While at the Newfrontiers Theology Forum a few weeks back I raised some eyebrows by claiming that obesity is one of our cultural unforgivable sins. My esteemed colleagues considered me somewhat reactionary, but it is an observation I would defend.
Because we are sinners from birth, we need identifiable sins which we can pillory and purge. In a society divorced from God (even though “his invisible attributes are plainly perceived”) we have to find reasons to explain our sense of guilt. And the sins we have chosen are obesity, homophobia, and environmental destruction.
We live in a society that deems moral judgments morally unacceptable. Negative comments about someone’s sexual behavior are out of bounds, representing either a repressed prudishness or a prissy conservatism out of sync with the contemporary zeitgeist. However, it is fully acceptable to condemn people for being fat.
We have a cultural aspiration to a kind of imagined Scandinavian utopia where sex is free, and everyone is fit and gorgeous, and where the polar bears float safely on the ice as we gleefully recycle every bottle and packet.
This is a strange horse to ride – moral pronouncements are deemed bad, unless they are moral pronouncements about the state of our health; which means we are riding a horse blinkered to the dangers to our health posed by misdirected sex. Do you smoke? Shame on you, you sinner! Do you like sleeping with a different woman every night? Well done!
As an illustration of what I am arguing, check out the pronouncement of the Chief Medical Office for England that fitness tests should be introduced for schoolchildren. Now, I have no objection to children being fit, but I do have objections to a neo-Stalinist approach to my kids body mass index. And this in a school system where it is also going to become mandatory for five-year-olds to have “relationships” education in which they will be taught that it doesn’t matter who you sleep with so long as you do it with respect.
Consider the news that the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Gravesend is a director of porn films. Imagine the Q&A session in your child’s school the day the MP comes to visit:
“Ms Arrowsmith, how did you get involved in politics?”
“Well children, directing films of people having sex seemed a natural progression to serving in the House of Commons.”
Or take the latest Lady Gaga video, which features lesbian sex and nudity. Here’s the thing – what she is doing might seem very hip and cool, but it is kids, not sophisticated twenty-somethings, who listen to this kind of music, and will then click on YouTube to watch the video.
Sometimes I think that Christians should all take up smoking and eat nothing but Big Macs simply to thumb our noses at the moral demands of our culture, while choosing to reject what our culture accepts and applauds. Smoking and eating too much will reduce your life expectancy by maybe ten years, but what the heck – we’re all living for decades longer than our forebears did anyway, so we can afford to cut a little slack. But what we’re doing to ourselves sexually is truly disastrous.
Being fat isn’t great, but its not going to result in you or your children going to hell. Smoking isn’t a great idea, but one day everything will be tested by fire anyway. But failing to be faithful to your wife? Deserting your kids when you find a new partner? Reducing sex to a mere physical activity little different from going to the gym, or going to the toilet? Turning perversion into ‘art’? In my book, that’s a far more serious matter.