Sometime in the next four billion years or so, our sun will go nova, a prefatory flare-up to its slow guttering and eventual cooling to a dark, dead state. The nova itself — not the kind of catastrophic explosion you see out of much larger stars (Betelgeuse, for instance, is a prime candidate for this) — will probably cause the sun’s outermost layers to extend near or to our own planet’s orbit. When that happens, of course, Earth will be charred and rendered utterly lifeless.*
Well, by then presumably our distant ancestors will have left, taking with them — one hopes — the best of our developmental legacies. They won’t resemble us at all; Homo sapiens will have been extinct by then for billions of years. Assuming no catastrophic self-immolation, we might have another fifty to hundred thousand years in us before our progeny have mutated to the point that they wouldn’t be our species any more, which would render us extinct, though perhaps still symbolically connected in some emotionally significant fashion.
Of course, the universe itself is eventually going to do one of two things: Collapse in on itself in a final, catastrophic mega-black hole, thus destroying itself and everything in it, including our distant ancestors; or continue spreading across a wider space as the stars it contains, sucking up hydrogen, eventually nova or explode and die out, and the whole cosmos becomes a flat, dead, cold sheet of completely lifeless entropy.
With such prospects ahead of us, many seek the warmth and comfort of religion; and faith can even serve to balm us in our local, parochial crises — but even religion doesn’t work any more, it seems. Too many religious people in the US — specifically right-wing Christians — are morbidly obese.
Baptists have the highest rates of obesity — 30 percent, according to a Purdue University study using information from a national survey that gathers data on lifestyle issues. That compares with 17 percent of Catholics and 1 percent or less for non-Christians — Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.
Now I’m marginally Buddhist myself, and might be able to offer some insight as to why that group doesn’t seem to have obesity issues in a little while, but before we get there we have the question of why it seems that the Baptists are the most affected. Apparently the stringent version of the religion expects its members to avoid tobacco and alcohol (which is remarkably similar to Mormon ideas), which — along with the standard right-wing fanatical restrictions on sex — leaves Baptists few options for enjoyment.
Or, as [author Kenneth Ferraro’s] article says: “Baptists may find food one of the few available sources of earthly pleasure.”
Can’t drink, can’t smoke, can’t swive or masturbate.** Leaves damned little, doesn’t it? And the Christain fad diet plans are really hopping along, just as the “low carb” craze was a couple years back. (Originally I had toyed with titling this post “What Would Jesus Eat?”, but it turns out there’s already a diet of that name. Seriously.) There are other, less scrupulous snake oilers out there as well:
Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson has developed a $15 weight-loss shake that is marketed nationally through Vitamin Shoppe. More than 1.3 million people have ordered a free diet program he launched in 2004.
This is the same Pat Robertson who claims to be able to lift 2,000 pounds after drinking one of his holy shakes — so you just know it must be effective, because, after all, Pat is entirely sane and doesn’t have any reason to exaggerate, prevaricate or lie. As is obvous from the price of his shake: A paltry fifteen dollars per serving.
The question is whether the diets are working. So far there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that they are, despite the efforts of people such as pastor Steve Reynolds, who underwent a transformative realization himself and began working off his 100-plus extra pounds of weight, and who is trying to get his parishioners to do the same.
“About 40 percent of you need to lose weight,” he told his congregation at Capital Baptist Church. “When you love potluck more than God, it’s serious.”
And with that, the preacher, who has lost 70 pounds by relying on God and low carbs, launched a mission to lead his followers into the burgeoning world of religious dieting. “Our body was given to us by God and for God,” he said. “He is the owner. We need to take care of what He’s given us.”
This is a good example of a practice what you preach approach, and it’s garnered some favorable responses.
Among the more than 200 who jammed the church’s gym for an introductory luncheon after the worship services earlier this month was Sylviana Nica, 28, a Falls Church office worker. It was her first visit to Capital Baptist, and she came after hearing radio ads for Bod4God. She has struggled for years to lose weight and live healthier and, as a Christian, she said, the religious slant of the program appealed to her.
“I’ve been praying for this,” she said.
(One wonders why she couldn’t go to a local health club, but apparently that wasn’t miraculous enough to actually motivate her.)
There are problems in the US today, problems that might be leaving a lot of people feeling trapped in despair. Jobs have left the economy, there’s more worry than ever about each person’s financial future, and there’s an idiot in the White House who seems obsessed with pointless wars that accomplish nothing. Many months ago I posted the idea that Humvees exist as a sort of compensation for that — and in many other cases, perhaps food and religion can serve as balms for internal anguish.
Some seem to want to turn one balm into the other:
“It’s about turning to God to fill up this yearning instead of the refrigerator,” said Gwen Shamblin, founder of Weigh Down Workshops, which enrolled several hundred thousand people nationwide last year in a diet program that encourages participants to transfer their focus from diets and calories to Jesus Christ.
But is that really so different from, say, attending AA meetings, weaning oneself off booze, and slowly becoming a chain smoker instead? Aren’t we overlooking the actual cause of the crisis and instead seeking to address the symptoms?
I mentioned above that I might have one insight into why Buddhists seem to have significantly lower rates of obesity than most other religious groups in the US. If obesity is a response to a sense of emptiness, stress or anxiety, then lower instances in Buddhists might have to do with the practice of meditating on impermanence, emptiness and death — a way to encourage the meditator to probe the meaning of existence, the meaning of nonexistence, and the inevitability of complete dissolution.
A key Buddhist teaching is that the self is ultimately nonexistent; it is impermanent and transitory. Couple that with another teaching — that attachment is the cause of suffering — and the possibility arises that a meditator might be a little less afraid of change or of the idea of total disappearance of self, and therefore possibly a little more able to cope with existential angst in a healthier way than sucking down a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk.***
After a while one becomes used to holding two competing worldviews: Everything we do is essentially nonpermanent, coming from nothing and dissolving into nothing and therefore, for all practical purposes, meaningless on a cosmic scale; yet at the same time everything we do has an effect in the ephemeral world on the ephemeral lives of the others around us — so why would we want to behave in a way that increases suffering, our own or anyone else’s? Since life is impermanent anyway, why make it miserable by behaving badly?
This idea seems to illuminate a point for me. Right-wing fanatical Christians are doing everything they can to concretize a literal reading of the Bible. This is a dangerous practice, because the book simply does not describe reality; and because deliberately immersing oneself in a delusional state does not equip one with the tools necessary to live in a cosmopolitan, complex and largely secular world.
Yet the response of fanatics is to deepen the illness, to retreat further into fanaticism and try to drag others along with them. Thus they have essentially brought about their own misery by continually returning to a dry well — and the pity of it all is that they can’t see the sterility of their own endeavors … even when that sterility is killing them.
For that reason, I fear the religion-based diets are not going to work. Just as with every other aspect of right-wing fanaticism, the miracle will fail to manifest, and the disillusionment and pain will only deepen. Unfortunately, there’s very little anyone can do to prevent that; it’s up to those who are afflicted by the toxic meme of fanaticism to address their own delusions. Hopefully it will happen before they eat themselves to death.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and do some things that will ultimately prove to be totally meaningless on a cosmic scale. (Besides, it’s time for lunch.)
* The ancient Greeks believed Earth would die when Apollo’s chariot — which was the sun — crashed from the sky and burned the surface of the planet to a cinder.
** Well, you can, but you end up feeling guilty. And what do people often do when they feel guilty?
*** Or it could all just be a load of propagandistic horseshit.
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.