Is Religiosity and Food an Unhealthy Combination?

Can food and religiosity be combined in a healthy way? +Catholicos Scholarios-Gennadius III, OSB Vicar General of America, asks.

It has been historically customary for the faithful to be regaled most Sunday mornings with stories and parables demonstrating the negative consequences of our choices and actions. For instance, we recall the parable of the “Withered Fig Tree” (Mark 11:20-26), which represented a lack of faith, along with many others related to sin. Additionally, there is the teaching by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16 that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore are holy and should be revered and cared for.

However, in many churches, the morning sermon is often followed by a sumptuous, calorie-laden feast in the parish or church hall. Additionally, many religious groups also celebrate the many feasts and special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries with extensive banquets, or seek to raise funds through the sale of nutritionally questionable products often purchased by or for the children of such organizations.

As the above illustrates, there is a long tradition combining consumption habits with faith practices, which begs the question is “Faith and Food an Unhealthy Combination?” This question can be answered in part by considering the physical image of many local faith leaders and the measurement of their “girth” suggesting a certain amount of circumspection that this image projects. In the land of plenty, free expression and demonstration of faith, many faith leaders are beginning to make this unhealthy association between faith and food as in the case of the Rev. Susan Johnson Cook during her keynote address during the Howard University School of Divinity Convocation November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC. Rev. Cook said dramatically “We need a holy alignment [mind, body and soul.]” This statement acknowledged the unhealthy alliance between food and faith in many churches where many members are suffering from the physical devastation caused by obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and reduced life spans, inconspicuously wrapped in the cloak of religiosity celebrated with food (Freeman, p. 5, 2010).

However, this is not just an American problem because according to the online magazine Christian Today in its November 4, 2010 publication, “A new global initiative is seeking to change attitudes among faith communities to the way in which food is produced, purchased and consumed (Hutt, 2010). This report is somewhat ironic considering the extensive starvation taking place around the world. Nevertheless, the Faith and Food initiative makes the obvious connection that “eating is a moral and spiritual act, which as suggested above conflicts with the faith teaching that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

As the foregoing indicates, the unhealthy consumption of large amounts of food, high caloric and fat intake and non-existent physical activity is inherently Unchristian and contains questionable moral and spiritual practices. Therefore, the question arises as to whether one can literally “eat” themselves unto damnation? This may seem somewhat excessive and exaggerated, however, if we accept that our bodies are in fact temples of the Holy Spirit and our behavior continues to defile that temple where does the lack of moral and spiritual responsibility lead?

In partial answer to this question, it is necessary to contemplate those who occupy positions as religious leaders and obvious “icons” of religious disobedience. Are we as religious leaders providing an example worthy of emulation? We have a moral obligation to not just “preach” but also to “teach” by example through the exposition of good health practices, accompanied by teaching and advocating healthy behaviors from the “pulpit” or “ambo.” We can dramatically demonstrate our faithful obedience to the Gospel by driving unhealthy food vendors from the “Father’s house” in imitation of Jesus driving out the money lenders, because the Church should be a house “prayer.”

As religious leaders we have a moral and spiritual obligation to model and teach healthy eating, exercise and maintenance of the “temple.”


Freeman, Macy L. “School of Divinity convocation focuses on health and well-being.” District Chronicles [Washington, DC] 4 Nov. 2010: 5. Print.

Hutt, Brian. “Faith groups challenged to change attitudes to food.” Christian Today. N.P., 4 Nov. 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2010. .

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