Willis walked into his local grocery store and began strolling up and down the aisles searching for inspiration for supper that evening. He was hungry after a long day of class and work and he wanted something he could prepare quickly. He was single, and had recently moved away for college, so he had no one to cook for but himself. He also no longer had to endure his mother insisting he eat his greens and shoving fire and brimstone sermons down his throat about processed foods. “Stay out of the middle aisles, honey. That’s where the temptations are,” her voice echoed in his head. He smiled to himself, remembering, and then defiantly turned and strutted down the frozen food aisle, embracing his independence. He didn’t intend to totally discard all the motherly wisdom he had absorbed over the years, but he also did not share his mother’s belief that gluten was the source of all illness in the world.
He settled on an organic, roasted vegetable pizza, simultaneously appeasing his mother’s voice and his own. The following week he went back after work one evening and was able to walk straight to the frozen food aisle with no lingering hesitation. This time he chose a conventional, meat lovers’ pizza. It was half the price, further justifying the decision in his mind. The next week, he ate frozen pizza two nights. Within a month, every supper Willis ate came from the frozen food aisle or could be cooked in a microwave. When Willis came home for Christmas, six months after leaving home, he had gained a total of fifteen pounds and had suffered from several colds already that winter. By the time Willis left college four years later, he had established a pattern for an unhealthy lifestyle. He gained a total of fifty pounds over four years, and because he lacked energy, he ceased to maintain an active lifestyle. He justified his decisions by appealing to his right to decide how he wanted to live his life.
Eating strictly junk food did not kill Willis. The food he ate contained just enough nutritional value to keep him alive and minimally nourished, but he wasn’t receiving all the nutrients healthy foods potentially offered him. Willis decided to neglect his mother’s restrictive dietary standard and embrace his own standard, based on his own wants. He sorted through foods only selecting the ones he cared for and rejecting the ones he had difficulty stomaching. This resulted in a different, but still radical way of viewing food that was slowly causing Willis’ health to deteriorate.
Organized religion in Christianity plays the role of the sometimes annoyingly restrictive mother in our spiritual life. Religion can be abused, smacked over heads leaving lumps that hurt like hell and need time to heal. Religion requires prudence, but that is not the point of this particular story, because it can also nourish us, in ways only fruits and vegetables can. Picking and choosing what we do and don’t want out of religion amounts to only eating junk food and receiving minimal nourishment. The less pleasant aspects of organized religion such as sacrifice, repentance, and service, are the vegetables and fruit we need for our faith to remain healthy and sustainable over a lifetime. And, ultimately, it is what is required for salvation. If Willis doesn’t have to listen to anyone else, only his own wants, why they would he chose a quinoa and kale salad over a hamburger and fries? Madness. Religion without spirituality is dead, sure, but spirituality without religion can more often than not be fruitless.
Following his rejection of additional authorities on food, Willis was doomed to make more and more unhealthy decisions. Left to our own devices we will succumb purely to our own wants. We apply this to daily life in other ways like government, but are bound and determined to keep religion from confining us. The “I am spiritual, not religious” mantra of today is ultimately leading society as a whole down an unhealthy path. In the end, the appeal of being able to choose only white bread over wheat bread if we want will prove to be of no nutritional value and leave us in a worse place than when we started. We will settle for unchallenging homilies/sermons, we will trade in computer screens for pastors, and couches for community. We will sacrifice work, responsibility, and effort for entertainment and fancy lighting. We will take all the nourishment out of Christianity until it eventually starves to death.