Gluttony

Gluttony is a new religion….

Moral Codes of Conduct

Today, religion is a dirty word. We are raised a civilisation of agnostics or atheists – not to believe one way or the other in God or religion. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with this if we replaced the moral code that religions provide with something equally good. But we haven’t. Instead we have made idols of celebrities, status and money.

We take pride in our status and material possessions – our homes, our cars, our clothes, our qualifications, our job titles, our gadgets. There are positive aspects to these things, but despite attaining them, we’re not all as happy as you’d think. Suicide rates are high, anti-depressant use increases each year. Addictions to alcohol and other habit-forming substances is common. Consumer debts keeps increasing. Even some successful or wealthy people are really unhappy despite all their accomplishments.

I have heard of the marketing term ‘retail therapy’. It is a way for marketeers to manipulate us to buy things to make us feel happy. But it doesn’t really get to the heart of our pain, nor does it help us in the long term. It is a low-level form of manipulation and distraction.

So what has this got to do with religion?

There is a psychological and a moral reason why we consume more than we need (and sometimes more than we actually want). I’m sure there is a psychological term or label to describe it, but perhaps simplicity is better. I’ll describe it in the Biblical sense – ‘the indulgement of gluttony’.

The modern age has moved away from religion as an integral part of our society. I see this as part of our progress or evolution from one model of reality to a new one. I was raised with no religious beliefs by parents who for their own reasons are agnostic. There is nothing wrong with not having a religion. The only problem is when instead – you worship the god of possessions or self in place.

A note… we all need a healthy love of self and ego to survive and thrive. People who don’t love themselves can suffer from self-hatred and low-esteem. However, it is the excessive love of self and putting your own interests over others that is a form of gluttony. For example narcissistic parents.

Generosity

An antidote to gluttony is generosity. Thinking about what you can do for others instead of what you can get for yourself. Volunteers are a good example. People who think of themselves primarily, will seldom do things for others, especially complete strangers.

Regardless of what religion a person associates with, what is more important is a person’s attitude. My father is dead against religion, yet he’s one of the most generous people I know.

He has donated a lot of his own money to help build a school for children from the ‘low castes’ in Nepal and he didn’t tell anyone what he did. He just did it. Would I do the same? No. I’m not as generous or as trusting as him and I’m honest about that.

He often helps my family out and even  neighbours. However, sometimes, I feel he is all too willing to help people sometimes, particularly strangers over family, and I wonder if there is not a bit of ego behind this willingness to always give?

I also suspect that his generosity has been taken advantage of, particularly in Nepal, where not all the money ends up where it is intended to go. Especially as he is not there to see what happens. It essentially means he has to trust complete strangers.

Does joining a religion automatically make you better?

The answer is no. Although for some people who have struggled with their darker sides, it could be a huge catalyst to becoming a better person. I am thinking of those stories of guys in prison who found religion and pushed their lives onto a better track.

However, it is not necessarily the case for everyone. I became a Christian a couple of years ago and was baptised. Did I change? To an extent, yes I did. I became a Christian because I had fond memories of school nativity plays and morning assembly. I enjoyed singing Christmas carols. So I returned to the church to recapture that feeling and it did make me feel good again.

But there was another reason I joined the church. In the past, I would get recurrent angry and violent dreams. They were powerful. In the morning, I would wake up and wonder just what is going on subconsciously with me. The feeling was strong enough to make me feel darkly negative afterwards even in my waking state. There was just so much suppressed and unresolved anger and hate under the surface with me.

It came from my childhood experiences, no doubt, but I won’t get into that here. After my son was born, I realised that I had to do something about this repressed rage. I had to find some way to release it. That was when I considered attending church. Could religion help me offload this anger?

That is what I have been exploring. I cannot say for sure if alone it has helped me. It may be a combination of other factors also such as writing, doing fulfilling work and even practicing my qigong. But I have not had those violent dreams for a very long time. So something is working.

Just to add, It doesn’t mean I am a model Christian or great person. I still embrace my darker side.

