Douglas Wilson’s writings are incredibly helpful, and I have often had occasion positively to quote him. But I do sometimes weary of Wilson continually defending junk food and stereotyping those who try to be healthy. It is clear from Wilson’s writings and statements over the past decade that he has an animus against any health care practice that is not mainstream, whether health food, chiropractic, naturopathy, home birth, etc.When challenged about this with respect to health food, Wilson always responds that he doesn’t actually have a problem with health food as such; rather, his target is a type of food idolatry. That sounds fine, until one looks closer to find out exactly what Wilson means when he refers to “food idolatry.” For Wilson, the class of “food idolaters” doesn’t just include a person who finds it difficult to receive hospitality when the food isn’t up to a certain standard, or who goes around feeling guilty instead of thankful for his lunch, or who looks down on everyone else in the world that makes different food choices. If Wilson was only attacking these types of attitudes, there wouldn’t be a huge controversy about this in Moscow right now and I wouldn’t be writing this post.
Rather, Wilson defines health food idolatry so broadly that it pretty much includes anyone who is really concerned about nutritional issues, organic farming, or even anyone who is just really into healthy eating. Similarly, anyone who thinks God cares about what we eat is guilty of food idolatry within Wilson’s calculus.
My concern is that Wilson’s writings are fueling these judgmental attitudes towards those who want to be healthy. Consider a few examples. In a Credenda Agenda article from 2009 titled ‘The Fat is the Lord’s’, Wilson wrote that if you are zealous for healthy food, the chances are that you have been infected by false religion. In the same article he compared health-conscious Christians to both the 1st century Judaizers and to 19th century cult leaders. In his article ‘Allergic to Other People‘, Wilson goes even further and suggests that those who have food intolerances and allergies and consequently take their own food to someone else’s house are enemies of church unity. As he writes, “If you have ever showed up to a dinner party (not a potluck) unannounced with your own food, then you are an enemy of church unity.” Nor is that all of Wilson’s one-size-fits-all stereotypes which effectively stigmatize vast swaths of the Christian population. In his two-part video series ‘Organic or non-organic? Does God Care?’, (see here and here) Wilson suggests that those who think God cares about what they eat are “a certain type of soul, a certain type of heart.” Throughout Wilson’s series on ‘Creation and Food’ he continually focuses on the negative aspects of health food (which he calls ‘foodism’), including the statism, neopaganism, romanticism, sentimentalism, New Age influences and the “cluster of food confusions” that “include guilt, fear, acceptance of manipulative doctrines, not to mention acceptance of slanders against the goodness of God.” On the other hand, the positive aspects of healthy eating (which, in the interest of pastoral balance, should at least be acknowledged as existing) get no mention at all.
The result of this imbalanced approach is that everyone who decides to pursue a healthy lifestyle, let alone those who disbelieve in the spiritual neutrality of food (more about that in a minute), are squeezed into the caricature of “a certain type of soul, a certain type of heart.” As Valerie Jacobsen pointed out in a comment on Wilson’s blog, he wastes no time condemning those who have special diets as being
- self-deluded hypochondriacs
- enemies of church unity
- play-acting, engaging in fakery
- manipulative and selfish
- disrupting table fellowship
- an insult to justification by faith alone
- irrational, unreasonable, deceived
- allergic to charity
- not loving God with all their minds
- usually women not cared for by their radically cowardly husbands
- usually women experiencing the abdication of authority by fathers and husbands
- possibly radically unsubmissive
- the cause of widespread divisiveness that threatens to split churches
- typically experiencing severe marital breakdown
- destructive to their own families
- can be compared to someone faking a ‘broken leg’
- a rash on the Body of Christ
- customers of the ’boutique allergy industry’
Those familiar with Wilson’s corpus of writing about food will recognize all of the above labels, which Wilson routinely applies to those in his community who are overly concerned with health food. Jacobsen went on to suggest that these stereotypes leave no room for relatively healthy people who want to stay that way and are limiting their diets in some way. Because everyone gets squeezed into the same mold, the operating assumption is that if you want to pursue a healthy lifestyle, it is probably because of sin issues or psychological disfunction. Indeed, Wilson teaches that anyone
who informs their host of food allergies (unless they were facing immediate death) are self-centered sinners engaged in acts of treason against the unity of Christ’s body.
