Monday, January 23, 2012

Why "Organic" Living is Not the Best Way

Over the last few years, my wife and I have been trying to eat and live a bit more “organically.” Although we had been considering this decision for some time, it was the birth of our first daughter, and our desire to give her the healthiest environment possible, that provided the impetus to try out this “lifestyle.”

Sure, we still make mistakes (lots of them, in fact), and, no, we are not totally crazed hippies (whatever your definition of that might be…).

And yet, although we have embraced this “lifestyle” (at least, to a certain extent), I think there are two serious flaws with “organic” living.


“Organic” living can lead to idolatry and arrogance.

Now, be sure to hear what I am not saying: I am not saying that people should not eat healthy, or exercise regularly, or live consciously, or do what they think is best for their family.

Also, I am not saying that “organic” living always leads to idolatry and arrogance; I am saying that it can lead to idolatry and arrogance.

When we begin to trust in the food we eat, the exercise we endure, the supplements we take, the clothing we wear, the bicycle we ride to work, etc., we can place that in front of what ought to be our top priority, namely God in Christ.

If we look at the biblical definition of idolatry, we should understand it as placing anything above God. Most already understand that we can put many items into this category (wealth, sex, prestige, knowledge, etc.), and yet we should not be so naïve to think that “organic” living could not also fall into this category.

As early as Exodus 20, God instructed the Israelites with the Ten Commandments, wherein God specifically states: “You shall have no other gods before me.” So, what we ought to consider is this, “Are we placing our healthy, chic lifestyle on a higher pedestal of worship than we are God in Christ?” If we can answer in the affirmative (at any time!), then we are in fact in need of repentance for idolatry.

Additionally, “organic” living can lead to arrogance. Within the “organic” community there is a pervasive attitude that demonstrates an “I am (or know) better than you” mentality. Some might consider this to be a harsh judgment, but I have been able to detect this attitude for two main reasons:

First, because of my theological training I am often tempted to look down on others for either not caring for or understanding certain theological truths that I consider to be extremely important. Because I have (and do) struggle with this temptation, it has become easier to see this attitude demonstrated in other areas of life. Second, because my family is partially within this culture, I often observe those (both within my own family and those outside) who think less of others (sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly) because they do not either care for or understand the importance of “organic” living.

Perhaps what is best is to consider Paul’s argument from Rom. 14-15, and then to apply it to our present-day context, namely that those who are under conscience to eat a certain way (amongst sundry other “organic” lifestyle choices) ought not to judge those who do not yet have the knowledge or desire to render unto that lifestyle. Conversely, those not adhering to this lifestyle (whether in part or full) ought to not judge those living “organically” for the lifestyle choices they believe to be best.

In sum, my hope and prayer is that God would crush both idolatry and arrogance within the community of Christ in order that we might have charity on the non-essentials and move towards an ever-increasing love for God in Christ.


  1. Very interesting observation. I agree that there are some people that take everything to the extreme, and we shouldn't look down on people for eating how they eat, but there is a difference between judging and informing. Here is an example: Let's say you meet a non-christian and get into a conversation about God. You realize this non-christian has some skewed ideas of God, so you feel the need to inform them of the true nature of God and how he has changed your life. Now, lets take the same example and apply it to food. I have found that Organic and natural food is much healthier for you than conventional food and I'm talking to a friend. They are under the impression that just because it's a vegetable it is automatically healthy. As one who has researched this topic, I feel the need to correct this misconception so they can be more informed. I think anyone with a genuine concern for others would do the same.

    Rachel and I have found that eating naturally grown, organic foods is more fulfilling. As Christians we believe we are taking better care of our bodies that God has created, and we are eating foods that He created and are intended for us to eat. Food that is from God's earth, and not from a lab. Therefore I disagree with you that "organic" living is not necessarily better living, At least as a Christian.

  2. let me just add this: you are correct that it CAN lead to idolatry, but that is not a reason to say its not the best way. I could say the same about going to church. you CAN idolize your church or pastor, so does that justify saying church is not the best way to fellowship, or that you shouldn't go to church?

    And again, I have met people who are arrogant about their food and think they are better than others, but like you said, even studying at a seminary can lead some people to be arrogant, so it is true in every aspect of life.

    Just thought I needed to address those points. The truth is, God has given us everything we need on this earth. He provides for us. We don't need to rely on Man-made foods (processed, GMOs), it's just more convient for most people.

