Okay, so a few years ago, I was teaching a course on Paul’s letters to the small Christian community in Corinth, which you could for convenience sake understand as the Vegas of the ancient world. And when we got to the part where Paul is trying – laboriously – to explain the concept of discretion to this community, I went off on a bit of a tangent and used some outlandish examples as metaphors. And the Voodoo Chicken was born.
As I go back and sort and organize all of the content I’ve been creating for the last three years in the Exegete (because one day soon, there will be an App. Yes. There will…) I got to the place where I tell this story. And I wanted to share with you. :)
So, the original text from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 is below. Be careful – if the bible gives you hives, or if it’s just Paul’s terrible lack of good grammar, skim…
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth– as in fact there are many gods and many lords– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
So, now here is my ever-so-slightly irreverent explanation of this, including a voodoo chicken. Please, no slights to any practicing Vaudun was meant in the slightest – I was just groping in the dark for a religion that still practiced animal sacrifice. Kindly refrain from making any pretty dolls with my face on, or sending zombies after me.
Once upon a time there was a Voodoo Chicken. It was known as Voodoo Chicken because it was used in a vaudun ritual, but you know, it was also marinated afterwards in the most mouthwatering fashion. And you know, a dinner party is a dinner party. You can’t fault your host for their odd taste in religious piety when they serve mouthwateringly good roasted chicken. Some of us like to say a little, unobtrusive blessing over our food, but to each their own, right? And since we all know (in our separate religions) that ours is the only right one, there’s no harm in letting other people attempt to invoke a god that doesn’t actually exist, so live and let live. And pass the chicken.
This is all well and good when you’re surrounded by people who are firm in their faith, whatever that faith may be. The Vauduns know that eating the Voodoo Chicken will bring them closer to fine, and the Christians know that the Vauduns really know how to roast a chicken or twelve, and that their own understanding of God requires neither chicken nor lack of chicken for Divine Union.
However, it all goes to hell in a hand basket, but quick when you’ve got newbies in your midst. Newbies get a little rabid, you know, and they’re really clear about wanting to get things Perfectly Correct and Appropriate. It really hits the fan when your newbie is their oldie. Then you’ve got someone looking at your enjoyment of the damn chicken (whose not actually damned, just damned inconvenient) and their knee jerk reaction is that you’re getting a little closer to fine, when it’s really just the seasonings. Now, these newbies know it’s not Divine Union, because our God doesn’t go in for Chicken. This is about the time that the confusion and resentment sets in. Perhaps there’s even some serious doubt about the bigger things of life – they are newbies, remember.
So, you know. Practice discretion. Not because there’s anything wrong with the Om Nommy goodness of the Vaudun’s chicken dinners, but because in the long run, is your gastronomical satisfaction really worth causing that much angst amongst the newbies? Give the Voodoo Chicken a pass while they’re in the room, for heaven’s sake. You can always have some next week.