Now normally things like this are just matters of personal choice that can be left up to each family. However, various Christians have shared with me that in communities influenced by Wilson’s teaching, they feel increasingly marginalized, stereotyped and judged for their decision to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Some have even told me that they have to keep secret what they buy at the grocery store.
Wilson on Food Intolerances
One of the ironies about Doug Wilson’s writings on food is that he has gone to great lengths over the years to try to show that we cannot really trust the science behind what the, so called, ‘experts’ tell us. Other pastors in his presbytery have also chimed in on this anti-science bandwagon, delighting to list all the times when science has got things wrong. Yet at the same time as dismissing the entire scientific establishment when it comes to issues of health, Wilson apparently thinks we have warrant for accepting his radically idiosyncratic views on the science of health, such as that in order for an allergy to be symptomatic it has to be visible, a view which has no grounding in any peer reviewed research and which functions in the context of Wilson’s polemics to obscure the distinction between an allergy and a food intolerance. (My friend Stacy McDonald has written an excellent Biblical-based response to Wilson’s views on food intolerances in her article ‘Just Eat It?‘.)
The Larger War Against Health
Wilson is not alone. He now has a chorus of followers in the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) who seem to have nothing better to do with their time then to sit around and write invectives against Christians who think healthy bodies and healthy land is a good idea. This is all done in the name of ferreting out idolatry, although the possibility that we can make an idol out of junk food is conveniently ignored.
For example, in December 2010, James Arrick wrote an article for Credenda Agenda titled ‘Agnosticism and Agriculture’ in which he argued that the concern about industrialized farming among Christians is “about a newer pagan movement sneaking into the church.” He suggests that those Christians who think the earth is being raped by chemical fertilizers are basically ‘Marxists.’
Similarly, Toby Sumpter (pastor of Doug Wilson’s sister church in Moscow Idaho) has suggested that “the sheer volume” of “facebook likes and shares” related to eating well is symptomatic of our idolatry problem in this area. Like Wilson, Pastor Sumpter automatically assumes that anyone who values organic food and healthy eating must only be doing so because of deep seated sin issues. As he writes,
So pretty much when anybody tells me they are really concerned about nutritional issues, organic farming, or are just really into healthy eating, I pretty much just picture them going home and kissing little icons of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud.
Although Douglas Wilson was quick to praise Toby for his “clarion blast that reveals exactly what is going on”, not everyone was happy with Pastor Sumpter’s rash words. The following day, following significant push-back against his diatribe, Pastor Sumpter wrote another piece defending his rhetorical flourishes by painting himself as a purveyor of Lady Wisdom, and Lady Wisdom herself as a kind of ghoulishly-shrieking, mascara-streaked face Mad Woman deliberately turning people off with her screechy, fanatical ugliness – only to turn round and laugh heartily at them as they die in the torment of their sins for having rejected her counsel.” I wish this were an exaggeration, but you can read Pastor Sumpter’s follow-up post here.
Some of Doug Wilson’s fans have taken it even further and suggested “that those with these intolerances ought to be disciplined publicly if need be by the church…” Douglas Wilson does not go that far, but we might ask ‘why not?’ since he does call people with food scruples “a real rash on the body.”
Not to be beat, earlier this year Douglas Wilson’s daughter issued a call to repentance to Christians who are supposedly guilty of letting pagans have authority over their consciences, if not indirectly complicit in sins such as abortion and homosexuality, because they prefer the healthy food produced by God-haters to chemically-processed, hormone-saturated food produced by Christian farmers. In reality, however, Christian farmers who grow organic food hardly get a better rap in the Wilson calculus, excepting his acknowledgement that “Joel Salatin sounds like a fun guy.” The real irony, of course, is that Wilson’s continuing defense of large-scale corporate farming and his antipathy to any and all practices that sound like something Wendell Berry would support, cannot help but offer indirect support to God-hating agricultural magnets like Monsanto and other mega-corporations.
On street level, the frequent casting of aspersions on people’s character, the over-the-top rhetoric, and the incessant stereotyping, is resulting in some major pastoral problems that tend to be ignored. In one CREC church in the Pacific Northwest that will remain unnamed, friends have told me that they have to keep their preference for organic food secret, that they try not talk about the food they like in all cases where that food happens to be healthy, and that they even feel very hesitant to invite the church leaders over to their house for dinner if healthy food is on the menu, for fear that they will be judged and funneled into the growing network of stereotypes with which health-conscious people are routinely associated in that church. Ponder that last point and it should be clear that the disruption of table fellowship cuts both ways.