  3. Dan - I think that you have an excellent example of food idolatry in the comments made by Ryan. He equates the truth of God with his opinion on foods...

    "You realize this non-christian has some skewed ideas of God, so you feel the need to inform them of the true nature of God... Now, lets take the same example and apply it to food. I have found that..."

    The true nature of God and what Ryan has found out (via his experience) are not on the same level!

    It is striking to me that food is what the first church had to deal with (see Peter's dream in Acts, or 1 Corinthians 8 which includes "Food will not commend us to God...") and the issues they were dealing with were more spiritual. Now some on the organic bandwagon almost equate cage-free with Christ-like. It can be a religion with Whole Foods and Trader Joes as it's temples.

    When we are relating to people we need to see them as God sees them - souls that last forever clothed in a body that is perishing. Who cares if they like to down the Twinkies - they need Christ and Christ alone!!

  4. @Jeremy. here is an example of arrogance. "When we are relating to people we need to see them as God sees them - souls that last forever clothed in a body that is perishing. Who cares if they like to down the Twinkies - they need Christ and Christ alone!!"

    First of all, where in scripture does is say God sees us as immortal souls trapped in a decaying mortal body? I believe you are mixing God up with Plato. for 1 Tim 6: 15-16 says

    "which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, WHO ALONE HAS IMMORTALITY, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen."

    Second, it is arrogant to say you can eat whatever you want no matter how bad it is for you, as long as you know Jesus. "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." I believe that says all that needs to be said.

    Now to the first part of your reply. You have successfully misconstrued my point. I was pointing out that if you have knowledge, you should feel the responsibility to share it to those who are mis-informed on a subject wether it be biblical, or nutritional or whatever. plain and simple.

    1. Ryan,
      Unfortunately, you are right on the arrogant point. My pride is horrible and it shows up in the worst way in blog response interaction. I apologize.

      My "souls will last forever" wording comes from the catechism we are teaching our children;

      Q. 18. What did God give Adam and Eve besides bodies?
      A. He gave them souls that could never die.

      Q. 19. Have you a soul as well as a body?
      A. Yes; I have a soul that can never die.

      Q. 20. How do you know that you have a soul?
      A. Because the Bible tells me so.

      This was adapted for kids from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
      For those who have been washed by the blood of Christ, saved from the wrath of God by the work of Him on the cross, our souls have been given the gift of eternal life. Our bodies will die. The good news is that they will be ressurected one day too.

      As far as 1 Corinthians 6:19 - make sure you take that in context. Paul is dealing with a church that has rampant sexual immorality running through it. verse 19 is the culmination of a plea to "flee from sexual immorality". In fact, in regards to food, he says in verse 13 "'food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food' - and God will destroy both one and the other." Food isn't the issue!
      The Bible deals with a couple of sin issues when it comes to food; gluttony (Prov 23:21, 28:7) and self-control (Titus 2:12 and many others).

      Bad nutrition is not sin! Being controlled by your appetite is sin. Overeating to the point of gluttony is sin. Not eating to the Glory of God is sin.

      But if a brother wants to enjoy processed food to the Glory of God in a self-controled manner - there is nothing wrong with that!

      The problem with using 1 Cor 6:19 in the manner in which you used it is that you are taking a non-sin issue and making it a sin-issue. Your logic says...
      "The Bible says to 'glorify God in your body'.
      I have read in non-Biblical literature that processed food is bad for my body.
      Therefore, the Bible says that processed food is sin."
      Do you see the dangerous jump there? That logic could be used to promote all sorts of unbiblical ideas!

      I don't think it is wrong to consider the implications of us having the gift of the Holy Spirit residing in us. But I do think the implications has to be first and foremost getting rid of the sin in us!

      As far as sharing "knowledge" - We are commanded to share the Gospel. To not do so would be sin. That is at a completely different level than sharing any nutritional information that you have learned.

      To summarize my points - I am not against healthy eating. I just don't want to see it become a major issue for the church. I also see it as a very trendy thing right now and I am usually wary of trendy things. When the world jumps at something - I want to step back and take a look at it through the truth of the Gospel. And in the light of the Gospel, whether I eat organic or processed foods is pretty unimportant.

