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Health and Wealth Gospel: Part 2

February 25, 2013

“The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy.”–G.K. Chesterton

The health Nazis. We all know them. They know everything about being healthy, and they will share their knowledge with you whether they like it or not. They are the people who would be unhappy because of the thought that somewhere in the world someone is enjoying a chocolate chip cookie. They sneer at the thought of eating at a fast food joint–“How unhealthy! How Bourgeois!” They are number crunching calorie counters who couldn’t bear the thought of an extra ounce of fat on their precious bodies. They  sneer at people unable to afford or appreciate the beauty of a raw artichoke soaked in swordfish bile with some wheat germ poured over it. They desperately wish they were European. They are culinary busybodies, idolatrous image-worshippers, tyrants of the dinner table, the modern equivalent of Jonathan Swift’s Big-Endian’s and Little-Endians. Their only hope is that their life will turn into a Flannery O’Connor style narrative, and that they will find redemption only after they have been discovered passed out and surrounded by hamburger wrappers and those little plastic ketchup things.

In the last post, we looked at the problem of unhealthy habits. It is bad to have unhealthy habits, but it is perhaps worse to have habits that are too healthy. An unhealthy person at least knows he is unhealthy–few people are under the illusion that lying in bed all day eating Little Caesar’s is an ideal life. But a health Nazi does not know that he has a problem. Concerned with the health of the body, the health Nazi neglects the health of the mind.

“You, too, can be one of these generic looking upper-class white people.”

       Health is good. But it is not The Good. Health can be appreciated in its own way, and also as a means to an end. The problem with health worshippers is that they appreciate health as the primary good, a good that everyone is obligated to have, and if they don’t have it, they are doing something bad and wrong. Health worship inevitably leads to legalism and judgmentalism. The foremost thought in the health Nazi’s mind is not that he is healthy, but that he is healthier than others. A person who merely wants to be healthy will not think about health much after he attains it, beyond doing basic things to keep that health (excercising, eating right, etc.). But the health Nazi cannot think about anything but health. The pursuit of health becomes an idolatrous obsession. This obsession leads the health Nazi to start to formulate rigorous rules for everyone to live by–Smaller Portions! Organic Food! Run A Mile Every Day! And while these may be good in themselves, the health Nazi is concerned with foisting them on other people, or, better yet, being a suffering martyr while other people break the rules. Sometimes I think that foodies would die if McDonald’s went out of business, because they would have nothing left to complain about.

No one has ever actually been this happy about eating a salad

     Health is not the Christian’s ultimate goal. While it may be a means of glorifying God, it is not a means that is available to everyone. Some people suffer from diseases that make health completely unattainable. Christ’s strength is shown through their weakness. Other people struggle with being healthy, and Christ’s strength is shown through their weakness. And then there are those who are healthy, and Christ’s strength is shown in their weakness as well. I think that a path of sensible moderation is the best way to approach this issue. Better is a dinner of hot dogs and ice cream where love is, than an organic mushroom-spinach quiche and hatred therewith. A diet of nothing but Oreos is unpleasant–a harsh and judgmental attitude about nonessentials even more nauseating. Why spend all the time in the gym to increase your life expectancy if you are only going to spend those extra years in the gym? A great physique and heart rate cannot cure a bitter and twisted soul.

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