An Atheist’s Version of Lent February 27, 2009

An Atheist’s Version of Lent

Austin Cline wrote this article last year, but it’s a great idea, so why not bring it up again during this time of Lent:

The principle behind Lent is asceticism: denying material, physical pleasures for the sake of the soul. Atheists reject Christian mythology and can turn Lent on its head by observing anti-Lent. If Christians do penance for their sins, you can rack up new “sins” by test driving new material, physical pleasures. This life is the only one we have, so expand your comfort zone by trying new things.

To hell with giving anything up!

Austin offers up a few examples of things atheists should take up this time of year: “Try a Dangerous Hobby,” “Test Your Clothing Comfort Zone,” “Experiment Sexually.” Excellent.

What other anti-Lent activities are you actively pursuing this time of year?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’m giving up dumb supersitions for Lent.

  • I’d already decided to take up climbing, guess great minds thing alike and all that :p

  • I tend to make a point of gorging myself on the traditional fasting days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When I’m being particularly iconoclastic, I’ll have pancakes.

    But you know.. I do think there is value to fasting (or any other form of abstinence)just in terms of being a mental discipline exercise. I just wouldn’t do it during Lent.

  • ChrisO.

    Coincidentally, I just bought a motorcycle.

  • Bart the Pirate

    Reactionism is reaffirmation.

    I prefer atheism to anti-theism; for that reason I will neither practice lent nor “experiment sexually.”

  • Todd

    when people ask me what I’m giving up for Lent, I always tell them sobriety.

  • Miko

    Cline seems to be conflating “enjoying life” and “hedonism.” When theists give their stereotypical negative view of atheists, I often wonder if they’re intentionally describing him.

  • Flood

    The Irish are prevented by law from buying alcohol on good friday. Lent is usually spent stockpiling booze to avoid this potential sober catastrophe.

  • Seriously, I see Lent as a positive thing. Think of it this way: “for just a few weeks, I’ll eat simply one day a week and give the excess I would have spent to the less fortunate”.

    THAT is what the spirit of Lent was supposed to be about.

    Again, there is nothing wrong with fun, and I certainly am for pushing one’s limits to see what one can do.

    But there is a time and place for being contemplative and for sacrificing a little to help others out.

  • I know poking fun of theists is par for the course here, but is giving something up for Lent necessarily a bad thing? If you have a bad habit such as smoking, drinking to excess, etc., giving it up at Lent is as good a time as any.

  • Kate

    I’m with Ollie…I thought I was the only atheist who actually saw some value in the practice! Even though my boyfriend’s not Catholic, he practices Lent just as an exercise in self-discipline. When he gave up laziness (haha) for Lent last year, he picked up running and eventually ran three half-marathons last year. He’s still running.

    Like Ollie, there’s nothing that says it has to be done in this time period, but couldn’t we all benefit from the practice of self-discipline? That’s not just a religious practice…

  • Since those who fast are focused on food, how about trying new recipes during lent? My “discipline” will be to make something new at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be hedonistic. A new healthy recipe or a new frugal recipe works for me.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I’m with Arthwollipot. I used to be Catholic, but I gave it up for Lent.

  • Now your going to let the church schedule your debauchery? For an atheist the whole year is anti-Lent.

  • Like a few others mentioned, while Catholic reasoning for Lent may be flawed and I have a sneaking suspiscion that most do it out of habit and nothing else, I don’t know that choosing to temporarily give up something for reflection or self-analyzation is a bad thing.

    And in fact, I’d be willing to bet that only in Western-ized cultures is the concept seen as a bad thing at face value.

  • Bart the Pirate

    “Now your going to let the church schedule your debauchery? For an atheist the whole year is anti-Lent.”

    You nailed it!

  • My husband figures, since Lent is supposed to be about giving something up that’s VERY important to you, maybe he ought to give up his salvation for Lent. Praise the Lord.

  • withheld

    I still have plenty of my Catholic guilt, so I was actually going to try to observe all of the practices this year. I was going to really try to find the belief that I have lost, and reconnect with my faith. I didn’t last two hours. I can’t read a Bible anymore without seeing the flaws. I can’t listen to someone pray without mentally rolling my eyes. I’ve thought more about my faith in the last few months than I have in the last 10 years. I can’t force myself to believe.

    I think for Lent this year, I need to tell my wife I’m an atheist.

  • I love the anti-Lent idea, and was about to make a snarky remark about giving something up until I read what “withheld” wrote.

