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FIRST-PERSON: Indulgence, as urged by ‘Chocolat,’ leads to cultural sickness & death

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Discipline, while not a “four-letter word” has certainly come to have a negative connotation in contemporary culture. In general, discipline is viewed as restrictive and oppressive. When used in reference to religion, critics present it as a form of unyielding legalism.

Nowhere are America’s prevailing pop culture views about discipline more on display than in the popular movie “Chocolat.”

An adaptation of Joanne Harris’ book of the same name, the film is set in a small French village in the late 1950s. The community is repressed and ruled by a strong, self-righteous mayor who goes so far as to rewrite the village priest’s sermons.

On the surface, the community is ordered and moral. However, the reality is a group of people suffering from all manner of social ills. The strict puritanical discipline embraced by the villagers produces absolutely nothing positive in their lives.

With Lent about to begin, a woman suddenly appears on the scene. While her main purpose seems to be to open a chocolaterie, in reality she is there to challenge the religious status quo.

As the movie unfolds, the chocolate wares peddled by the woman have a profound effect on those who partake of them. The tasty morsels seem to be the cure for all kinds of ills, from sexual dysfunction to family estrangement. A powerful byproduct is an overwhelming urge to indulge in the sensuous.

By choosing to place the story’s setting during Lent, a time of fasting and discipline for Catholics and some Christians, Harris is challenging the notion of discipline as a virtue. The characters in the movie are faced with a dilemma: Embrace the traditional concept of Lent by denying self or indulge in the irresistible chocolate.

When the indulgence produces deliverance and fulfillment, the statement is clear. Discipline and self-restraint are impotent and lead only to shallow, insecure hypocrisy. Indulgence is the way of happiness and true fulfillment.

American culture has swallowed the message of “Chocolat.” From spending to sex, we eschew disciplined restraint for unfettered freedom. Can’t afford the finer things in life you so richly deserve? Don’t wait and save, purchase it with your credit card. Want to have sex with the object of your affections? Don’t wait until marriage; simply make sure you use a condom. Need to lose a few pounds? Don’t deny yourself your favorite foods, just pop a pill and eat whatever you want.

This new “wisdom” flies in the face of time-tested truth. An ancient proverb says, “Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline.” Unchecked indulgence will leave a person, and a culture, bankrupt and embarrassed.

The message of “Chocolat,” like the candy, is very tempting. However, embrace too much of either, and you’re apt to get sick. Teen violence, moral relativity and the acceptance of all manner of perversion are symptoms of a culture showing signs of illness. Someone has to start asking, “Is there a doctor in the house?” If not, the sickness will only become more acute. At that point, death is not far behind.
Boggs, whose column appears each Friday in Baptist Press, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs