As children, or somewhere along our matriculation through maturation, we are taught (or at least lectured) to, “be careful not to judge a book by its cover.” This lesson is likely selectively applied throughout life. Today, I rarely do judge a book by its cover (I at least read the back cover and check the number of pages). However, I will admit to judging a wine by its cover. Attractive labels and clever names (along with inexpensive prices) often catch my eye when selecting my happy hour companion. But when selecting companions in life – friends, partners – I like to think that I do not judge ‘books’… people… bodies…souls – by their covers. And then I stumbled upon an article about a new book, The Daniel Plan, which made me think a little more deeply about the familar life lesson.
The book is written by Purpose Driven Life author and mega-church pastor, Rick Warren. It is about his journey up to and through his new ‘purpose driven diet.’ Warren experienced his health-epiphany ‘on the job:’
On that particular day, I was baptizing 858 people… That took me literally four hours. As I’m baptizing 858 people, along around 500, I thought this … ‘We’re all fat. But I thought, I’m fat,” he said. “I’m a terrible model of this. I can’t expect our people to get in shape unless I do (USA, Today, 2012).
Initially, I cringed – first when reading the headline – Is this another moneymaking ploy for the ‘best-selling’ author/man of the cloth? Dr. Oz is involved…Then, I cringed again after reading the quote above. I am pretty sure ‘corporeal judgment’ is not among the most religion’s baptismal rites.
Placing my critique of the capitalistic endeavor aside, I began to reflect on the body and its place in religion/spirituality. The disciplined body does indeed have a place in some religions. Forms of Christianity, Monastic life, and Buddism uphold ascetic lifestyles. That is, a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures (i.e. food). Indulgence in those worldly pleasures is thought to impede spiritual and religious goals. Rituals such as fasting and abstaining from certain foods are routine in some religions such as Catholicism. These rituals said to emulate sacrifice and produce disciplined, devout, religious bodies. Those bodies are often idolized and celebrated as they physically embody spiritual ideals.
Among Christian denominations, Protestants did not get the memo on asceticism.
Obesity has become rampant among American Protestants. Nearly one in five Methodists is obese, according to a 2006 Purdue University study. Among Baptists, it’s more than one in four. Meanwhile, fewer than one in 100 American Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists are obese. Even when allowing for geographical considerations, the research found Protestants to be fatter than people of other religious backgrounds (USA Today, 2012).
So, is a pastor like Warren helping to ameliorate the orthodoxy of obesity. Or is he just worshiping a false idol of thinness. Would you care if your pastor was overweight? Is that person less disciplined, more susceptible to sin? Therefore is he/she less qualified?
I have wrestled with these questions. The FSU football team chaplain is not a skinny a man, neither is my own pastor. Do I care? Should I care? If I care, am I just judging a book by its cover?