting and addressing regularly.

In its simplest form, gluttony is about too much. Too much eating, too much drinking, too much indulging. It’s about excess. While we often associate it with food and drink, it can include misuse of other resources.  In our context, that might mean too much waste and misuse of the earth’s resources, like air, water and fossil fuels.

Like other sins, we find references to gluttony in the Bible. We are warned against eating too much honey (Proverbs 25:16). And counselled “to put a knife to our throat if we have a big appetite” (Proverbs 23:2). Gluttony is considered so deadly because it leads to self-centredness and selfishness. It leads away from concern for others, particularly the poor and the vulnerable. The Bible instructs people to leave some of the harvest behind—a sheaf of grain, some grapes and olives—for the needy (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

The antidote for gluttony is moderation. Or as the traditional lists of sins and virtues put it, the opposite of gluttony is temperance. Christian values such as simplicity and frugality point us away from excess and over-consumption. Some of us watched our parents and grandparents practise these values. Some of us have sought such temperance throughout our lives, as we have established households, raised families and managed our finances.

Some of us are young adults today who understand the links between spirituality and simplicity, and are making choices to nurture those links. Likely we don’t need scary cartoons or pompous finger-wagging to shape us into being God’s people.

It’s worth noting that Jesus is accused of being both a glutton and drunkard, in contrast to the severe deprivations of John the Baptist (Luke 7:33-35), a passage that ends with the intriguing summary that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” May such wisdom guide our consumption.

Melissa Miller ( lives in Winnipeg. She is wrapped in the family ties of daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and pastor.

See Melissa’s other columns in her series on the deadly sins: 
The deadly sin of sloth 
The deadly sin of wrath 
The deadly sin of lust 
The deadly sin of envy 
The deadly sin of greed 
The deadly sin of pride 
Talk of sin should start with forgiveness 

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