I had a curiosity yesterday. What are the correlations between obesity and religiosity, and if they exist, are some denominations more at risk than others? I did a little Googling this morning and found that indeed, it has been studied.
But if you dig deeper, it becomes quite a mess, because it’s difficult to separate science from dogma, which is not ironic, in this case. You’ve got apparent atheists on the one hand using any statistical tidbit to show that “religion makes you fat;” while on the other, fundamentalist Baptists put up pics of fat atheists. The only thing you end up learning is that it’s funny to watch groups with no disciplined sense of science, statistical relevance, or basic logic combat each other…reminiscent of midgets wrestling in slippery mud, or something.
Nonetheless, growing up in a deeply religious, fundamentalist Baptist household from the age of 10, during the 1970s, I did notice the disproportionate level of portliness compared with observing everyone else around me, as a scrawny teenager. Sometimes, I thought church might be a veiled excuse to get together for potlucks. There were hundreds of them, and quite good I might add. Mind you: this was the 70s, where obesity was still a rather outlier phenomenon and not at the top of the distribution as it is now—with skinny and morbid taking up the extremes to the left and the right.
The aforelinked study did proffer that fundamentalist Baptists are the fattest. One Fox News article that popped up stated it thusly:
A 2006 Purdue study found that the fundamental Christians are by far the heaviest of all religious groups led by the Baptists with a 30% obesity rate compared with Jews at 1%, Buddhists and Hindus at 0.7%.
Still, one must be cautious of correlation as causation. On the other hand, the general association is pretty clear. More religious prevalence in American abundance, more obesity.
But what if people of lower than average discipline, in this world of increasingly cheap abundance, seek absolution (or perhaps miracles), and the distributions and correlations are more a measure of the level of absolution they receive, but better correlated by denomination?
Fundamental Christianity in Practice
Generally, Christianity calls for some worldly work on the part of its faithful. You are to emotionally revere the accepted narrative of Christ’s life as example, and to the extent you emulate it, your daily fuckups might be excused. Of course, it’s fantasy. But it’s also a simple formula to understand—replete with thousands of word-bite memes—and does make some sense on logical grounds, considering there are easier ways to influence a population of billions with words than with guns. That ideal—manifest only in most modern religion—is noteworthy and of some utility. Islam need not apply. Your house is completely fucked up. Shut the fuck up and fix it, Muslims. …I digress.
Fundamentalist Christianity explicitly rejects any works, deeds, actions—good or bad—as having anything to do with salvation. It is by faith alone, because you are guilty at birth by means of the doctrine of Original Sin (best critique, here). Period. Nothing good you do helps, and nothing bad you do hurts, so long as you just trust in Jesus exclusively. It’s a critically important distinction in itself, since the sins you did, do, and will do, have all been paid for already by the crucifixion of a sinless person; so it’s a sacrifice, thereby unifying the Old Testament with the New.
In practice, it goes like this: “I accept Jesus Christ into my heart as my personal lord and savior.” It’s literally as simple as that, verbalizing those magic words, so long as you truly mean them and “put all of your trust in him.” Then and henceforth, you’re “saved.” You’ve received absolution and are redeemed—not only for what you may have done, no matter what, but what you may still do, no matter what. It is truly that explicit. Once “saved,” always saved, even if you later reject it. I have family that believe I’m still “saved,” that even after 25 years of vile pronouncements of anything religious I can get my mind on, I still uttered those magic words when I was 10 or so, and so they’ll see me in heaven—in spite of the fact that I’d prefer hell, where all the cool people are.
Seriously folks, this sort of language was my whole life (church 3x per week, church-school every day through 12th) between the ages of 10 and 18, when I then went off to “Bible College” at Tennessee Temple University. Being on my own, I finally began to set it aside after the first year and live a more normal life, eventually dumping it entirely by 30; and since, writing now & then to explain it. It’s only the young people of my age then, now, that drives me to do it.
The Fundamentalist Sales Pitch and Obesity
The point is, if you’ve followed the implications of such a sales pitch, it’s that it essentially gives you license to do whatever. No effect on “salvation,” and if you talk to someone who’s been “born again,” they use the phrase “when I got saved,” all the time, as though it’s normal conversation. It’s how they talk to each other.
There’s an underlying perniciousness to it. And it sets up all sorts of troubles. There’s the fairly typical pastor adulterer, sleeping with wives in the congregation and church staff. There’s the “youth pastor,” often enough a sociopath who uses his position of both god & church authority to influence the teen, high school girls. Mostly, there’s making everyone a little or a lot poorer, and crippling their drive by limiting their opportunities. Fundamentalists churches know their marks well. They can’t do anything about the already well-to-do, so they make them confidants and highly respected. Everyone else gets bled slowly. The most successful pastors are masterful at influencing people to do well enough to keep “tithing,” not so well that they no longer need the church.
So given all the foregoing, do you see how this is a recipe for being gluttenous and getting fat?
When I saw the data, it being essentially the more religiously fundamental, i.e., the least questioning and most accepting, the more obese, it made complete sense to me.
Not because religion causes obesity, per se, but that people of chronically weak minds seek religion disproportionately, such that they can be assured they’re OK. This is fine, normal even, and such can be had in a lot of places like just mundane counseling or having a chat with a close confidant.
Fundamentalism is a pernicious virus of the mind, particularly the total absolution variety of the fundamentalist Baptists, where no sin really matters. You still go to heaven. Being disproportionately fat is just one manifestation of a religious doctrine that’s very bad for people here on earth. It’s perhaps not as bad as promising young virgin men prevented from any sexual exploration total absolution and 72 virgins in heaven if only they blow themselves up and take Jews with them, but it’s fundamentally the same thing at work in terms of exploiting minds for the sake of authority, influence, and gain.