How Much Pleasure Is Enough?
“Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. ” – Proverbs 23:2
“Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. ” – 1 Corinthians 7:5
The chief error about Gluttony is to think it only pertains to food. Some people can’t have enough toys, television, entertainment, sex, or company. It is about an excess of anything.
There are at least three forms of Gluttony:
1) Wanting more pleasure from something than it was made for.
2) Wanting it exactly our way (delicacy).
3) Demanding too much from people (excessive desire for other people’s time or presence).
More Pleasure Than It Was Made For
The world is full of good things, from the beauty of the stars to the ever-changing and never-changing oceans to the pleasure of human company. We are free to enjoy these things without becoming focused on any one of them to the exclusion of all else. It is possible to become so caught up in a pleasure, whether food or fun, that we can no longer enjoy other things, and would be willing to sacrifice other pleasures for the one.
We enter into Gluttony when we demand more pleasure from something than it was made for. Normally, we can only eat so much food, but some people in Ancient Rome wanted more pleasure, so they threw up after the meal and then ate more. This allowed them to enjoy eating more at the cost of health (and dignity).
In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis describes delicacy as a desire to have things exactly our way. He gives the example of food having to be prepared just right, or in just the right amount, but it isn’t limited to food. We might complain about unimportant defects in a product, the temperature in the room, or the color of a laundry basket. There is a certain amount of discomfort to be expected in life, but the Glutton will have none of it. Instead of becoming strong by suffering the minor inconveniences of life, the Glutton insists on being pampered. No one dares to point out how petty or foolish they are. In fact, some celebrities are praised for their excessive perfectionism, as though it were a virtue.
Demanding Too Much From People
There can be a healthy and natural enjoyment of time spent with friends and acquaintances, but some people just can’t get enough. They make demands until the other person moves away or explodes in anger. The Glutton is wounded that someone would take offense at their “love” for them. At least some people can get away. Far worse is when a parent demands too much from a child, requiring too much time or too many accomplishments from someone too small to grant so many pleasures. Even pets get excessive attention at times, but they don’t seem to mind as much.
In some dating relationships, one person desires the other’s company constantly, to the point that the other can barely hold down a job or continue in school. Whatever the reasons, the object of affection is expected to provide the pleasure of their company (at least) more of the time than is reasonable. Even in marriage, it is possible for a couple to be so “romantic” that the children are neglected. One legitimate pleasure (sex) can become obsessive to the point that another pleasure (the company of one’s children) is lost.
The Good News
Because Gluttony is generally a sin of the flesh, the flesh limits it. If we consume too much food or drink, our body (usually) lets us know, either by gaining weight or illness. If we are too fussy about things (delicacy), people will tell us to do it ourselves. And if we demand too much from people, they will fly from us and we will be alone more often. So, we usually get a view of the problem, and a chance to change.
It is said that St. Thomas More was an exceptionally fun person to be around, so much so that King Henry VIII of England kept calling for him, preventing Thomas from going home to his family. Thomas eventually began to curtail his merrymaking so that he was more dull company. This strategy worked, and he was able to live at home more often.
The cure for Gluttony lies in deliberately reducing our use of pleasurable things, not in eliminating them. When eating, quit before feeling stuffed. When snacking, don’t just keep stuffing, but quit after a while. With people, allow some quiet time together, and also get some time alone. Of course, if time alone is very pleasurable, get out more often. And if the toast is a bit too brown, eat it anyway.
For Continued Reading
“Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis
“New Seeds of Contemplation,” by Thomas Merton
“The Little Flowers of St. Francis”
Questions and Answers
Gluttony and Lust