  5. I look at organic foods as something that shows how perfect God's way is. We will feel our best when we eat the food that God provided for us, the way we were intended to eat it. Man made food will make you sick, fat, and miserable. I don't think there is a sin in eating any kind of food, I just think it's amazing how the food the grows from the earth can heal our bodies and minds because God made it to provide everything our bodies need.

  6. For the sake of redundancy, I would echo Ryan and Anne's comments: for me, it's less of an elitist trend and more of a commitment to Biblical authenticity and intentionality in every phase of life (including the act of preparing/sharing meals, which does hold a good deal of spiritual significance for me). In this way, it becomes part of my theology, not my idolatry (I have plenty of other idols I'm working on, mind you - case in point: last night's 'niners-giants game, ha).

    While we're on idolatry, I'd be interested to see your thoughts-in-writing on how idolatry affects you? It doesn't seem that this subject is a personal struggle, but what about other things? Working out, Facebook, iTelephones, etc.?

  7. Thank you all for your comments! I’m surprised at the response this post has received (it is second in number of reads only to my review of Love Wins).

    Of first importance, it seems that I need to point out, again, that I am not opposed to or against “organic” lifestyle choices. What I am opposed to or against is idolatry and arrogance based on “organic” lifestyle choices. As noted in the first portion of the post, my family adheres to “organic” living where/when we can make sense of it and afford it. The main thrust behind the argument is that idolatry and arrogance (in any aspect of life) squanders the glory of God.

    To continue, the title of this post, which seems to have rubbed many the wrong-way, was twofold:

    1. To draw readers (which was accomplished!!), and
    2. If read in light of the argument made within the post, to be understood as “organic” living is not the best way when lived idolatrously or arrogantly. Therefore, Ryan is partially correct in stating that idolizing pastors and churches does not necessarily make church attendance superfluous; however, my contention is that Ryan is only partially correct, namely if we are presently idolizing our pastors or churches, then perhaps what is best (at that specific moment) is a time of absence and introspection to determine the placement of our true affections; perhaps continuing to attend church whilst idolizing our pastors or churches will only continue to feed the flame of idolatry rather than quench it.

    Now, to address some additional points within the comments:

    @Ryan: I think it’s important to note that there can be a difference between judging and informing, but that does not make it a normative occurrence. In other words, informing someone about something can still be judgmental (i.e. arrogant) in tone and delivery. This is what we ought to caution ourselves against.

    Moreover, I think Jeremy captured most of what I would say regarding both gospel proclamation :: informative nutritional announcements and the proper understanding of 1 Corinthians 8. Although I do not think I would want to completely dichotomize the two, I do think we also need caution here in not relegating the gospel message to that of informative nutritional announcements.

    Also, I might eventually write a blog post on the(supposed) immortality of the soul, as I know you have brought this idea up on more than one occasion.

    @Jim: Might you elaborate on your understanding of biblical authenticity and intentionality as it relates to “organic” living? I am more than interested to hear you flesh this out! And, although I think you would agree with this, it is probably still worth mentioning that making “organic” living part of our theology is only good insofar as any aspect of our theology does not trump our worship of God in Christ.

    Lastly, it might be worthwhile to eventually write more in-depth on my own personal struggles with idolatry, but to at least provide a quick response, I would say that my current idols I am fighting against would be knowledge, prestige, and self-worth/pity.

    I hope this has clarified a few things!

  8. I could be stating an obvious question, but is the need theologically justify any kind of food choice a little trivial? I can worship my left toe too, but its not likely so the discussion just seems a little unnecessary.

    Unless you want to talk about worshiping left toes. No judgement.

  9. For the record, I have a nice set of left toes and they do offer me a superior lifestyle.

  10. Anything can become a point of arrogance. On point to organic living, if you let the food you eat become a point of arrogance you just have an arrogance issue. Honestly, most people do have problems with pride. It's simply the human condition. We like to look down on people and we like to find ways that we are better than others. The only thing that changes that in us is Christ, and even then we have to submit and understand that nothing makes us any better than anyone else. That being said, when we moved and can no longer easily access organic food my health deteriorated to the point that I have now decided that I will drive 2.5 hours to grocery shop. I'm no good to anyone when I am this sick. Until I got out of town for a couple weeks I really didn't think that the chemicals I was ingesting were to blame for how I feel. Now I know that my body can't function well without organics. Do I look down on others for not doing this? Nope, I actually envy that they don't seem to be as sensitive. ENVY! Well, now I have something else to surrender. :)