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| Faith Forum - Is gluttony a sin?

Rajan Zed

Gluttony is described as excessive eating, drinking and indulgence, and covers also greed. It is listed in Christian teachings among the “seven deadly sins.”

Some faith traditions clearly label it as a sin, while some others just discourage or prohibit gluttony. Gluttony has been nicknamed by a few people as a “killer,” while some are of the view that gluttony eats the glutton. In some traditions, eating eagerly or at an inappropriate time; eating exotic, expensive and luxurious food; and pursuing delicacies also fall under the umbrella of gluttony.

Extravagance is condemned and moderation is stressed. We are sometimes told, "Eat with detachment."

The ancient Taittiriya Upanishad points out:

Food is Brahman (the supreme Godhead) ...

Respect food: the body is made of food;

Food and body exist to serve the Self.

Lord Krishna in the ancient Bhagavad-Gita calls greed a gate to self-destructive hell.

We asked our panel: Is gluttony a sin?

Our bodies are temples

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Micheal L. Peterson

Micheal L. Peterson, northwest Nevada media specialist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Although gluttony in the original Hebrew definition does not mention food, the typical biblical definition is the overindulgence or lack of self-restraint in food, drink or wealth items. Gluttony may be considered a sin of the flesh; however, physical appetites are an analogy of our ability to control ourselves in other areas as well. God has given us food, drink and other pleasurable things and He wants us to enjoy these things, but cautions us to use moderation in all things (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

I consider the sin of gluttony to be akin to pride and lust. We are to control our appetites rather than allow them to control us. If we gratify ourselves with worldly appetites, are we not then refusing to allowing God’s will to be pre-eminent in our lives? Our bodies are temples and we should not defile them (1 Corinthians 6).

Gluttony is impediment to spiritual progress

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Swami Vedananda

Swami Vedananda, Hindu monk

Gluttony indicates an internal lack of control of a person's natural need for nourishment. The Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, advises that moderation should be practiced in all such matters. If we transgress by ignoring this recommendation for moderation, this is equivalent to us placing an obstacle in the way of our own spiritual progress. In this respect, what are conventionally considered to be sins against God, are really impediments that we have ourselves placed in our own path, and which now slow our progress to the realization of the reality of God's existence and mercy. In that connection, the major harm done by the commission of such actions consists in keeping us tied to the cross-currents of conventional values of worldly gain or loss, and not allowing our minds to become free of such limitations to dwell on the limitless divine reality present in our own hearts.

Gluttony disrespects the body and society

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Karen A. Foster

Karen A. Foster, minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada

From the perspective of the individual human body, consistently eating and drinking in excess hurts the health of the body, and therefore should be recognized as sinful. The body is a magnificent gift, wondrously made, and should be treated with respect and care.

From a macro perspective, looking at society as a systemic whole, the hoarding of wealth for oneself for the sake of greed and ego are sinful as this creates an imbalance in the distribution of resources, therefore depriving some of the basic necessities of life. Disturbingly, we are seeing more and more of this wealth disparity in our world today where a few are amassing large proportions of wealth and resources, on the backs of workers who do not have enough to eat. It is astonishing that often these hoarders think of themselves as religious people, and their actions are lauded rather than being considered sinful.

Eat to live (not vice versa)

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Mike Winger
ElizaBeth W. Beyer

ElizaBeth Webb Beyer, Jewish rabbi

Our holidays are food-filled — delightful Shabbes meals, Shavuot blintzes, and Chanukah latkes. To eat is to live. We enjoy it. However, gluttony is common, serious and dangerous; costing $147 billion in health care (CDC, 2018). It’s the No. 1 cause of death and disability. Obesity is an American epidemic: about 74% adults are overweight or obese, and sadly many children.

We should eat only until satisfied (Proverbs 13:25). Many sources prohibit gluttony (Sanhedrin 63a on Leviticus 19:26). Esau lost his birthright from gluttony (Ramban on Genesis 25:30:1). The rebellious son’s possible death penalty was caused by gluttony (Deuteronomy 21:20). Raavad says honor G-d by not overeating.

There’s a direct connection between our physical self and spiritual self. The best peer-reviewed scientific research says avoid disease by keeping the body mass index under 21 by eating a sustainable whole food, plant-based diet. Plant-based vegans have the best weight and health outcomes.


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Stephen Karcher

Stephen R. Karcher, presiding priest, Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church

Food is a blessing. Jesus shared many meals with his disciples. Enjoying food is not a sin, but when our eating becomes excessive or addictive then it has become distorted and damaging. Yes, gluttony is a sin, and so our Faith has given us the goal to avoid overeating, encouraging us to accept the grace of fasting as a gift from God. Seraphim of Sarov recommended that “every day we should take just enough food to allow the body, being fortified, so that it can become a friend and helper to the soul in performing the virtues. Otherwise, with the body exhausted the soul may also weaken.” Control of the stomach is one of the very first steps in the spiritual life. We need to learn about God to love Him, said Seraphim, but when our stomach is full, the intellect becomes sluggish making it difficult to learn about God.

