I’m an atheist, but a year ago I became a vegan for Lent. I was inspired by Alain de Botton’s book, “Religion for Atheists” and a general realization that bad habits and failures of will were the biggest barriers to getting where I wanted in life. I figured that Lent’s 40-day trial period was a nice religious practice that could be easily translated into secular life.
We’re continuing and expanding that tradition this year at NonProphet Status. I asked our contributors, as well as some of our favorite people, to share what they were giving up for Lent.
I had a few accidental dietary transgressions last year, and I quickly learned how easy it can be to ignore what’s in what we’re eating. For the most part, though, I solidified a lot of the eating habits I have today. Though I’m not entirely vegan (yet), I’ve been gradually replacing eggs and dairy in my diet. I maintain a vegan diet for most meals in any given week, so I’m going to give veganism another try this year, hopefully for good.
It’s boring, though, to do the same thing two years in a row. So I’ll follow through with some sage advice from this Twitter feed: I’ll be reading no internet comments for the next 40 days, comments here notwithstanding. I’ve wasted way too many hours arguing with strangers on the internet for no discernible reason, and there’s no sense in wasting my time and harming my mental health on something so petty. I’m convinced that very little, if any good, has ever come from the average comment thread in any website. I have never heard anyone say “Wow, I’m really happy I read that insightful comment section,” so I think this is for the best.
I haven’t observed Lent since I was a Christian, so this is something new. But I like trying new things, so here goes. Instead of giving something up for my first atheist Lent, I’m going to add a practice: every day, I will make an effort to tell at least one person in my life at least one of the reasons that I am glad to know them. Often times, in the busyness of life, these kinds of feelings go unexpressed. We just assume that people already know that we love them, or that we demonstrate our gratitude sufficiently through our actions, or that we’ll get around to verbalizing it later. This Lent, I’m going to try to be a bit more intentional about expressing my gratitude for the many ways other people enrich my life.
I really like the idea of Lent – like Vlad said, giving yourself a set amount of time to try breaking a bad habit (or forming a new good one, like Chris is working on) seems like a really healthy practice. The combination of a predetermined end-date that you can always look forward to as a willpower booster and the solidarity of lots of other people taking on similar challenges at the same time makes Lent a smart tradition for anyone to adopt, Christian or otherwise.
This year, in an effort to both take better care of my body and be more financially prudent, I’m giving up alcohol for the next 40 days. I’m making an exception for the bottle of champagne I’ve been saving to celebrate my boyfriend’s last day of work this weekend, because rituals and traditions should be flexible, not dogmatic. But I feel like I’m somewhat making up for that rule-bending in a few weeks since I’ll be keeping kosher for Passover during the last week of Lent. Borrowing from two religions at once has got to count for something, right? Thank goodness Ramadan is still a few months away.
My phone is for all intents and purposes an extension of my body. If I’m not obsessively checking Twitter or refreshing my Facebook news feed, I’m getting into internet fights on Reddit. It’s bad enough that when I go out to dinner with my girlfriend I have to surrender my phone as soon as we sit down. So for the next 40 days I’m going to make a potentially futile attempt to wean myself off of neurotically checking my phone every 3 minutes. That’s not to say that I’m going to give it up completely. I’m about 98% sure that would break me. But I really like the idea that for the next couple of weeks I’m going to make a conscious effort to only check it once every…hour. Yeah. I think I can do that.
On top of trying to wrangle in an obnoxious addiction, this is going to be a weird experience for me. Being that I was raised Mormon and am now a godless heathen, I’ve never observed Lent. Actually, up until about 2 hours ago I never even considered it a possibility. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. There’s something powerful about millions of people over the same 40 days trying their best to conquer bad habits and collectively distance themselves from those things that we trick ourselves into thinking we need.
A few months ago, I would have dismissed the term “cultural Catholic.” But I’ve since developed a near obsession-level interest in religion, and that’s taught me to appreciate the positive aspects of the tradition I was raised in. It seems natural to capture the spirit of Lent in my own secular practices, just as it does with Christmas and other religious rituals. Following this logic and some inspiration from Vlad’s piece “Lent for Atheists,” I decided to give adopt a vegetarian diet for Lent this year. I would try veganism, but one step at a time.
That’s not the only thing I’m giving up for Lent, though. As it turns out, a lot of those lessons from Sunday school many years ago have stuck in my head. Every year we would have the Lent discussion; everyone wants to give up things like chocolate or soda, but that’s missing the point. Thinking theologically, what you give up should be some vice that’s distancing you from God. From a secular perspective, then, it should be something that’s distancing you from being a better person. In this way, it seems to me that the purpose of the Lent tradition is self-improvement. My sacrifice of meat-eating will be my 40-day experiment, as Vlad put it. The vice that I’ll be giving up, though, is procrastination. It’s a popular subject for jokes on the internet, but it’s also something that has started to become a serious problem for me. I’ll hopefully end these forty days with less stress from work and more awareness of the challenges I’ll face with my inevitable full transition to a vegetarian diet. Let the games begin.
For 40 days I will give up a piece of my utterly-fragile ego. I will abstain from checking up on the pageview stats on my blog (Near-Earth Object), and I will go out of my way to avoid finding out how many folks have retweeted my material or followed me on Twitter. I may look for other ways to eschew self-validating Internet quantification as I think of it, but these two jumped out at me. I waste a lot of RAM in my own brain in being concerned about that kind of thing, so maybe I’ll become, magically, A Better Person by letting all of that go for a while.
There are, of course, blog comments, which I know Vlad is avoiding. I won’t be ignoring them, as much as I hate them most of the time, because sometimes there is sincere and well-meaning discourse to be had there. Oh, maybe I’ll ignore it anyway. We’ll see.
Facebook is different, as a red-badged notification number often means there’s a message from family or something, not just “likes” on a post, so I may have to keep those up for now.
I’ll have to engage in work-related analytics, of course. I do have a job, you know. So get off my back.
I’ll give up tweeting raisin puns for Lent.