Experiencing something new

For a long time, I also wanted to experience what it was like to have a religion, as I felt it was something I was missing in my life. Perhaps it seems selfish, but I believe life is about experience. This was an experience I was missing, so I wanted to do it. I am glad I have, as otherwise it would be something in my life I would always be considering. Perhaps not strong enough a desire to have become a regret, but still a desire nonetheless.

If I’m honest, I would say I am not a very serious Christian. But then again, I was a pretty lousy Cub Scout too. I never-ever got any badges and I always just tended to mess around with my friends, but that didn’t stop me attending the group. I’ve still got my badge-less uniform.

Religion: Throwing out the Baby with the Bathwater

Religion has no monopoly on goodness, but by removing religion from our daily life, we have the problem of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Some of the moral codes of life kept us from certain excesses and gluttonous attitudes.

Some of these attitudes really get a boost during times of plenty like in a credit boom, which we had a few years ago. Gluttony is behind the mass consumerism, the taking on of excess debt and a kind of spend-drunkenness that consumes the most rational of us.

Religion recognised these vices. It calls them sins, which too has become a tired and dirty word with many negative associations. In fact all religions around the World in the East and West have recognised these vices. It also recognised the dangers they can have on our behaviour, our peace of mind and even our health.

For example in the book – ‘Seven Taoist Masters: A Folk Novel of China‘ translated by Eva Wong, there is this quote in reference to the danger of desire or ‘craving’:

 

“The primary cause of ill health is none other than craving. Craving creates the obstacles to health. These obstacles are desire for liquor, sexual desire, greed for riches, and bad temper. Those who wish to cultivate health and longevity must first remove these obstacles.”

One of the seven deadly sins: Gluttony

Gluttony refers to the over-indulgence and over-consumption of objects to the point of waste. It particularly deals with taking too much of something, more than you need or really truly want.

When we think of gluttony we imagine an overweight coach-potato mindlessly cramming his or her mind with meaningless TV and his or her mouth with meaningless junk food.

Or we can imagine the drunkard, collapsed in a bedsit surrounded by empty liquor bottles. The word ‘gluttony’ creates powerful and negative imagery. Gluttony takes on many other forms, some of which we would not immediately associate with this kind of imagery.

Forms of gluttony

Gluttony refers to over-consumption and over-indulgence. This can be for food, drink or drugs, but also any object – clothing, jewellery, cars and houses. Here are some examples:

Food

Annually millions of tonnes of food is thrown to waste. Meanwhile, in the third world and among those living on the poverty line, many people struggle for food.

Years ago, I had the experience of working in a five star London luxury hotel doing conference and banqueting events. I observed the kind of food waste that occurs at these places. People fuss over if something is gluten free. A few generations ago, their ancestors would be grateful to have food.

Housing

I suppose this one is close to home for me.

I am one of these families affected by the unbalanced housing system in the UK.

In the UK, social council housing was effectively destroyed by putting it on the private market in the 1980s, along with easy bank loans to those who were there at the right time and at the right place in history.

Following this, we had a housing boom. People went crazy buying houses (think Gollom), which limited the supply and pushed up prices to unnatural levels. Everything is distorted now in the UK.

For example, In 2006, I rented a 2 bed flat with a living room, bathroom and kitchen in Tufnell Park, London (zone 2/3) and a 5 minute walk from the station for £866.00 a month. Today, just over 10 years later – that property is now around the £2.500.00 to £3000.00 mark to rent a month. What gives? It’s an old Victorian house, not a vintage wine. Shouldn’t the price go down instead of up as it gets older and more prone to fall to pieces?

Portfolios

We have the situation where people own two or three houses, one to live in and at least one to rent out. A society where houses are no longer places to live in and raise families and to make cohesive societies, but are now part of a ‘portfolio’ or a ‘pension’ to be used to the benefit of a few individuals who have the financial power to qualify for bank loans.

Whereas, new young families must pay high rents and move every few years and be denied such simple comforts as a stable home and a stable community. This is gluttony.

In London, there are thousands of families living in overcrowded homes. The problem has become so unsolvable, that they had to redefine how to class an ‘overcrowded’ home. But it’s just another form of lying.