It would seem that within parts of the CREC and those ministries influenced by Douglas Wilson, the edgy thing right now is to be anti-health, and to write endless articles criticizing organic eating and stereotyping everyone who chooses to pursue a healthy lifestyle. (From what I can make out, this campaign against health is limited to the pulpits, publishing outlets and conferences in the CREC churches of the Pacific Northwest. In the global CREC churches or in the American South and East, being anti-health does not seem to be quite as trendy right now.)
In one sense this is not surprising. Anyone who has spent any time in reformed Presbyterian churches will know that Calvinists love to have things to argue about. Pick five Calvinists who seem to have common beliefs, put them in a room together, and within twenty minutes they will have found something to dispute over. So if it wasn’t organic food, it would be something else. In thirty or forty years from now, I think our children and grandchildren will be chuckling that so many people could get this uptight about trying to make others jump on the anti-organic bandwagon (by then they will have moved onto other erroneous debates, if they haven’t got fed up and left the reformed tradition completely). But right now, while we’re in the midst of this fad, there is a real pastoral need to address this as completely unbiblical.
In a minute I’ll explain why this anti-health trend is so unbiblical, based on Romans 14. At the moment, however, I’d like to issue a positive challenge. To all these church leaders in the Pacific Northwest, my challenge to you is this: don’t simply call on your flock to reevaluate their love of healthy foods without also reevaluating your own priorities. Maybe instead of writing so many blog post and Facebook comments against health-food fanatics, you could spend a fraction of the time trying to hunt down some unhomogenized organic milk for an elderly lady in your church who can’t digest anything else. Maybe instead of devoting so much energy in a largely imaginary war against food fanatics who are about to take over the church, you could spend a fraction of the time getting some gluten-free products for a single mother who is experimenting to find out if a gluten-free diet will help her autistic son. And when your kids ask you what you are doing you can teach them a valuable lesson: “I’m buying this organic milk for Mrs. Krammer because she can’t digest ‘ordinary’ milk, and this is how is how we show Christian love to those God has put in our lives.”
Science and the Herd Instinct
Wilson and Sumpter have both alleged that one of the problems with health food fanatics is their blind acceptance of the authority of ‘science.’ The irony of this charge is that Wilson and his followers are quick to advertize any and all scientific discoveries that supposedly show that alternative health practices are bogus, or that supposedly prove there are no benefits to eating organic. Wilson’s glowing response to Alex Avery’s The Truth About Organic Foods is an example, and other instances could be multiplies endlessly. If there is a study that a university issues claiming to prove that free-range eggs are no better than eggs from caged hens, or that organic bread isn’t all it’s cracked
up to be, you can be sure that Douglas Wilson will use all his weight to advertise it. I sometimes wonder if this is propelled by the kind of unthinking herd instinct that is willing to just blindly accept whatever the scientific establishment says is true. As John Barach pointed out in a thoughtful response to Toby Sumpter’s tirade:
[Sumpter] criticizes homeopathic medicine or the interest in organic food because it isn’t backed up by science, real science, he says, with “proof” — as if that kind of science isn’t precisely the sort of thing that is manipulated all the time (e.g,. the tobacco company that funds research that proves that tobacco, additives and all, isn’t bad for you; preciselythe cancer society that funds research that proves that tobacco is bad for you).
Meanwhile, what’s wrong with sticking a piece of garlic in your child’s ear to heal an ear infection because you heard a couple friends say it worked for them? Do you need to wait for guys in white lab coats to tell you that that’s okay? Do you have to trust those labcoat guys when they say not to use garlic but to use their antibiotics instead, the sale of which is paying their wages so that they have a strong motive to promote their product? Or is it the case that we’re free, as Christians, to use the antibiotics or not, to use the garlic or not — and to post about it on Facebook if we feel like it, and to love each other regardless?
Don’t Forget Romans 14!
