Reader Hannah kindly dropped a link in the combox following my post Big Fat Liar. That post is a year old; for some reason it reappeared in the list of posts that are being read. So, I decided to unpack the article she linked because it is a perfect illustration of a certain type of churchian thinking, and of the resulting beliefs it can generate about the subject, obesity in this case.
A great deal of what can oxymoron-ically be called soft churchian doctrine is never stated plainly. Churchian soft doctrines are not expressed in the form of “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not”. Neither are they plainly implied in such a way that clear doctrine is the inference a person takes away. The manner in which these soft dogmata are created is, churchians see a group behavior that is counter to plain interpretation of scripture, reason that the behavior really isn’t hurting anyone and that most of the group are engaged in it, then offer quasi-christian sounding rational for it.
Easy example: Divorce is prescribed under a narrow set of circumstances. It is proscribed under all other. People are changing marriages in the church more frequently than one needs to change synthetic oil in their cars. Moreover, the preacher’s wife can understand how those people feel, and she can empathize. “Honey, you need to take it easy on the doctrine, those folks are hurting and they need encouragement, not guilt”. You know the resulting double speak that we hear about divorce from the pulpit, and as a result, from churchian friends who mindlessly parrot this stuff.
It’s the same case with submission. Even the most so-called traditional churches have found a way to say they support male leadership while wrapping in it outright apologies for its existence and offering easy conditions to choose from when a wife needs a quick “but”.
The formula is, offer equal parts rationalization for the perpetrator and condemnation for anyone who deigns look askance. Simple.
Churchian soft dogma regarding obesity does what it does adroitly. Soft dogma on obesity offers rationalization for the obese, and condemnation for those who deign look askance. It does this using weasel words scattered among words that are suggestive of accountability. It effectively uses shaming as well. From the article
Sandra was morbidly obese.
She spoke freely to us about the dirty looks and the under-the-breath mutters of “disgusting” that she heard while out and about. She knew first-hand the biases against fat people.
I’m not here to support overt meanness. But I want you to think about this scenario.
Let’s take George. He was born with a defect in his physical coordination. It is of pathological origin. When George walks in public he appears to be heavily intoxicated. That’s the nature of his condition. People look askance at George, they silently or sometimes overtly wonder what someone so compromised by drink or drug is doing walking around among sober citizens, making a spectacle of himself and drawing ire from the crowd. “Lets walk this way sweety”, mommy says to little Chelsea, dragging her away from George. George sees this every day. It is sad and unjust and unintentionally cruel.
What’s our take away? Is it that, once we discover that George cannot help the way he walks and moves we crusade and guilt people to never ever look askance at anyone who may act intoxicated because they may be a person with a pathology that causes it? Do we lecture people on acceptance and that God loves people that are wasted in public just as He does the sober? Do we point out that a regularly intoxicated person is a wonderful person and giving in every way?
Do not make the mistake of fixating on the part of my analogy that would suggest I am absolutely equating obesity with drunkenness. That would be another type of failed thinking. Plug in X for obesity and Y for drunkenness and the analogy holds because its the other aspects of the comparison, the part about our guilt driven reaction or its lack, that is operative.
The author continues:
She knew first-hand the biases against fat people. Yet we found her to be one of the most gorgeous persons alive and an engaging disciple.
See that? From unkind looks and remarks she asserts there is bias. Bias is a hot button word, a we-can’t-have-that word. And in a fit of up is down she decrees that the woman is one of the most gorgeous persons alive. What does that even mean? She plays a shell game with ideas. I take at face value that the woman was a wonderful person. Her personality and her “heart” were magnetic and Christlike. That is a testimony to her inner beauty. But it is not saying an iota about her external beauty, it is conflating the two. The real point that should be made is to SEPARATE them, not use one to airbrush the other.
On airbrushing the author then goes down the other path so common in this discourse. That is to set up a straw man of fake beauty and unrealistic expectations as the standard by which we wrongly judge others, and then state that because the standard isn’t real, any conclusion we make about appearance is invalid because its based on a fake standard.
We are made to believe, through advertising and entertainment, that a youthful, well-endowed size 0 is the ideal for women, and that a chiseled David Beckham-like body is the archetypal man. (Never mind that the glossy magazines we consume are air-brushed, or that many of our celebrities are nipped and tucked or enhanced so that even our ideals are illusions.)
The other, similar tact (which the author does not do in her piece) is to point out that looks are fleeting and that we need to accept natural aging and weight gain as our spouses (and others) grow older. This is another false premise.
No direct endorsement of obesity has been offered. Likely she would even give lip service to healthy living and trying to stay as attractive as your raw material affords. But what is the takeaway for those who lack the will to make any effort? It is that they can avoid doing so, and in a false mutual exclusivity, focus on the inner person and not the outer person. The mommy who dragged her child away from George would spout all manner of rationale for obesity.
Divorce, submission, sexual denial, and obesity are all behaviors where these manipulations of reason with emotion manifest in their increase in the church. Unfortunately one of them can have dire consequences. Regarding the woman the author wrote about:
Six months after our job relocation, she died in her sleep. It has been nearly four years, and we still miss her like crazy.
Sad and tragic. In a broader sense it is sad and tragic that anyone can write about a person whose affliction killed them and provide cover for others traveling the same path.
There are so many reasons to take our appearance into account. Its not about meanness, it’s not about superficiality or discounting inner features at the expense of external ones. It’s about common sense gut honesty, something that has gone by the wayside in favor of elaborate emotional appeals that take, one by one, the guardrails off Christian life.