Does the Way We Treat Food Make it Harder to be a Christian? Discussion Group Resources

 (For a full list of topics, go here).

by Anna Mussmann

Topic Introduction

The devil isn’t picky. He’ll mess us up in any way that works. Different eras tend towards different types of blindness, and he works through them all!

One way modern Americans lose touch with truth is through our favorite illusion. We like to think our minds define reality, and our bodies don’t really matter.
This is a problem. God obviously thinks bodies are an important part of what it means to be a human and a Christian. He not only took on a human body Himself, He also gave us sacraments that link salvation to physical actions like receiving bread and wine into our own physical mouths. God cares about our bodies.
In addition, He works through ordinary mealtimes, too. The human need for “daily bread” is one of the ways He teaches us what it means to depend on Him. It’s also one of the means He has given us to enjoy fellowship with each other. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that food is also an arena the devil uses to tempt and confuse us.
Why does modern humanity have such an angst-filled, complicated relationship with eating? Is it perhaps because our modern, technological culture has allowed us to become distanced from physical reality? Do we struggle to relate to food because we think our wills and minds are “what really matters?” Does this lead us to feel, deep down, as if we have the right to eat whatever we want to without consequences? Does this lead us to feel, deep down, as if the need to cook is an imposition? Does this lead us to feel, deep down, as if what we eat should be an individualistic expression of our personal tastes and whims?  
Does our struggle with food make it harder to maintain a Christian view of what it means to be a human and a Christian?


In this piece, Rory Shiner ​talks about food and what it means to be human (he mentions Advent and Christmas, but I think the main point applies all year long). It’s an excellent reminder of the importance of food and eating. Note: For theological reasons, I do not recommend the author’s second, follow-up article; but this one is well-worth discussing.

Why don’t Christians talk about gluttony anymore? C.S. Lewis did. The Screwtape Letters is a book of letters purporting to be the advice of an experienced devil to a young tempter on guiding his “patient” towards perdition. Here is a brief excerpt that offers a useful discussion of what modern gluttony often looks like.

Our modern problems with food are linked to our modern problems with cooking. The book Combat-Ready Kitchen asserts, “Cooking, like music before it, is a dying art, moving from the precincts of the private and personal--our great-grandparents sang and played instruments--to the realm of the public and commercial.” That’s why I chose a piece that represents the many, many articles online with headings like, “Why I don’t cook for my family anymore.” This one is intended as humor, but it’s succinct and captures several popular assumptions.
Alternative Readings (in case you want to add or substitute)

In America’s Most Tolerated Sin: Eight Lessons on Gluttony Johnathon Bowers uses the Lord’s Supper to talk about having a healthy relationship with good.

In Feasting Even During Ordinary Time, Gracy Olmstead suggests that the rhythms of the church year can help us enjoy feasting without gluttony.
Chad Bird has a different take: he urges us to view food through the lens of counter-cultural gratitude instead of guilt.
Discussion Questions
1. What is your first emotional reaction when you begin thinking about food? What do you think has shaped or influenced this reaction?
2. Why do you think God created us with a need to eat? How does He use food to nurture our faith and our sense of community with other Christians? How might an unhealthy attitude toward food hurt our ability to understand the Lord's Supper?
3. Rory Shiner says, “Food and eating raise fundamental questions of what it means to be human. Eating is an activity we so obviously share with other animals, and yet it is simultaneously the point at which we differentiate ourselves from them.” What do you think of this point?
4. Historically, gluttony was considered one of the “seven deadly sins.” What is gluttony? Why has gluttony been considered a serious threat to faith? Why do you think modern Christians don’t talk much about gluttony?
5. C.S. Lewis writes that “Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy.” Why would the second be more spiritually dangerous than the first?
6. The article about the hatefulness of cooking explains why the author doesn’t want to cook. She says, “We were not all gifted with the love of things related to food beyond simply eating it.” She also says cooking is monotonous, hard, boring, and unappreciated. Do you think Ma Ingalls or other historical women would have sympathized with these complaints? In fairness, do modern cooks face challenges Ma Ingalls didn't? Do you think a rejection of cooking is likely to lead to an unhealthy attitude towards food and eating in general?
7. The article about cooking says that since cooking isn’t fun, it’s valid to dump it. What are other potential solutions? How can families make cooking a more enjoyable part of their family culture?
8. When thinking about food and cooking, I appreciate this quote from Margaret Kim Peterson’s Keeping House: “There is a tendency, I think, on the part of those of us who are well fed, clothed, and housed to imagine that the needy people to whom Jesus refers in Matthew 25 are people we don’t know--the sort of people who are served at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, at which we ought therefore to volunteer at least occasionally. But housework is all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work, would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed.” Thoughts?
8. In my group, one of the ladies asked this question, which I think is an important one: “What do you think is the one most important thing we can do to raise kids with a healthy attitude toward food?”
9. Christians are simultaneously sinners and saints, redeemed by God and given His righteousness. We can approach food in Christian freedom. How can this knowledge protect us from a troubled relationship with food?

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