By now you should get the picture. There has been a passive-aggressive internet disputation about these doubtful matters that has been going on for years and years. But let’s assume that people like Wilson and Sumpter are justified in some of their criticisms, and that Moscow’s health-food crazies can even match Wilson and Sumpter in their uncharitable responses. Let’s assume that all Wilson’s stereotypes are correct. Let’s assume that most people who put a premium on healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle are indeed as immature as Wilson alleges. Let’s assume that most instances of gluten-intolerance are actually just hang-ups with no medical basis. Now ironically, if you give Wilson the benefit of the doubt and assume all of this, it hardly helps his overall theological point. For if these people with health hang-ups really are the weaker brethren like Wilson alleges, then Paul’s comments in Romans 14 ought to be definitive: bear with their scruples, lest the unity of the body be disrupted. For Douglas Wilson, however, bearing with the food scruples of the weaker brethren is actively discouraged. In his post ‘Allergic to Other People‘ he writes that the church can accommodate all sorts of people, just not people with food scruples:
The church is capable of including any number of subcultural groups within her pale, and can do so without great difficulty. Ham radio operators, rodeo riders, surfers, and rock climbers are all welcome. And what they all do the Saturday before worship does not disrupt the reality of their worship together.
But food subcultures are a different matter. Food scruples are the deathly enemy of church unity.
Wilson isn’t too specific what type of food scruples he’s talking about, and the only one he mentions specifically in the above article is gluten intolerance. Elsewhere he criticizes those who prefer organic food or who try to avoid chemically-processed food. But think about this through the lens of the Pauline teaching I mentioned earlier. If Paul could tell believers in Corinth and Rome to bear with the scruples of the weaker brethren who wouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, surely we should be able to bear with those who eat organic or think they suffer from a gluten intolerance.
The reason it’s important to make this point is because Wilson is not merely targeting a certain type of Pharisaical holier-than-thou-health-food idolatry. He isn’t just talking about people who go around judging anyone who eats at McDonalds. He is critiquing that, to be sure, and I applaud him for doing so. But he is also going beyond this to suggest that the gospel has no place for health food subcultures at all.
But what’s wrong with a health food subculture in the church? Why should gluten intolerance “disrupt the reality of their worship together” in a way that being a ham radio operator doesn’t? If Paul could advocate a Jew-Gentile mixed church (Galatians), a church in which some people eat meat and other weaker brethren have scruples about eating meat (Rom. 14), then how much more should we be able to tolerate, in the name of charity, a church made up of people whose conscience allows them to eat junk food and other ‘weaker brothers’ whose conscience only allows them to eat organic food? It is when we ask question like this that we find that this whole issue really hinges on Christian charity.
Or again, if Saint Paul could tolerate the food scruples of weaker brethren (Rom 14:1), then why does Pastor Wilson teach that we shouldn’t? If Paul could tell the Christians in Rome “Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died” (14:15) and “let us pursue the things which make for peace” (14:19) and “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (14:20), then how can it be right to say, as Wilson does, that all these other subcultures can be tolerated in his church but he draws the line when it comes to a health food subculture?
Building on Romans 14, I would argue that what Wilson calls ‘Food fadism’ is not something that brings division to the church. Rather, the thing that brings division is when leaders tell their flock not to tolerate weaker brothers who follow after food fads, or when we imagine that the church cannot accommodate people who have different views on the question “Does God care what you eat?” Interestingly, Wilson himself used to advocate this more charitable approach, for he once said, “You don’t get to despise someone for having extra scruples; you don’t get to judge someone for not having nearly as many as you do.” One wishes that Wilson had stopped right there, instead of making it nearly a full time business out of despising those who have more scruples than he does.Okay, but what are the issues behind the issues? Why so much antipathy against the health food movement? After looking through Wilson’s large and growing corpus of articles, blog posts and videos about health food, I have come to the conclusion that the antipathy against healthy eating springs mainly from four myths. I will identify those myths below and explain why I think they are mistaken.
Myth 1. Food can’t help you deal with sin issues.
Throughout his expanding corpus of articles about food, Wilson suggests that what we eat or abstain from eating has no relation to overcoming sin. In his Credenda Agenda article ‘The Fat is the Lord’s,’ he suggests that we are treating food as “false sacraments” if we think it can help us deal with sin. James Jordan echoed this in his book Pig Out?
“It is not a serious matter for a physician to advise abstaining from foods for medical reasons, based on human wisdom. It is, however a very serious thing when men advocate abstaining from foods for religious reasons.”
