Americans eat more ice cream than any other country – a whopping four to five gallons a year per person! A good chunk of that is eaten by a much smaller portion of the population, present company included. I love ice cream and I eat a lot of it! To justify, perhaps, this nearly sinful consumption of the sweet, creamy stuff, I offer the following theology of ice cream.
It is tempting to do this by making great use of Augustine of Hippo’s understanding of the greatest Good (God) and lesser goods (every created thing). In this venerable theological construct there is nothing inherently (or naturally) bad since evil is not a thing. Everything was created good (“And God saw that it was good…”) and only becomes evil, bad or sinful through its (mis-)use by fallen humankind. This relies also on Augustine’s distinction (articulated clearly in his On Christian Teaching) between things that are meant to be enjoyed (God) and things that are meant to be used (everything else), with some things meant to be both used and enjoyed. Going this route results in statements like, ice cream is a lesser good that we can use (for nourishment?) in order to enjoy (albeit lesser) goods that God has lavished on us. In this way Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey is a vehicle by which I ascend to God in rapturous delight, allowing the lesser good of ice cream that I am using to bring me to full enjoyment of he who is the Good. This would certainly make the eating of ice cream into a religious experience.
Another avenue might be to pursue a more biblical route. John the Baptist ate locusts and honey and we all know that honey is sweet. If the forerunner of Christ dabbled in the sweet stuff of his day then certainly we can indulge ourselves a bit on Häagen-Daaz’s Vanilla Honey Bee, right? Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth” (Matt. 15:11), which seems to be a good verse to hold onto when one is going back to the freezer for another helping of PET’s Chocolate Moose Tracks. The apostle Paul says that “bodily training is [only] of some value” (1 Tim. 4:8) and given the fact that “ice cream” seems to be the antonym for “exercise” then this verse appears to crack the door open a bit to consuming at least a little of Turkey Hill’s Vanilla Bean.
Perhaps a more contemporary theological argument would be to embrace the fact that Jesus, as is so often stated, hung out not only with saints but with sinners. What would Jesus do? These days he would probably head to his local organic coffee shop (but probably not the local Starbuck’s or Gloria Jean’s because these are certainly too Roman for him; that is, too enmeshed in the dominant culture) and, when he had a hankering for some of the creamy sweet stuff, cruise over to his local Froyo dispensary or flash freeze creamery. He would hang out at these storehouses of frozen treats with all of the ice cream scribes and Pharisees who deride those who prefer a Dairy Queen Blizzard or McFlurry to the non-fat, non-HFCS offerings that they consume. Jesus would call them out on their “because I eat organic I am more righteous” hypocrisy, preaching to them that ice cream of all kinds was made for man and not man for ice cream. He would call them out by demanding that he who has never craved Breyer’s Hershey’s Caramel Kisses should throw the first cone. What would Jesus do? He would eat Cold Stone Creamery’s The Pie Who Loved Me and ask his followers to do the same.
In short, Christians must eat ice cream in order to enjoy the goods of God’s creation and the Good himself. More importantly, Jesus and his earliest followers would eat ice cream so you should too!