    Best wishes for navigating the waters of an interfaith marriage; from everything I’ve read, it’s a difficult task. Never forget that honesty is good, but be prepared to hear the “yoked with unbelievers” passage a lot…

  • Not an anti-Lent idea, but I always suggest giving up Christ for Lent if people are looking for ideas. I did it several years ago and never went back!

  • JSug

    Does buying a new car count? Even if it’s an environmentally friendly one?

  • withheld

    Thanks, dissident. We weren’t overly religious go begin with, so I wouldn’t get bible quotes. It is complicated though, because our kids go to Catholic school, and we are pretty involved with that. That’s going to be a touchy subject. It was my idea to send them there.

  • mvanstav

    I’d have to join in with those who don’t see Lent as a bad thing. I’ve used it as a practice in self discipline since even before I realized I wasn’t Catholic. I give up all carbonated beverages, which ends up great for my teeth. In the process, I remember again that most of the things I think I need, it turns out I just want. It turns out that even though pop and beer are pretty much my favorite beverages, it’s not that hard to do without for the duration of Lent, and I think that’s a good reminder.

  • label resistor

    Miko and Ollie make good points. OK, this post was probably just meant to be humorous and I’ve taken it way too seriously, but I find it sad that a significant number of atheists seem to just want to mock religion and not consider what good might be lurking underneath the layers of religious muck.

    No wonder I resist being labeled atheist and continue to consider ways I can comfortably use the term “God.” The best I’ve come up with is that my religion involves dealing with the mysteries I find significant and about which I don’t expect to find a logical explanation I can wrap my brain around. If cause and effect is universally true, was there an uncaused cause for the first cause? I can solve the chicken and egg problem (an almost chicken laid the first chicken egg), but I can’t wrap my brain around an almost caused or uncaused cause. So what’s wrong with personalizing this incredibly complicated ultimate reality a bit so I can relate to it better?

    Maybe somewhere in the myths of religion there are insights worth considering-things expressed colorfully that are deserving of some respect. Busting myths that have been taken way too seriously and who’s point has been lost is also deserving of some respect.

  • siveambrai

    If you like the idea of giving something up and having it be food related try giving up gluten. That’ll be a real test of willpower for you 🙂

    This year I’m finally giving up my religion as well as some pounds hopefully.

    I think the idea of anti-lent is interesting. As an individual that was raised Catholic, lent was really about becoming more familiar with things that you already know about, guilt mainly and social pressure for conformity. It was always a really big deal about what you are doing/giving up for Lent and frowned upon if you broke your promise. There was a lot of pressure to conform with these ideas and if your resolve didn’t hold up to certain standards there was a lot of outside guilt that you had to deal with. Really it was about limiting your boundaries and thoughts rather than experiencing new things.

  • Turrboenvy

    I suggested last year that I might give something up as a “personal growth” exercise. My wife thought it should be the internet, which put an end to that line of thought.

  • Pseudonym

    If you really want to stick it to the Christians, celebrate your annual asceticism in Ramadan.

  • joanna

    Test Your Clothing Comfort Zone

    Silk- high range

    Cotton- high range
    Linen- high range



    Burlap sack

    There. Easy.

  • If we need to do sexual experimentation, maybe I should be gay for lent.

  • Indigo

    I’m with whoever suggested trying new recipes. Today I made blueberry-orange-poppyseed muffins. (They rose beautifully and taste delicious, but now I have little black things stuck in my teeth.)

  • Awesomesauce

    This will be the first year of my life that I won’t be observing Lent (even after realizing my atheism). So, I guess I’m giving up Lent for Lent.

  • Nicole

    I’m sure it’s been said in the comments above and many times elsewhere but it’s true in my case: I gave up Jesus for lent. I’ve lost weight (well, the weight of guilt at any rate).

  • Scott

    Well I was already planning on doing number 2 on the list and number 3 on the list is something I hope to happen.

  • cathy

    Ollie, that’s not the origin of lent…it relates back to early Christian aseticism (check out things like Theodoret’s History of the Monks of Syria aka Historia Religusa). It was routine for those monks to fast, especially at times that they believed Jesus had. The practice spread in limited form. It used to be that lent fasting meant eating only bread, water and lentil beans, but to make life easier, Catholics now only give up a single thing.

  • I gave up going to places where large groups of people gather in small spaces. This did not bode well for the rest of the Catholic teachings. 🙂

    ~ Kristi

  • jones

    I’m giving up saying phrases such as “oh my God” and “good heavens” for Lent since as an atheist I’m being hypocritical every time I use them. And because I’m weak and have succumbed to the pressure to participate in Lent by my large number of Catholic peers. I can’t win 🙁

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