Criticism of Religion

Is giving stuff up good for you?

I’ve been pretty public about the fact that I’m an ex-Catholic. And of all the things about the Catholic Church that I might miss, Lent is most assuredly NOT on that list. Half the time, my birthday would fall in Lent (my birthday is Feb. 14), and while my parents were as cool as possible on the day of my birth, usually the next day I was expected to abstain from sweets or whatever I was giving up that year (usually it was sweets – most of us in the house were trying to lose weight, so maybe not the noblest of choices, but there it is). I have seen a couple of my fellow bloggers post about choosing to do Lent, and it’s all I can do to restrain myself from asking them, “Why would you observe Lent [i.e. punish yourself] voluntarily? Do you hate yourself that much?” (See what I did there?)

But since I am an adult now, and for the most part a rational person (except when I’m not), I am in fact capable of looking at this issue more dispassionately. In other words, is there any benefit to observing Lent? My own initial, uneducated position would be that it would probably depend on the person doing the observing. If you are inclined to indulge yourself a lot, then maybe a little self-restriction would be good for you. If, on the other hand, you mostly deny yourself, then maybe you should skip Lent and think about showing some love to yourself. You know, everything in moderation.

That’s where I start from. Now let’s see where the research takes us.

[One hour spent doing research on the Internet]

Okay, let’s resume.

I found two articles (on Time and Science 2.0) that mention that observing Lent, specifically giving something up, is a good way to exercise willpower. And that’s great, but that’s what you call side benefits. This article makes it clear that that is not the real reason you observe Lent:

Whatever you decide to fast from, remember, as Steven Clark likes to say: “Lent is more than a diet.” Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. So, while losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, all fasting should be done for God’s glory and spiritual growth.

The same article also says:

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity.

And this article from The Federalist says this:

It is a time when Christians mourn over their sin (called repentance)…

In other words, lots of mea culpas, Acts of Contrition, and generally concentrating on the natural sinful state of humanity.

There are other ways to work on your willpower. The American Psychological Association has this to say on the subject of willpower. If you search for “willpower” on Amazon (in the Books category), you will get 1,358 results.

But you knew I wasn’t going to come down in favor of Lent, didn’t you? I think my biases are pretty obvious at this point.

However, if you want to encounter a couple of other different viewpoints about Lent, you may want to read this article and this one, both from The Guardian. The first one brings up a good point about the validity of the sacrifice when you get to choose what you’re sacrificing, and the second one talks about secular morality in derogatory tones (so not sure I agree with that one, but hey, your mileage may vary and all that).

So maybe I’m stuck forever viewing Lent through the (dark) colored lenses of my past experiences. That’s okay; unless I go back (and why would I, when I have found a faith and gods that value me as a person?), it doesn’t make much of a difference.

What about you? Do you observe Lent? Are you a non-Christian observing Lent, and can you shed some light on why you do it? Please leave your comments below.

11 thoughts on “Is giving stuff up good for you?

  1. All religions have some form of sacrifice involved in their belief system. Part of that, I think is to encourage charity or to keep people from worshiping “things”. In my mother’s Jewish household growing up, her parents would fast, but the children would not be required to do so. Muslims have Ramadan – more fasting. And my father’s mother who was a Christian Scientist – gave up reason for madness – she was a nurse. My favorite quote on the subject (and I don’t remember the source) is “I gave up being Catholic for Lent.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Glenn, I questioned your first statement at first, but then realized that yes, even my religion does have a sacrifice element in the Breaking Pots ceremony on the Kemetic New Year (in this case you’re giving up “isfet” – chaos, bad habits – trying to be a better person). Sorry about your Christian Scientist grandmother; that must have been difficult to come to terms with. I love your favorite quote on Lent – almost makes me wish it applied to my own situation so I could legitimately say it. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. I’m a non-Christian UU observing Lent. When I was a Christian I usually gave up chocolate. I actually feel similarly to you about that now.

    But UU Lent seems to be something a bit different. There is a word to think, write, or post a photo about each day– last week’s included curiosity, fear, and justice. Today’s was gratitude. I’m finding that there really is very little about the old concept of Lent in this observance.

    I like Lent in the same way I like Advent: I like the discipline of waiting and of delayed gratification, of savoring experiences. I hate rushing into or out of things. Lent helps me transition from the doldrums of winter to the rebirth of spring–which is how I’ve come to view Easter, now that I do not celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like the idea of UU Lent as you describe it, concentrating on a different concept each day. I don’t know if I had stuck with the UU church in Tallahassee if they would have observed it the same way…

      I guess I, too, have started seeing Easter as a spring holiday, and I like your idea of using Lent to transition from winter to spring. Great idea – thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am trying it out, but its less about giving something up and more about a time of reflecting on my virtues (as I celebrate the Equinox by honoring Ma’at). I am trying it out (1) to honor my ancestors (who were Catholic), and (2) to remind myself/meditate on those things I value and feel are good to cultivate. I am giving up sweets, but this is something I do periodically anyway and is connected to a resolution I had at the start of 2016. (I also have a cheat day each week.)

    In celebrating the equinox, I also focus on balance (the night and day are equal) and abundance. I am very often surrounded by abundance that this “step back” helps me to appreciate that winter could be a rough time, that spring was welcomed for the variety of “blessing” it might bring (new foods to plant/harvest, warmer temperatures, more sun, flowers, etc.), and that I have a lot to be thankful for on the regular.

    I think the “denial” bit is (for me) all about learning to appreciate what I have access to, learning to honor my health a bit more, and coming to back into a more regular practice. I don’t usually fixate on denial or being overly disciplined (outside of work), so attempting to bring discipline in isn’t so much as suffering needlessly as it is a time to learn about the things I use as crutches when I am stressed and how to cope more adaptively . I also wouldn’t call giving up sweets suffering, but it is an exercise that has lead to growth.

    I will say that the focal point of this “lenten” season is actually a short rite I do each day which involves some prayers and meditations and some quick offerings. This has probably had the biggest payout, because (I think psychologically) the idea that it is for “something special” and temporary makes me more motivated to to it.

    Maybe Lent is misleading…my “lent” certainly doesn’t center around any Christian themes, other than deepening my spiritual practice and strengthening my new years resolutions. I guess I keep the term because it hearkens to my kith and kin, who are undergoing similar exercises at this time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like your idea of celebrating the Equinox and focusing on balance. In my readings, I haven’t found that the ancient Egyptians really focused on the Equinox that much; I wonder why that is? I know the Nile was of primary importance to them, but they must have known about the equinoxes; they were pretty advanced for their time period. Have you found out anything in your research? Anyway, it sounds like you found a way to relate the Equinox to Ma’at, and I like that, as well as the idea of honoring your ancestors (an idea I might appreciate in my own circumstances more if there were more “time distance” between me and the Catholic members of my family). Very thoughtful post – thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When I first decided to incorporate the solstices and equinoxes into my practice, I scoured the net and library for some hint of what or how or if the Ancient Egyptians celebrated this time. I can’t remember finding any. So, I did it because it was relevant to me and other parts of my practice. But if you are going for straight-up recon…I don’t think you could fit it in.

        Liked by 1 person

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