To say the modern world lacks standards of behavior is simply untrue. Lots of people today adhere to a severe code of conduct — they refrain from gluten as if it was rat poison, refuse to eat GMO food, never use disposable grocery bags, insist on organic strawberries, lecture friends and relatives about the glories of veganism, and eschew dairy in favor of almond milk.
At the same time, they worship regularly at the shrine of the body, never missing a Soul Cycle class, a morning run, a Crossfit workout, a Swedish massage, a Thai facial or a Pilates session.
There’s nothing morally wrong (or especially morally right) about doing any of these things. Catholic teaching urges us to take good care of our bodies as gifts from God, but ultimately it’s the state of our souls that matter.
Even though we live in a world where the word “sinful” is more often applied to chocolate eclairs than group sex, a dinged and dingy soul encased in a taught, tucked, toned body won’t cut much mustard in Heaven.
On Aug. 18, WXIN/FOX59 in Indianapolis, Ind., reported that former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle is expected to plead guilty to possessing child pornography, as part of a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office, which will hold a press conference on the 19th.
As the story noted, Subway had already severed its relationship with Fogle when word of the pornography investigation first surfaced in early July.
The charges come after federal agents raided Fogle’s Zionsville home in early July. FBI sources confirmed to FOX59 state and federal investigators were serving warrants at his home in connection with a child pornography investigation. Several computers and DVDs were seized from Fogle’s home.
Earlier this year, Russell Taylor, the former director of the Jared Foundation started by Fogle, was arrested in a child pornography case. He was accused of possessing and producing child pornography. Investigators said a search of Taylor’s home turned up more than 500 videos with images of child pornography. In May, Taylor unsuccessfully tried to kill himself while in jail.
The 37-year-old first gained national prominence when he credited a diet consisting largely of Subway sandwiches for helping him lose more than 200 pounds. Lionized in the press for his victory over fat, Fogle established the Jared Foundation in 2004, to focus on childhood obesity.
Following his weight loss, Fogle married twice, amassed a considerable fortune and has two young children.
His current legal situation is appalling and tragic for his family, but it is a stark reminder that the way society defines virtue today has little to do with the real thing.
Gluttony is considered a sin, but being overweight does not necessarily say anything about a person’s morals or character. By the same token, being slender and physically fit also says nothing in particular about someone’s salvation.
Shows like “The Biggest Loser” revel in putting participants through torturous challenges, as if to to cleanse them of their food demons. Forget that much of it is temporary and/or an illusion.
From the New York Post:
In a country where two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, “The Biggest Loser” has multifaceted appeal: It’s aspirational and grotesque, punitive and redemptive — skinny or fat, it’s got something for you. It’s not uncommon to see contestants worked out to the point of vomiting or collapsing from exhaustion. Contestants, collegially and poignantly, refer to one another as “losers.”
And while promoting health, the show apparently doesn’t adhere to its own advertising:
“Your grocery list is approved by your trainer,” [participant Kai Hibberd] says. “My season had a lot of Franken-foods: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray, Kraft fat-free cheese, Rockstar Energy Drinks, Jell-O.”
At one point, Hibbard says, production did bloodwork on all the contestants, and the show’s doctor prescribed electrolyte drinks. “And the trainer said, ‘Don’t drink that — it’ll put weight on you. You’ll lose your last chance to save your life.’?”
There’s almost no sexual peccadillo, erotic inclination or body-modification obsession that can be publicly criticized today, but the overweight are held up for shame and derision, all in the name of helping them achieve societal approval and even secular sainthood by losing weight.
But losing weight itself does not confer virtue, as exemplified by Fogle. It won’t automatically make one better, kinder, more compassionate or even physically healthier (depending how one does it).
All that can be said for certain is that the person is smaller. And somehow, in our increasingly fractured and darkened world, that’s enough. (Or, flipping it around, lauding a man who gets huge muscles, when they are the result of steroids, is just as bad.)
Whatever Jared Fogle did or didn’t do, holding him up as a hero just because he lost weight was a mistake. Holding up athletes as heroes just because of their physical prowess is a mistake. Shaming and deriding people just because they’re overweight or not conventionally attractive is a mistake. Worshiping the slender and beautiful among us just because of how they look is a mistake.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking to improve one’s health or appearance, as long as we remember that it doesn’t equate with goodness or holiness — something possible future saint G.K. Chesterton had in abundance.
Images: Wikimedia Commons
UPDATE: Some readers interpret this piece as a criticism of seeking better health and making good food choices. It’s not (and those are things I do myself). Doing these things can lead to greater holiness and a more perfect union with God, but it’s not automatic. Losing weight didn’t turn Jared Fogle into a better person. It could have, but it didn’t. If anything, per this Chicago Tribune article, the fame, wealth and greater social acceptability that came with it offered him opportunities to be even a worse person than he already was.
Prosecutors allege that Fogle knew the pornography had been secretly produced by the former director of his charitable foundation, which sought to raise awareness about childhood obesity and arranged for Fogle to visit schools and urge children to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits.
Authorities said Fogle offered to pay adult prostitutes a finder’s fee if they could connect him with minors for sex acts, including some as young as 14 or 15 years old.
“This is about using wealth, status and secrecy to illegally exploit children,” U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said.
Achieving better bodily health is a good thing — especially if one is trying to deal with a medical condition — but society’s notion that it equates with being more virtuous is dead wrong. Conversely, passing moral judgment on someone who is not at the peak of physical health is equally wrong. That’s the point I’m making. Also, assuming that criticizing the latest food fad is the same as criticizing people who have real food allergies or digestive conditions (something I also have dealt with) is illogical, no more than extolling the joys of eating chocolate lava cake means wishing ill on those who can’t tolerate sugar.
And how many Catholics out there manage to make their daily runs or gym classes but can’t find the time to show up at Mass?