As a Universalist, I have a naturalistic view of hell. Actions carry their own consequences, which often create hellish conditions for ourselves or others. One sin that clearly comes pre-packaged with its own punishment is gluttony, as I learned last week.
We had a big family farewell dinner at a seafood restaurant in Seattle, and I ordered the two pounds of clams and ate them all. Every single one. If you’ve ever steamed clams yourself, you know that there are always a couple that don’t open up, and that that is precisely the way to decide which clams are okay to eat. The ones that emerge from the pot still closed should not be eaten. They are bad–again, not theologically, but biologically.
Well, when I came to a couple of closed clams, I pried them open and ate them. I wasn’t really thinking; I was immersed in conversation with my interesting in-laws, and I don’t think very well about anything else when I’m in an interesting conversation. And what vague idea did amble across my mind about discarding closed clams was shouted down by my desire for as many clams as I could eat.
At bedtime that night, I felt a little under the weather. At 1:30 a.m., I woke feeling distinctly ill, visions of those last few clams dancing in my head. The nausea and the knowledge that it was my own damn fault struck simultaneously, so I didn’t even have the consolation of self-pity. I looked up food poisoning on the internet and decided it was too late to do anything except drink a big glass of water and wait for the bug to tear through my system. On a travel day, too: no hope of lying in bed whimpering, since we had to pack up and fly home.
I seem to have gotten lucky, because I got back to sleep, and come morning, I had nothing worse than some tummy upset and a mild case of cold sweats, which didn’t lift until about 24 hours had passed, but stayed manageable. Some bacillus or staphylococcus fired a shot across my bow, and I learned a lesson. Gluttony isn’t worth it. Throw out the closed clams.