Moderation in all things

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Nancy Lee Cecil Nancy Cecil

Nancy Lee Cecil, Baha’i teacher

Gluttony is not a “sin.”

An American woman once sat at Abdu’l-Baha’s table in Persia and ate plentifully. She then apologized for eating so much and asked the Master’s forgiveness for overindulging. He replied, “Virtue and excellence consist in true faith in God, not in having a small or large appetite for food.”

The Baha’i Faith, like many religions, teaches moderation in all things. Anything carried to excess, such as eating, may become detrimental. As a reminder of this, many religions observe a period of fasting when adherents eat and drink only at set times. For Baha’is, fasting is more than a physical act; it reminds us to avoid overindulgence of all sorts and is a lesson in self-discipline. We strive to balance physical needs with spiritual needs. This means practicing self-restraint to distance oneself from the body — to concentrate on oneself as a spiritual being and to grow closer to God.

Gluttony is never satisfied

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Bryan J. Smith

Bryan J. Smith, co-lead pastor, Summit Christian Church, Sparks

There are many names for God in the Bible. Each name points to a different aspect of God’s character. One such name found in Genesis 22:14 is Jehovah-Jireh — “God will provide.” The issue with gluttony, whether it be greed or consumption, is that it moves well beyond being satisfied with God’s provision. Gluttony leads to unhealthy levels of desire that draw our eyes away from God (sin) and onto that next bite, that next possession, that next conquest.

In Philippians 4:19, the Bible tells us, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” What a beautiful truth of God’s provision. When my heart is lead astray by gluttony, I miss out on all that God has provided for me in Christ. Down the road of gluttony is wanting that will never be satisfied.

Both sinful and unhealthy

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Kenneth Lucey

Kenneth G. Lucey, philosophy/religion professor emeritus, University of Nevada

Asking whether any activity is a “sin” is a very simple question. For anything to be a sin is simply for it to be condemned by some religion or other. There is no question whatsoever about whether gluttony has been condemned by most (and perhaps all) major religions. For the major religions of the world gluttony has a prominent place among “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Consult Solomon Schimmel, The Seven Deadly Sins (Oxford U.P., 1997) chapter six. Eating food to excess differs from (say) consumption of alcohol, for example, which is totally prohibited by some religions, but not by others. There is an objective aspect to gluttony which is also not controversial, namely that it is unhealthy. It is not at all controversial that gluttony is a major causal factor in diabetes, heart problems, etc. all of which are risk factors for Covid19 fatalities.

May lead to sinning

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Sherif Elfass

Sherif A. Elfass, president, Northern Nevada Muslim Community

Eating excessively is not considered a sin but highly discouraged. Wastefulness, however, is prohibited. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran: “Eat and drink, but do not waste. Surely He (Allah) does not like those who are wasteful” (7:31). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. If he must fill his stomach, then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” Excessive desire for wealth (greed) is also not a sin but highly discouraged because it leads to other sins. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Refrain from greed for those who were before you perished as a result of greed. Greed commanded them to be stingy, and they obeyed; it ordered them into alienation, and they obeyed; and it commanded them to sin, and they sinned.” Modesty is one of the hallmarks of Islam.

It depends

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Charles Durante

Charles T. Durante, vicar general, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno

There is no question in Roman Catholic theology that gluttony is morally wrong. The harder question may be what comprises the sin of gluttony. For something to be sinful there are several elements that must be met: it must be morally wrong, the person must have knowledge that an action or inaction is morally wrong and the person must freely intend to do the act or not to act. If one understands gluttony to be eating or drinking way more than what one needs to live, it is morally wrong because it is harmful to one’s body and it consumes resources that could otherwise be used for those in greater need. However, if someone has an eating or drinking disorder, there is a question about whether that person is freely choosing the moral wrong. A sin could lie in refusal to seek help for the disorder rather than gluttony itself.

All wanting is unskillful

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Matthew Fisher

Matthew T. Fisher, resident priest, Reno Buddhist Center

Buddhists generally shy away from translations that use the word “sin.” It is counter to our view of most beings as “deluded and misguided” as “opposed to evil and bad.” Sin implies a level of intentionality to do bad acts, most people lack this. Instead, we would say, “Yes — gluttony is unskillful.” Unskillful actions are those that result in planting unfortunate karmic seed. These seeds of habit energy will bear unpleasant fruit someday. So, the wise do not to plant them in the first place.

Gluttony creates the habit of overconsuming food. Really, any form of over-consuming is unskillful. Whether shoes, or cars, or sex, or intoxicants, all overconsumption disorders generate strong habit energy that is most difficult to overcome. Modern psychologists may characterize these as addictions, the Buddha called them “Tanha” — thirst. Thirst is the very cause of suffering. No gluttony, no suffering.

Next week’s topic: How do you view "success"?

Faith Forum is a weekly dialogue on religion produced by religious statesman Rajan Zed. Send questions or comments to [email protected] or on Twitter at @rajanzed.


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