By William J. Furney
Almost everywhere I go on my travels, all I see are enormous people carrying enormous bags and dining on huge meals and downing waterfalls of drinks. The men look like they’re expecting sextuplets, and in warmer climes they’re all too happy to whip off their shirts and display their mammoth midrifs as though they hadn’t a care in the world and are so incredibly proud of that mountain of fat they’ve managed to dangerously accumulate in their vastly overstrained bodies.
The women look like they’ve had a fight with an invading service station air pump, and lost.
On a recent flight, an obese man and woman, who I presumed were a couple and who were inebriated and overly merry — casually singing badly — managed to squeeze themselves into their tiny seats behind me and when the trolley came by they ordered as much food and drink as they could — although you’d hardly class their purchases as anything designed to sustain human life as most of what they had was junk.
Everywhere you look, gluttony is all around. Many people, it seems, just cannot control the most basic aspects of themselves: their appetite for food, for spending, for endless consumption — and it’s not just their bodies that are paying an incredibly high price, but the planet too. Excessive consumption is killing us all.
We’re now in the midst of the most consumerist time of all, kicked off just days ago with Black Friday, which, it turns out, is not enough to be encapsulated in a mere 24 hours of global spending on things we really don’t need but has stretched — much like all those stomachs — to a week or even a month. Soon enough we can expect Christmas to really be every day. And why not? For most, the message of the birth of Christ has long since been lost anyway: we only want the good stuff and none of the too-hard praying or even spirituality.
Just as the Western world is growing fatter by the day, so too is it losing its religion, and many people are proud to call themselves atheist (myself included). And a growing number in the developing world where it’s a criminal offense not to believe in God are standing up and declaring they’re not a follower or disciple of any deity and wish to believe whatever they want, including in nothing but a universe and a great, big void. Facing penalities including capital punishment for apostaty takes incredible courage, and brave athiests who have come out of the closet in Muslim countries deserve special applause.
Here in the bursting Western world, where rotund populations consume like starving locusts, we want to have our religion cake and eat it too. So at Christmas, it’s all nativity scenes and Christmas trees and Santa Claus and endless strings of twinkling lights and gaudy baubles and shimmering tinsel and smorgasbord feats upon glutinous, blood-drenched feats wrapped up in a heady makebelieve that it’s the most wonderful time of the year as we’re weighed down by more stuff we don’t want and our environment suffers from all that carbon and plastic and paper and board harvested for our throwaway, wasteful society that sees its lord and saviour as the mighty dollar, euro or pound.
Probably, as an atheist, I’m the most reglious of the people I know, including in my family, because I wish the baby Jesus — an undeniable historical figure — a happy birthday, even if he was actually born in October. And then I get on with enjoying the Winter Festival, as I call the festive season.
And I also don’t feel the need to slaughter beasts and birds for my Winter Festival spread — if it’s a time of love and compassion at all, surely the ultimate hypocrisy is to take the lives of our fellow sentient beings, to unnecessarily gorge on their murdered flesh and further destroy our health and the environment.
What about giving really meaningful gifts this year, instead of the usual tat that’s either forgotten, binned or returned as soon as the shops open? Things like carbon credits/offsets for frequent fliers; activities like hill walking tours, or a gym membership; helping to save endangered species like the orangutan, whose Indonesian and Malaysian forest habitats are rapidly being destroyed because of our addiction to palm oil; donating to charities that actually help the homeless, disadvantaged children and the poor (not just lining their own pockets); and so many more worthwhile endeavours and causes.
It is always better, after all, to give than receive. And it helps to take the visceral sting out of all that greed and hypocrisy.
- Main photography by William J. Furney