Wednesday, March 19, 2008

dieting and gluttony (5b) C.S.Lewis on gluttony

Our next quote on food and gluttony is taken from C.S.Lewis' The screwtape letters, in which the senior devil Screwtape advises the junior devil Wormwood on how to tempt humans (sorry to those who read this the other day before I rearranged my blog!).

C.S.Lewis shows how the gluttony of excess has been replaced by the more subtle gluttony of delicacy, and how this often takes different forms among men and women:


The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished - one day, I hope, will be - to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small.

But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. ... She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile "Oh, please, please ... all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast."

You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before he, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance ...; in reality ... the particular shade of delicacy to which we have enslaved her is offended by the sight of more food than she happens to want.

The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be guaged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. ... Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled. ...

Now your patient is his mother's son. ... Being a male, he is not so likely to be caught by the "All I want" camouflage. Men are best turned into gluttons with the help of their vanity. They ought to be made to think themselves very knowing about food, to pique themselves on having found the only restaurant in the town where steaks are really "properly" cooked. What begins as vanity can then be gradually turned into habit. But, however you approach it, the great thing is to bring him into the state in which the denial of any one indulgence - it matters not which, champagne or tea, sole colbert or cigarettes - "puts him out," for them his charity, justice, and obedience are all at your mercy.

Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy. Its chief use is as a kind of artillery preparation for attacks on chastity [and I would add other areas of godliness, but that's a topic for another day] ...

Your affectionate uncle
Highlight mine; this quote is taken from chapter 17 of C.S.Lewis' The screwtape letters.

1 comment:

Shari Zook said...

I found this post while hunting for C. S. Lewis's quote on crisp toast :) so I could blog about something similar.

Well said. Excellent thoughts!