Monday, October 22, 2012
SIn and Personal Problems
A pediatric hospital in my home state of Georgia has been running an advertising campaign about childhood obesity which has ignited some controversy.
This NPR story summarizes both arguments: the ad producers point out that Georgia has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity and argue that the harsh tone is necessary for parents who are in denial about their kids' weight and its potential health effects. Others believe the tone of the ads might hurt kids who are already stigmatized for their weight. I’ve written before about what I make of the health-communication research about scare tactics in these types of ads. This controversy raises that and other issues, many of which are important for Christians.
Of course Christians should be concerned about what experts have called a health crisis. When Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” he wasn’t addressing obesity, but it seems to apply. We should care for our bodies because they are given to us by God. We should be concerned with helping others to stay healthy as well.
We must also be careful, though, to not make people who are already alienated by society feel worse. We should also avoid emphasizing thinness as the only sign of healthfulness, which can encourage eating disorders and exercise disorders or just too much focus on our own and others' appearance. TC contributor Caryn Rivadeniera wrote about that very issue last year at Hermeneutics. We need to be careful to balance helping people feel they can take control of their weight by changing their habits and not making people feel ashamed about their bodies. I worry these Georgia ads lean too hard on making kids and parents feel ashamed.
Additionally, when a problem like childhood obesity grows at the rate it has in contemporary America, it's necessary to think about whether our societal sins contribute more than individual choices. It's unlikely that so many people have just gotten lazier or more indulgent; at least some of the problem is likely a result of culture or environment.Given my history with obesity, it should be unsurprising that I have something to say here. Those latter two paragraphs contain some important points, but even they reveal a weakness in how Christians approach things. We struggle somehow to make what is important to us "a spiritual thing" because we want God to influence all that we do. But that often results in over-think.
Serious obesity is a result of food being TOO important. When we spiritualize it,we give it greater importance, not lesser - That's compounding an already huge problem. It was when I made my weight a "merely physical" thing that I could start to get it under control. Weight is an emotional/spiritual thing only if we make it such - i the end it is just physics and chemistry - fuel in, energy out.
Which takes me back to this woman's point about shame. Most people are upset about someone else's weight becasue a) they are concerned about the individual's health, or b) the others weight is an inconvenience (Airplane example). Some might argue that a) is a "Christian" motivation and b) is selfish. I would contend both are selfish - in both directions. A person can choose to be as healthy or unhealthy as they wish, at least if we believe in free will. If I choose ill-health that causes pain to my loved one who do not want to be without me - I am selfish. However, when I am told I have weight problem, or other formulations of same - those who love me are pressing on me their fear of emotional loss. They are not just concerned about me, they are concerned about their potential loss. They are selfish.
The airplane example should be self-explanitory - I am selfish for demanding more seat than you and you are selfish for being less than kind about it (and trust people almost universally are.)
So what we see here is that the problem is not really the obesity - it is the selfishness. Now that is a spiritual issue!
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