40 Days without Facebook? Phooey!

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the holy season leading up to Easter–and another chance for journalists to pull together one of those “what are you going to give up for Lent?” stories.

Last week a Wall Street Journal reporter had an interesting contemporary twist on that theme: parents trying to abstain from Facebook.

For centuries, Lent has been observed by liturgical churches like the Roman Catholics and Orthdox and, to a slightly lesser extent, Lutherans and Anglicans as a time for penitence, reflection and abstinence. More recently, the season has been marked by Protestant and non-denominational churches.

Roman Catholics have recently been trying various ways to get across the message that Lent isn’t just about individual fasts, but has a long-standing rhythm of abstinence (sorry, couldn’t resist). As Tmatt noted in a commentary on the subject, Catholics are encouraged not to “give something up” but to “take something on” as an additional discipline, not the fundamental one.

The fact that there isn’t a “one size fits all” Lenten template doesn’t really explain the generic quality of the Wall Street Journal article. The fact that it appears in the “Technology” section doesn’t really explain why it seems so unmoored from an understanding of the diversity of religious practice in Lent–and how some traditions have very structured expectations.

The lede zooms in on the conundrum of adults who find themselves grappling with the addictive quality of social networking sites:

They’re a little too old to give up potato chips, Guitar Hero or Red Bull for Lent.

But as Christian parents ponder an appropriate sacrifice, they find themselves mulling a choice they’d have once seen as preposterous: A Facebook fast — not for their teens but for themselves.

Lenten sacrifices are meant to honor and in a small way reenact the 40 days Jesus is said to have wandered the wilderness, fasting and resisting temptation. Abstaining from Facebook for the 40 days of Lent was the rage among college students last year. This Lenten season — which starts next week on Ash Wednesday — the cause has been taken up by a surprising number of adults. The digital sacrifice won’t be easy, they say, but it may help them reclaim their analog lives.

To illuminate this point, the writer quotes a 39-year-old electrical engineer, Larry Shine. We don’t find out anything about Shine’s denomination, previous Lenten practice, or even whether he currently attends church.

And that’s true for everyone else quoted in the article. To be fair, the quotes bolster the article’s main subject–Facebook abstention is tough, even in a season of fasting. The article isn’t focused on faith, but on culture and technology. In the little space (probably) available to her, the writer did a good job of finding quotes that delineated her theme.

That being said, a few judicious explanations of Lenten history and practice and some comparisons would have enriched this article a lot–and been a corrective to what seems increasingly to be mass confusion over what Lenten fasting (let alone Lent itself) really means.

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  • brian

    The WSJ link isn’t quite right–it’s linking to the GetReligion.org WordPress admin section.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

    I’m penitent. I had a few versions up. I’ve fixed that. Starting Lent early. ;-)

  • Jerry

    As I thought about this topic, it became more interesting to me.

    I joined Facebook recently and found out quickly how addictive it could be. I would find it hard to do without it so I can see that being willing to sacrifice it for Lent would be a real sacrifice for some people.

    The story being in the technology section shows how religious literacy is helpful even in the geeky reporting world. There are, for example, over 500 Facebook groups with “Christ” in their name. There are even quite a few news stories that google news finds if you search for “religion facebook”.

    So giving up Facebook for Lent might also involve giving up some spiritual connections for Lent depending on how you use Facebook.

  • Roberto Rivera

    I have nothing to say about the Lenten Fast except that I keep it. I’m too amazed at how annoying that Lexa Doig (from Andromeda and Stargate SG-1) look-alike is.

    Thank you, E.E. for giving me yet another reason to resist the suggestions from friends and family to have a Facebook page.

  • MJBubba

    Maybe I should give up GetReligion.org for Lent. Without your links to the myriad offenses to religious sensibilities in the MSM, I might be more relaxed and better able to mind my true Lenten discipline.

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  • BHunt

    Well, I am one of the three people quoted in the article…..I don’t know anything about Getreligion.org…..so I’m just gonna take a stab…
    I decided to do this because giving up an addiction is a decidedly spiritual process. During these 40 days, I will walk more, which will help me lose weight, which, for me is a decidedly spiritual experience (not to mention good for my health and for my family, which makes it a spiritual double-whammy). I will spend more time talking to people, reading good books, and The Good Book…..all worthy and spiritually uplifting efforts. I’m not sure I understand all the things the writer of this GetReligion.org article said, but if I am understanding him correctly, then I am pretty sure what I am doing is Godly, and an effort that will be blessed……I’m not sure how you type a raspberry, but i think it looks something like this: TTTTTHHHHHHHHHPPPPPPPP!!! …sorry, you’ll have to provide your own spit to the effort.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

    Mr. Hunt, I (by the way, I am a “she” not a “he”) in no way was critical of your wish to have a meaningful 40 days. I said that I hoped that the writer of the article, the woman who quoted you, had included information such as: what denomination are you from and what was their spiritual discipline at Lent? OR why are you practicing a Lenten discipline? Or what did you do for Lent when you were a kid?

    That context would have made the article less confusing.

    A blessed Lent to you,

    Elizabeth E. Evans

  • bhunt

    then I apologize…..maybe I should give up quick retorts for lent….also a spiritual endeavor…..I was raised Catholic, and am now Anglican…..and only ever did Lenten things when I was a kid because I had to, or did things that meant very little to me….this one will build character and commitment.
    God bless you and your Lent, too.

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  • LMA

    I think that either way – offering up a sacrifice, or adding more holy activities to one’s day are both wonderful ways to prepare for the celebration of Easter. One thing the article said that made sense was suggesting that a more “mature” method of choosing what to do for Lent would be beneficial. Children give up candy, or treats, or cartoons. Adults should take a good hard look at the “idols” in their lives – the things they do that pull them away from God, that take up time they could give to the Lord, or self-indulging activities that lead them astray. And since many of us don’t enjoy taking a good hard look at ourselves, it becomes easier to just give up sweets, or cartoons… rather than finding something more worthy to “offer up”. Think about it this way – you have in your hands a golden platter. On it is your gift to the King. What are you going to give Him? A sock you found under your bed? An old magazine you grabbed on your way out the door to come see Him? Or are you going to take the time and make the effort to find a really beautiful and meaningful gift? When you go before Him, what will you be offering up?

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  • bhunt

    Well, folks, it’s been a week……a very looooooooooong week…..since I signed off Facebook for Lent. I’m better for this…I am realizing how close I am to some of the “friends” on my list. I do miss them, more, I think, than I miss the experience of FB itself.
    I thought this would make me more stressed, and irritable to my family…..I don’t think that’s true (altho’ there are still 5 weeks left). I feel softer toward them, we’re talking and smiling more, and looking at each other –the alternative to me looking at a computer screen for several hours a night. Don’t judge me please….I do spend lots of evening time on FB, but it’s right here with everyone else, and not isolated and alone…..we’ll often chuckle at some of the antics of others on FB, so this hasn’t been a divisive vehicle for our family…..more of a distraction.
    Anyway….I’ll be glad when this is over…I do miss the contact with some friends that I really would not have otherwise. I hope this time is as blessed for those who read this, as it is for me.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

    Thank you so much for letting us know how you are doing-and what might be changing in terms of time spent with family. It’s very sweet of you to check with us. Please continue to keep us posted, Mr. Hunt.