A federal court has just ruled that gluttony is a protected human right. And just in time, I say. Valentine’s Day is here, and store windows are bursting with luscious, heart-shaped chocolate candy.
At a time like this, who wants to think of austere virtues like self-discipline and self-control?
Especially now that the courts have weighed in, so to speak, on the side of self-indulgence. The appellate panel ruled that even if you gorge yourself up to three times your normal size, you cannot legally be denied a job.
Being morbidly obese has been elevated to a federally protected disability.
The court case involved a Rhode Island woman weighing more than 300 pounds who had been denied a job at a school for the mentally retarded. School officials said the woman’s immense size prevented her from performing all aspects of her job, such as picking up patients.
This was not a case where the woman suffered from a medical condition; instead she simply overate. Nevertheless, the judges ruled that she was a victim of discrimination.
In other words, it is now possible to eat your way into a protected class — with all the same legal rights as the blind or the deaf.
To assert those rights there are even special organizations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. The mayor of Ithaca, New York, has declared one month of the year “Size Acceptance Month.” He made the announcement at a public meeting — just before shoveling a piece of chocolate cake into his mouth.
The irony is that gluttony was once counted as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Now it’s become a civil right.
Admittedly, many of us find it difficult to practice self-control in a consumerist culture. Every time we turn on the television, we are regaled with images of people eating and drinking with exquisite enjoyment. Every time we drive down the street we’re lured by golden arches and cookie franchises — or Valentine candy.
Now the law itself has landed squarely on the side of consumerism.
Laws are supposed to remind us what we ought to do. But the new ruling sanctions giving in to what we want to do — even if it’s unhealthy. Folks who binge on boxes of Valentine candy can now do so with the confidence that even the courts will defend their right to self-indulgence.
But Christians ought to view the temptation to overeat as a challenge to build character, not fat reserves. Living in an affluent culture as we do, many of our temptations come not because we have too little but because we have so much. Unlike people in poor cultures, Americans can afford to buy Valentine candies and all those gooey, sweet things that put on the pounds.
We ought to remember the prayer recorded in Proverbs 30. It says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches” — because each, in its own way, can be a trap. Poverty may tempt us to theft, but riches tempt us to gluttony.
This is a message our affluent society desperately needs to hear. When it comes to food, many of us are drawn into the trap of riches — of eating far too much.
And the last thing we need is a false compassion that turns human weakness into a civil right.