Gluttony in a Digital Age
We’ve all seen that timer appear on our screen. The countdown begins, and we find ourselves asking, “Should I watch another episode?” Whether on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, many of us are guilty of falling down the rabbit hole of binge watching. From taking down dozens of terrorists with Jack Bauer, to saving Hell’s Kitchen with Daredevil to having tea in Downton Abbey, the delight of television is that it pulls us in, capturing our imagination as we begin to “participate” in various stories alongside their characters.
But this delight has a dark side. With the accessibility of digital media comes the tendency to become so involved with a storyline that we lose track of ourselves. Our habitual indulgence in television shows and social media has become a form of gluttony that, if not controlled, will lead to our destruction.
What is Gluttony?
Paul Matthies defined gluttony as “a lack of faith in God that expresses itself through excess and expects total satisfaction from some idol of choice at the expense of community, responsibility and trusting worship of God.” At its root, gluttony says, “My desires should be met, right now, by whatever I crave.” Gluttony is the suicide of self-control; instead of trusting in God’s goodness and sufficiency, the glutton tries to seize satisfaction apart from God for desires he thinks belong to him.
Evidence of gluttony can be found throughout the Bible in passages such as Amos 6:4-7, Proverbs 23:20-21 and Proverbs 28:7, which says, “The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father.” Corinthian believers in the NT are called out for using the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity to overindulge in food and drink that was meant for the good of the whole church in 1 Corinthians 11:17-26.
Gluttony in regard to food is still a serious problem—but a problem for a different blog post. With the technological advances of the last several years, many of us have become digital-age gluttons. Whether we’re endlessly scrolling down social media feeds or binge-watching whole television series, we have found it easy to treat digital goods in overblown ways. Simply consider this: What if you ate ice cream like you watched the waiver wire in your fantasy league? What if you drank wine to the same degree you spend time on Instagram?
Indulging in digital-age gluttony will cost us in our communities and responsibilities by skewing our understanding of our need for God.
It’s easy to consume too much digital media because the most captivating shows, online games (including fantasy sports) and social networks give us a sense of belonging to a community. Maybe you and your guild log on every Thursday night to go on quests in “World of Warcraft,” or you spend all day on Saturday with Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, Ross, Rachel and Monica. These outlets provide a place where we feel we belong.
The problem is those characters on Friends or Community are neither your friends nor your community. We end up with hundreds of Facebook friends and Twitter followers but no one to invite over for dinner on Sunday night (even when you make an Instagram-worthy Pinterest recipe).
When we choose to spend another night streaming or scrolling rather than engaging others face to face, we choose to forsake love of neighbor in order to feed a craving. In contrast, when we belong to a community that is “thicker” than the one we can see on Hulu for $9.99 a month, we are free to enjoy good television, gaming or social networking in moderation.
Neglecting Our Responsibilities
We hear Amos, a prophet from the Lord, rebuke God’s people: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring that we may drink!’” (Amos 4:1) God is using Amos to rebuke the gluttonous excess of some in Israel who, in their gluttony and greed, are trampling down the weak. The reality is that gluttony doesn’t only cost us true community, but it leads us to neglect our neighbor.
If measured against sins like idol worship, sexual immorality or murder, gluttony appears to be rather trivial. Contrary to this thinking, throughout the Bible we see that gluttony is directly tied to idolatry, oppression and laziness. Ezekiel 16:49-50 says that one of the reasons God judged Sodom—one of the most extreme biblical examples of God’s judgment on sin—was because the Sodomites had “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”
Gluttony jeopardizes our ability to responsibly steward all that God has entrusted to us. By giving too much of yourself to screen time, you may find that those who need you have less of you than they need. When we overindulge in something like digital media, it’s not just we who suffer from the absence of others, others also suffer as a result of our absence. Consider whether you know the ins and outs of the characters on your favorite show better than you know the people God has placed around you.
Distracted From Our Need for God
Beneath the ways that gluttony threatens true community and responsibility, we find that at the root of gluttony is a distrust that God is sufficient for our desires. Digital-age gluttony is motivated by a desire to get what only God can give by trying to fit the gifts into the space meant for the Giver. We are trying to make these gifts—community, purpose, joy, entertainment—the goal when the Giver is what ultimately will fulfill us.
It may seem like the answer to this digital-age gluttony is to cut out all digital media, but I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary. The Christian doesn’t have to give up their interest in what’s going to happen in the next episode of Fargo, how they can get the perfect angle and filter combination for that photo they want to post on Instagram, or spending time trying to assemble the best fantasy football team for the 2019 season. The answer to gluttony is not always cutting off all access or interest. There is a way to participate without being consumed. The way to curb digital-age gluttony is to see that everything we hope to get from our screens has been given to us in a richer way in Christ and His Church.
Writing long before this digital age, the psalmist says, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?’ Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!’ You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4:6-7).
In a world where we are surrounded by glowing screens begging for our attention, we have to consider the cost of abusing these gifts. So I encourage you, the next time you indulge in digital media, exercise some portion control and ask yourself if you have elevated the good gifts of the digital age above their proper place. Have you become a digital-age glutton?