The reason it is a myth to say that food can’t help you deal with sin issues is because the church has always understood (right from its earliest days) that fasting and abstaining from certain foods as a spiritual discipline are activities that, in concert with other spiritual disciplines, can assist a person in overcoming sins. This isn’t magic, and you can be sure that fasting from meat every Friday and during Lent isn’t going to help the person who doesn’t do it in faith. However, there are enough stories from church history to undermine Wilson’s universal negative statement that food can never help a person to deal with sin issues. (Keep in mind that the presence of even one counter-example is sufficient to refute a universal negative statement.)
Conversely, it is a matter of common knowledge that certain foods make it easier to sin. If I load my child up with energy drinks just before putting him down to bed, or if I feed my children a breakfast of refined foods and high sugar just before leaving for church, I can virtually guarantee that I have created temptations for him to sin. After all, the devil works through means just as God works through means.
Precisely because of this, we must reject the wedge that people like Douglas Wilson and James Jordan are trying to drive between religion and health, that resembles the wedge that secularists try to drive between religion and science
Myth 2. God doesn’t care what’s on the plate, He cares what’s in the heart.
Through his videos and articles, Wilson asserts that God doesn’t care what’s on the plate, just what’s in the heart. That is, God cares about how we eat, not what we eat. This theory is the foundation of Wilson’s series of blog posts on creation and food. As Wilson put it in ‘Common Ground in Which We May Grow a Veggie or Two’, “the starting point is that God doesn’t care what you eat.” Wilson echoed this more recently, writing that “God doesn’t care what kind of food you are eating” and adding “All that matters to me is that you like it, are grateful to God while you eat it, and don’t have a furrowed brow over it.”
What are we to make of this? We should start by observing that there is nothing in the Bible that tells us what to have for breakfast in the morning just as there is nothing that tells you what clothes to put on when you get up. These are matters that can be legitimately regulated by our desires, as well as more mundane concerns such as practicality, economics and cultural considerations. However, like many areas of Christian freedom, there are limits. While Christians are no longer bound by the Old Testament food laws, we are bound by wisdom. If my eating habits, like my dressing habits, lack wisdom, then Christian freedom ceases to apply. Just as there is nothing wrong with someone occasionally staying all day in their pajamas (assuming that standards of modesty aren’t violated), so there is nothing wrong with someone occasionally eating food that is unhealthy. However, if someone regularly remains all day in their pajamas, and habitually leaves the house looking sloppy, then it is probably time for wisdom to start kicking in. Similarly, if a person routinely neglects his health and grows fat on a regular diet of junk food or is never concerned to even know the ingredients he is putting in his mouth, then it might be time for that person to stop thinking about Christian freedom and begin thinking about wisdom.
Putting it like this, however, is to beg the question, for if it is true that “God doesn’t care what you eat”, as Wilson argues, then we know a priori that the content of our diet is an area not regulated by wisdom. However, such a position can easily be refuted by a simple reductio ad absurdum argument. After all, consider what it would mean in practice if wisdom only applied to how we eat our food, and not what we put in the pot. If God really is indifferent to the content of our food, then it logically follows that He cannot care what I feed my children. But is it wrong for me to feed my children food that I know will impair aspects of their growth? Would it then be okay to regularly serve my children food that will contribute to weakness rather than strength? Is it legitimate to routinely feed my children food that significantly increases the likelihood of diabetes or other diseases later in life? Would it be okay to serve my children food that inadvertently trains them to have an appetite for a diet that, over many decades, may shorten their life-span?
These are the very questions that health-conscious parents wrestle with, and there are a growing number of resources to help parents make informed judgments. However, if it is true that God does not care about the content of our food as long as we do not sin while eating, then it would follow that this aspect of parental nurture are not regulated by the considerations of wisdom, for to say that these are matters of wisdom is to acknowledge, almost by definition, that these are matters about which God does in fact care. But if that were the case, then to be consistent we would have to also maintain that God is unconcerned with other aspects of our children’s bodily health, such as making sure they generally get sufficient sleep, that they have plenty of fresh air and exercise, that they get into a habit of brushing their teeth after dinner and that they receive basic hygiene. I think few parents would say that that the obligations of wisdom do not apply when it comes to hygiene and sleep issues. However, to say that God is concerned with these other aspects of our children’s physical nurture but that He suddenly ceases to care when diet is concerned, is to draw an arbitrary distinction since all these considerations fall equally under the umbrella of physical health.
