Gluten-free for lent

I have a friend who has given up gluten for lent.  We had an interesting discussion today about whether this would be annoying to someone suffering from celiac disease.  We considered this test case:  would it be OK, or not OK, to rent a wheelchair and give up walking for Lent?  Clearly not OK, it seems to me, but I’m having trouble formulating the correct decision principle.  Lots of people give up sweets for Lent, and this doesn’t seem insensitive in any way to the world’s diabetics.

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7 thoughts on “Gluten-free for lent

  1. plm says:

    I think a short (perhaps tautological) answer is: Can your giving up be construed as (or suspected to be) a statement against some people?

    But we all have different assumptions on social rules, different senses of how sensitive other people are, what is allowed or not, what annoys us, what annoys others, how much we give, how much we owe, etc. I think you may find people in wheelchair who would find giving up walking funny, and that would depend alot on other details of your telling it to them (like being aggressive, or showing sincere sympathy, or good humor, or perhaps a convincing history to justify yourself). Similarly giving up gluten and displaying despise for celiacs would not be nice.

    The sweets example is clear: people appreciate sweets alot, and alot of people give up sweets willingly for some period of time without being diabetic, and it is a known lent practice. Thus, a priori, it is probably done on good will.

    There is probably a range of things that can be reasonably given up, out of which you will be treated suspiciously whatever you do. Diet things are common and not too difficult to observe, thus accepted, while something as dramatic as giving up walking, it is so hard to conceive the impact on the pledger… why don’t you first give up sweets, and gluten perhaps (if you want to be tolerably original, after all you’re already a mathematician)… you must have serious psychological troubles…

  2. peveteaux says:

    If your friend decided to give up carbs for Lent, that would be a dietary choice that is common, and understandable. And that’s probably what your friend is thinking: Hey, I’ll give up gluten (actually carbs) and maybe lose a few pounds!

    Giving up gluten just means s/he doesn’t understand why people actually need to give up gluten, and what gluten is, and why it’s bad for people. It’s not offensive to this Celiac, but it does show a complete lack of understanding and comprehension on the topic of gluten.

  3. Peter says:

    As somebody with a celiac wife & daughter, I don’t think they would care at all. On the other hand, given the high cost of truly gluten free food (for example, a loaf of gluten free bread here in Canada is about $8), perhaps a more appropriate thing to do would be to eat the same food as always (or less of it) and give the extra $ to some charity.

  4. nichole says:

    This is fascinating – I’ve been mulling it over since you posted it. (None of the following reflects on your friend’s situation per se, it’s just general musing.)

    I think it hinges largely on *why* a person gives something up for Lent. Lenten religious devotions often include more prayer, more charity, and less indulgence of one’s own desires, often with the added layer of being really quiet about it (if you’re observing meat-free Fridays and you’re eating dinner at someone’s house on a Friday and they made beef stir fry, you just eat it).

    “Giving up for Lent” can also have cultural or personal significance. A cultural example could be the Wisconsin fish fry frenzy this time of year. In my (Anglo-Catholic) house, we rarely eat fish, though we do skip meat a few days a week. In Lent, we tend to eat fish or seafood every Friday. Hardly a sacrifice, in our cultural context.

    So do pescetarians or vegetarians get annoyed at our sudden fever for fish? I don’t know.

    A personal example could be the one peveteaux alludes to. Abstinence is such a key concept in our experience of food that it’s easy to confuse “dieting” with “fasting.”

    And finally, Peter’s idea is pretty good if you’re including charity in your Lenten devotions.

  5. NDE says:

    Not an exact parallel, but imagine they gave up bacon/pork/lard for Lent. (I wouldn’t be offended, though other Jews may feel differently.) For that matter, I suppose going Kosher for Lent (at least using the Torah’s original definition of kosher food, if not the Talmudic elaborations) might even make some theological sense, since Jesus surely kept Kosher. But I don’t know if that’s a common tradition anywhere in Christendom.

  6. cl says:

    I like nichole’s framing it as giving up an indulgence. In my opinion, this helps explain why it’s not okay in the latter case of giving up walking. Suggesting to the disabled that walking in an indulgence is indeed inappropriate and insulting.

  7. quasihumanist says:

    One difference is that using a wheelchair involves a continual implicit deception. Any time one goes around in a wheelchair, one implicitly broadcasts that one is disabled. Giving up sweets or gluten is not nearly so public. It is reasonably likely that anyone who notices you having given up gluten could be told you were doing so for Lent, whereas not everyone seeing you in a wheelchair can be told you were doing so for Lent.

    Contrast this with another possibility, that you give up walking and go around on your knees for Lent. (As I understand it, going on knees, though not for all of Lent, was a common Medieval penance.) This does not seem nearly so offensive.

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