Homes are for living in. They are not investment tools.

Brands

The obsession with brands. A name written on an item of clothing. The brand itself becomes a false idol, but denial must be applied. We must ignore that these clothes are made in countries like India, Bangladesh, or Indonesia. Produced in sweatshop-like conditions or by children, who endure slave like conditions and get paid subsistence wages while in the West we pay marked-up prices.

Care and appreciation for our objects

A good quality item that has been well designed to last, can be treasured for the way it helps us. Musical instruments are a good example. Some musicians will develop a love of an instrument like an electric guitar and will keep it for years and take pleasure in its scratches and areas where the paint flakes away with so much use. If it breaks, they will pay to have it repaired. They will learn to appreciate every part of it. They will become one with it.

A writer may have a similar feeling with a laptop. I will say truthfully, that I really love my laptop. I have created so much work with it.

This is not object worship. It is about building a connection with an inanimate object. We are capable of loving a physical object just as much as a person. At its essence, an object is still a creative manifestation of energy. A good example is the way a person builds a connection with a car or a captain with a ship or plane.

What did you do to my Saab?

Hence it it important to respect and look after the tools of our trade. On the other hand, we should avoid becoming overly-attached to them – kind of like Richard Pryor gets attached to his Saab in the movie Moving. Otherwise you will experience suffering when you lose it or it gets damaged.

Objects and status

We should have the best tools and gadgets. Our creativity as a civilisation has created them to benefit our lives and for us to enjoy them. However, they are still tools. They are not us.

The type of phone or music player we have should not determine our social status. Our objects do not define who we are, nor do they make us more important than others. These are everyday practical objects. Otherwise we surrender our power to external things that we have less control over.

For example, if your importance is defined by your possessions or wealth, what then, if you lose it all? You will crumble because your self-importance is built on fragile things. There are far more important things in life to base your self-importance on. Your own ingenuity or ability is a better resource, but even this eventually will be taken away. There must be something deeper and more permanent.

Money

Finally, let’s look at money. We have killed religion and replaced it with the pursuit of money. And funny enough, just like God, for many it has become an unattainable object, yet still strongly desired.

Money is like our manna. The more money a person has, the more social credibility they have. The less, the lower and closer to pond scum they are seen as. Is this right? Isn’t it time we went beyond such limited thinking?

The truly great people, the innovators, the inventers, the creators and artists, do not chase money. Their focus is on other things – fulfilling their purpose, expressing or creating. It just happens that money comes along as a kind of reward, but I don’t think they seek it actively. I believe they focus on providing value first.

Many of us have it backwards. We seek money thinking that once we get money, then we can provide value. But it doesn’t work that way. Value first, then money is coming. Money is always coming.

Money plus gluttony equals bad combination

Our pursuit for money is the worst thing about gluttony. Even worse, is if we get it without balancing our lives.

Years ago, I encountered a top London lawyer. I suppose he must have been a corporate lawyer as they get paid the most. He was incredibly rich and very successful. He was so rich, he hired a porn actress to accompany (and entertain) him whilst in the city.  On paper he was very successful. However, he was also morbidly obese.

For a man who appeared to be in his 50s, he walked with a stick and needed to be helped out of a car like a man in his 80s. Seriously, how much longer will he be able to live before his body completely breaks down? Even though he was a relatively young man, his wealth and success was not balanced by his mental state. Otherwise, why the overeating? It is curious as I have a met a few lawyers who have similar self-destructive habits.

In his case, surely it is better to be less rich and less successful but more healthy. Yet I suppose most people would still look up to him over others. Why? – because we rate his money as a sign of success.

A shift

I believe there is a shift in the Millennial generation away from this obsession with money. I see it in those people who seem to value experience, travel and who value concepts such as minimalism. This is a good thing as I don’t think our society can keep up its current path for another generation.

So whilst we may not have religion anymore, which is no bad thing, I do hope that we can move away from worshipping these new false idols and let go of gluttony. I think as a species we can do so much better.

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Japanese Bar Happy Hour. Taken by Silvia Lüthi.  akupunkturplus.ch

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