Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Is gluttony no longer a deadly sin?

19th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

In ancient Rome, vomitoria primarily meant the well-designed exit passageways and corridors under the Colosseum and other large buildings through which many thousands of people were able to pass in a surprisingly short span of time. This facilitated both the easy entrance of incoming stadium guests and their relatively simple exit after the entertainment.

However, there was a secondary meaning of vomitorium that has the ring of vomit. I was a personal witness to this in 1958 while I was studying in Rome. The Domus Aurea (Golden House) of Nero was covered with dirt and rubble, sealed and used as a firm foundation for the Baths of Trajan. But this attempt at erasing the memory of Nero backfired.

The coverup merely preserved the 100-plus rooms and the brightly-colored frescoes of the Domus Aurea for posterity. After their accidental discovery in the 15th century when a young Roman fell through a crack in the Esquiline hillside and was overwhelmed by the stunning frescoes all around, Raphael, Michelangelo and other great artists visited it.

Amid lavish gold leaf décor and ubiquitous travertine marble, Nero frequently threw 24-hour-long food orgies with every imaginable entertainment. Near this lavish, hoggish eating was a sunken vomitorium – perhaps 10 feet in diameter. Yet, for all this opulence, his psychotic anxiety and many episodes of madness drove him inexorably to commit suicide.

Some other wealthy ancient Romans also feasted ravenously on wild boar, pheasant, mussels, oysters and deer until they were as full as ticks. With a feather or whatever worked, they would tickle their throats until they regurgitated the food they had just gorged. After rinsing their mouths with wine or water, they returned to their troughs to gorge some more.

It is not a reach to say that this repulsive practice contributed much to the eventual dehumanizing, corrupting and collapsing of the mighty Romans who did not crumble from hostile forces without, but rather from immorality, corruption and demoralization within.

Can Americans be far behind? Coney Island’s Fourth of July and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest have been synonymous since 1972, impelling speed eaters from all over the world to converge on Nathan’s to gorge as many hot dogs as quickly as possible. A less healthy, less gross, less hoggish and less harmful activity I find difficult to imagine.

Think of the shock this is to one’s glycemic (sugar) balance or cholesterol count, and how easily this can slide into a permanent disorder such as diabetes or plaque in one’s veins and arteries. Health-wise, the kindest comment is that speed eaters are dancing with the devil.

Wolfing down 18 more hot dogs than his nearest competitor, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut earned his seventh-straight title in the men’s race, setting a world record by downing 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Sadly, also females compete. Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas jammed down 36 and three-quarters hot dogs and buns to win her third-consecutive title.

Are the male’s prizes of $10,000 and a bejeweled mustard-yellow champion’s belt worth the health risk and moral depravity inherent in such a gross practice? Not even remotely. Apart from the crassness of the whole practice, perhaps the weirdest thing is that the champion of the glut is invariably someone relatively normal in size. Go figure.

Many folks seem disinclined to believe in the seven deadly (capital) sins of anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony. But, even those who believe at some level, tend to dismiss gluttony as something minor or simply trivial. To the contrary, one can argue that gluttony is quite deadly, capital, softening and predisposing us to the other deadly sins.

Gluttonous, massive King Henry VIII is said to have devoured a shoulder of lamb at one sitting, according to Charles Laughton. It baffles our imagination to read that, in one year, Henry VIII and the 800 people of his court devoured 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 2,870 pigs, 1,240 oxen, 24,000 larks and 33,000 chickens.

Leaving judgment to God and trying to understand how Henry’s faults would work against us if we had similar faults, we are led to attempt to connect his gluttony to grossness in his general moral attitudes and his murderous propensity toward beheading his wives.

Trying to walk the precarious line between being judgmental and being very careful to avoid similar evils in our own lives, we ask God to strengthen our faith, to give us mental clarity to know and understand, and to give us the resolve to do what is best for our welfare.

This article originally published in the August 19, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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