Ecclesiastical Obesity

Americans by now should be more than well aware of the dangers of obesity.  Among them are chronic diseases like diabetes, various cardio-vascular diseases, muscular-skeletal problems, and even some forms of cancer.  About the only medical problem that overweight people seem to be spared (other than starvation) is senile dementia.  They rarely live that long.

It could be argued that Christianity suffers similar dangers, not just in its ecclesiastical structures but in its teachings as well.  While Jesus seems to have gone out of his way to simplify his inherited Jewish religion, largely ignoring its elaborate Temple rituals and boiling down its intricate system of laws and commandments to just a few simple moral guidelines, the Christian churches seem to have added doctrine Catechism of the Catholic Church has 2865 topics and subtopics and requires 904 pages (including indexes) in its English language version.  Likewise, its official Code of Canon Law lists some 1752 "canons" or rules, and runs some 668 pages though to be fair about the latter, this is in a bilingual (Latin and English) edition.  And this code covers only the Roman or Latin Rite church; there is another whole code book for the various Eastern Rites. And to think that Christians used to ridicule Jews for having as many as 614 rules to keep!

One may well wonder, how do things turn out this way?  Well, one might simply think of it in terms of physical obesity.  It is caused by the body ingesting over time, even bit by bit (or maybe we should say "bite by bite") many more calories than it needs.  Unless those calories are burned up by exercise, we eventually become overweight.  Certainly there can be other contributing causes, but in essence it boils down to just that.

The situation with the churches, like any human organization, is much the same.  Everyone understands that teachings and rules have to be kept up-to-date to cope with ever-changing conditions. But, naturally, as time goes on, more and more teachings, then teachings to further interpret those teachings are added, and so on from there. The same can be said for rules or laws.   

Unfortunately, this problem gets further compounded in religious matters, because churches, in order to protect their reputation for credibility, much like but even more than governments, try to cling to all their past traditions and seem generally unwilling to admit they have ever made any mistakes. Thus teachings designed to cope with what were once-current needs eventually get hardened into official doctrines, and these in turn are elevated to the status of dogmas that supposedly can't be changed, although, at least theoretically, church laws can be much more easily changed. Still, the weight of tradition on even these latter is apt to have much the same effect one need only think of the resistance of Rome to changing Canon Law to allow for married priests.

All this would seem to suggest that "the Body of Christ" (which is what St. Paul called the church) needs to go on a crash diet which means that if nothing else, there needs to be a serious attempt to cut back on the production of new teachings and laws.  But more likely, only something a theological "liposuction" or some other really drastic procedure to remove all the excess will finally get Christianity back in shape.

R W Kropf 1/25/06                     

Obesity.doc  580 words      06-01-25.html