Those of you who know me know that I love to cook and I love to eat nice food. I like to offer hospitality and see feeding people well as a way of sharing in the goodness of creation, celebrating friendship, making them feel at home and cared for. Some are beginning to re-examine and re-claim hospitality as a Christian virtue.
Obviously that can, and sometimes does, tip over into weirdness such as feeding people as the only way you can show you care, or insisting that people clean their plates even when they are full. The whole food thing has become such an issue with questions about eating disorders, obesity, hunger and famines.
Here’s an interesting quote.
“If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But, of course, when people say, 'Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,' they may mean 'the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of'. If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
It comes from that seminal Christian work by C S Lewis, Mere Christianity, and it was published in 1952. Lewis is actually discussing sexual ethics, and talking about the nature of human appetites. He’s trying to say that sex in itself isn’t bad, but what we do with it can be, and distorting sexuality into an obsession fed by pornography isn’t a good thing. To illustrate this he asks if we could imagine pictures dedicated to displaying food that entice people to the point of addiction. Such things scarcely existed in the post-war years and the idea that they might in the future seemed so ridiculous to Lewis, he used it as a kind of reductio ad absurdam, an argument pushed beyond any common sense.
I wonder what Lewis would have thought about the magazines and TV programmes dedicated to the production and consumption of food that have blossomed in the last 20 or so years? And what would he have made of the M&S food ads on the telly (voiced so temptingly at the moment by Matthew Mcfadyen – lovely Matthew)?
We have a strange relationship with our appetites don’t we? From a Christian perspective we celebrate God’s good creation, we appreciate the natural beauty of animals and people (lovely Matthew again), we give thanks for the food that sustains our bodies, and we appreciate that it tastes good. We give and share it to initiate and develop friendships and caring for others. We love the beauty and creativity of the things we make: the lovely Ferrari, the ingenious iPhone, the Mona Lisa, Gloucester Cathedral, Venice. When we talk about sex we say it is a good gift of God, and we celebrate the intimacy it brings.
It’s a tough one, these things are not by their nature bad, but something happens in us that makes them into something that is less than what their creator planned. Is it because we want to own these things in a way that stops us from remembering that, although we are made in God’s image, we are not God and we do not ultimate create and sustain anything? Is it because we think we can control them somehow, although in a large sense we don’t? I wouldn’t want to become so detached from earthly pleasures that I went around in a hair shirt eating gruel, but it’s a challenge to keep those pleasures, and myself, in perspective.