If, therefore, God is concerned that we make nutritionally responsible choices for those who are entrusted to our care, then it is a short step to also acknowledging that He is concerned that we make nutritionally responsible choices for ourselves, since our own bodies are also entrusted to our care.
Responsible stewardship of our bodies is part of the more general stewardship of nature that God required of man when he put him in the garden and told him to tend and keep it (Gen 2:15).
It is here that Biblical anthropology runs directly counter to the evolutionary concept of man. If human beings are the random products of time plus chance, then we are under no obligation to take care of our bodies any more than we are obligated to care for the natural world, since both are void of any ultimate significance.
Martin Luther once compared the human race to a drunk who falls off his horse on the right side and then, just to make sure everything evens out, the next time he tries to fall off his horse on the left side. This is an apt metaphor of the human condition. In trying to correct a tendency in one direction, we often err by going to an extreme in the opposite direction. In the area of health we see this tendency in those Christians who, being convinced that God does actually care about the content of our diet, become worried and fussy calorie-counters, or are afraid to enjoy a good ice-cream after dinner. Such a person finds it difficult to be grateful if provided with a less than healthy meal, or to know when considerations of health must be subordinated to more important concerns. We are called to be wise and nutritionally responsible, not legalistic, pessimistic worry-warts.
To say that God cares what goes in the pot is not to say that attitude issues are subordinate to issues of ingredients. It is still better to eat a milk-shake from McDonald’s with a thankful heart than to eat a healthy soup with grumbling. However, this does not mean that God is unconcerned with what we eat. Merely because there are weightier matters of the law does not negate the existence, nor the importance, of lighter matters.
In the end, the notion that God doesn’t care what we eat colludes with the Gnostic idea that the physical body is unimportant to God, that what really matters is the things of the spirit.
Throughout Christian history, a Gnostic dualism between spirit and matter has propelled Christians to neglect taking proper care of their physical bodies, and to do this on spiritual-sounding grounds. One thinks of some of the medieval ascetics who almost killed themselves through bodily neglect. Similarly, many Christians today will dismiss the health food movement on the equally spiritual sounding ground of Christian freedom. In both cases a subtle Gnosticism may be at root, leading to a mentality which fails to reckon with Paul’s statement, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” (Ephesians 5:29)
Myth 3: Because all food is simply a rearrangement of chemicals, there is no essential difference between eating artificial food and natural food
In his ‘Post-Millennial Thought Experiment on Food‘ ,’ Douglas Wilson suggests that because all food is simply a rearrangement of chemicals, as the gospel advances we should expect the division between real food and artificial food to become increasingly irrelevant. This is also a point that Wilson made in the blog post ‘Nothing Wrong with Little Bugles’ and ‘Like a Scolded Cat’, where he argued that the idea of ‘natural food’ is basically a category mistake. (See also his post ‘The Corporations Are Way Ahead of You.’)In the above articles and videos, Wilson essentially argues that there is no intrinsic teleology to food, and if someday scientists could make beef burgers out of petroleum which taste exactly the same, that would be just as fitting as making burgers from beef.
The problem here is that it presupposes a radically nominalist view of the world, in which teleology is abstracted away from the stuff of creation. I have interacted with this in more detail in my article for the Colson Center ‘Teleology and Food’, so I will not reiterate the entire argument that can be made. But I would like to share a quotation from Oliver O’Donovan’s book Resurrection and Moral Order which shows how this nominalist approach to food creates dangerous misunderstandings about man’s place in the world:
Abstraction from teleology creates a dangerous misunderstanding of the place of man in the universe. For it supposes that the observing mind encounters an inert creation–not, that is, a creation without movement, but a creation without a point to its movement. Thus the mind credits to its own conceptual creativity that teleological order which is, despite everything, necessary to life. All ordering becomes deliberative ordering, and scientific observation, failing as it does to report the given teleological order within nature, becomes the servant of techne. Of course, man continues to eat vegetables; but he no longer knows that he does so because vegetables are food, and comes to imagine that he has devised a use for them as food. And so he looks for other uses for them, which will seem to him to have as much validity as that one which was, if he could only have remembered it, given in nature. That vegetables exist as food for other animals than himself will not impress him–unless, of course, the continued existence of other animals too falls within his deliberative purposes for the world, in which case both vegetation and animal life will continue to hold their value as a feoff from himself. Thus arises the irony of our own days, in which the very protection of nature has to be argued in terms of man’s ‘interest’ in preserving his ‘environment’. Such a philosophy offers no stable protection against the exploitation of nature by man, since he can discern nothing in the relations of things to command his respect. And, of course, this unprincipled domination must extend itself to include his own psychosomatic nature, all that is not itself the devising mind, so that humanity itself dissolves in the polarization of the technological will and its raw material. Man’s monarchy over nature can be healthy only if he recognizes it as something itself given in the nature of things, and therefore limited by the nature of things. For if it were true that he imposed his rule upon nature from without, then there would be no limit to it. It would have been from the beginning a crude struggle to stamp an inert and formless nature with the insignia of his will. Such has been the philosophy bred by a scientism liberated from the discipline of Christian metaphysics. It is not what the Psalmist meant by the dominion of man, which was a worshipping and respectful sovereignty, a glad responsibility for the natural order which he both discerned and loved.
Myth 4: We are no better off if we eat certain things, and we are no worse off if we refrain.
In his post ‘No Better Off If We Eat It’, Douglas Wilson discusses 1 Corinthians 8:7-13, and then comments, “Food is adiaphora, a thing indifferent. God doesn’t care what we eat. We are no better off if we eat certain things, and we are no worse off if we refrain. God doesn’t care what we order off the menu, just so long as we are grateful for it.”
Putting aside for the moment that in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul was addressing the question of food sacrificed to idols and was not making a blanket statement about food being adiaphora (indifferent) in any absolute sense, we may question the scientific accuracy of the assertion that “We are no better off if we eat certain things.” After all, most of us can appreciate from personal experience that our bodies generally function better on a nutritionally responsible diet. If this be doubted, the history books are full of examples which illustrate that people can, in fact, be better off for what they eat. One thinks of the accounts of sailors with scurvy, or families having to endure siege conditions, or even Laura and Mary in The Long Winter when they could eat nothing but grain until the snow melted and the train could get through with new supplies. Few people in such conditions would agree with the statement cited above “we are no better off if we eat certain things, and we are no worse off if we refrain.” It is only because the modern West is (by God’s grace) so comfortably insulated against these types of deprivations that we have the luxury to entertain the false notion that food doesn’t make us better or worse off.
But are we better off spiritually for what we eat? Granted that our bodies may be better or worse off because of what we eat, can the same be said of our spirits or souls?
To even pose the question in these terms assumes a stance towards the body that was probably alien to the Biblical writers. This is because Scripture does not draw the type of hard and fast distinctions we are accustomed to between the spirit and the body. As Peter Leithart reminds us in Against Christianity,
“…Scripture makes no hard or absolute demarcation between inner and outer. When people eat and drink, Scripture says their ‘souls’ are refreshed (e.g., 1 Sam. 30:12), and exterior discipline of our children purges foolishness from their hearts (Prov. 22:15). So, outer events invade the inner life. And inner things come to outer expression, for out of the thoughts of the heart come murders, adulteries, and other evils (Mk. 7:20-23). The mere fact that the Bible often names the ‘inner’ man by reference to bodily organs (heart, kidneys, liver) is a hint that Scripture does not sharply distinguish inner spiritual from outer physical realities; even the ‘inner’ man is conceived physically, not as an unbodied, ghostly self. Scripture thus teaches a complex interplay of inner/outer in human existence, a duality within unified human being.”
Our physical bodies are spiritual because they are part of what it involves to be God’s image-bearers (Gen 1:26), to be the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19), and to be living sacrifices unto the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2). It follows that we should reject the narrative, often put forward by Christian teachers who wish to defend junk food or smoking, that God is only concerned with our attitudes and not with our bodies.
To read more about the relationship between Christianity and being healthy, and a more systematic treatment of the theological problems behind Wilson’s views about food, click on some of following links:
- Just Eat It?
- Enjoying God’s (Sometimes Gluten-Free) Bounty
- Does God Care? Christian Liberty and Food
- Chewing at God’s Blessings
- God Cares What’s in the Pot (Part 1)
- God Cares What’s in the Pot (Part 2)
- Food and Teleology
- Response to Doug Wilson’s Food Sectarianism
- The “All I Really Meant…Syndrome”