Stedman and Chituc observe a silly religious practice.

Hey, check it out!  A couple of passive aggressive, dishonest atheists (Vlad Chituc and Chris Stedman) are trying to show solidarity with religious people by abstaining from some bad habits for 40 days at a particular time of the year.  How quaint.

Meanwhile, the rest of us work on self-improvement year-round, because it’s good for our lives.

“I really like the idea of Lent,” said Chelsea Link, 23, a Boston-based Humanist who is abstaining from alcohol. “It’s giving yourself a set amount of time to break a bad habit or form a new good one, and that seems like a really healthy practice. But we are not doing it because God told us to; we are doing it because there is a benefit to us.”

If you’re not doing it for religious reasons, why do it at a set time as if you’re lending credibility to the people who don’t do it because it’s a benefit to them, but because it’s part of a set of thoroughly unreasonable beliefs they hold?  It seems a better message would be to engage in healthy behavior at some other time.

“Religions have been working on how to live as good human beings for thousands of years,” Chituc said. “So it made sense to me that they have figured out some stuff that those of us trying to live good secular lives can learn from.”

He says that as if humanity hasn’t also been working on how to live as a good human being, or that religions cannot try and fail.  Chris Stedman is a gay man, so I wonder when we’ll hear him say that religions have been working on how to live as a good human being for thousands of years, so surely they’ve got something with this whole “keep gay people from having the same rights” vibe they’ve got going.

Or what about the next time the Discovery Institute is trying to get creationism into public school science classes?  Will Vlad say “Religions have been working on the origins of the universe for thousands of years, so it made sense to me that they have figured out some stuff that we can learn from”?  It’s not about how long something has been around, it’s about the degree to which their conclusions are reasonable and wise.  If a particular religion had spent the last thousand years smearing feces on their foreheads, it’s still a dumb idea regardless of how long they were doing it.  And that’s the nub with religion: it convinces people to do things that are neither reasonable or wise.

You know what rocks for living as a good human being?  Not having ridiculous beliefs and not waiting until the appointed hour, when it’s the perfect time to send the message to religious people that their erroneous beliefs are hip, to make improvements to your life.

“Atheists love to talk about abstract intellectual values like logic and reason,” he said, “but I realized that there were other things I needed to think about and I started being more aware of them.”

Logic and reason don’t prevent us from entertaining thoughts of the abstract.  And what were these other things Vlad must think about (that the rest of us presumably don’t)?  Did Vlad think about them without logic and reason (probably, because it’s Vlad Chituc)?  We never find out in the article.

Fortunately, Tom Flynn at the CFI called them out already.

Their posts have upset some atheists, including Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism. He wrote an online column refuting the idea and calling Lent, “one of the most profoundly anti-humanistic features of Christianity.”

In a telephone interview, Flynn singled out Lent as dangerous because it suggests atonement can be gained by giving something up — like meat on Fridays — instead of by making amends to those who have been wronged. And because atheists are not bound to a liturgical calendar, they can practice abstention any time.

“More broadly, we have to be cautious in borrowing traditions and forms from the churches,” Flynn said. “There is an awful lot in congregational practices that hark back to an earlier pre-democratic, pre-Enlightenment time and that can bring a lot of baggage that is contrary to secular ideals.”

Bingo.

It’s pretty clear that regardless of what they say about doing this for secular purposes, the atheists engaging in Lent are doing so to lend support to the faith that requires it (otherwise, they’d do their abstaining at other times).  I’m not the type who says that every atheist must be an activist my way.  In fact, I’ve said the exact opposite.  However, my goal is a more reasonable world, and the biggest roadblock to such a world is a bunch of people running around saying it’s ok to be irrational if you just call it faith or religion.  I have no problem saying that those people have their hearts in the right place, but it really rubs me the wrong way when people will prop up the errors of others and call it respect/bridge-building. Be as nice as you want, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that encouraging erroneous ideas in the interest of being friends is nice.  It isn’t; it’s placating.

“They might think it is trivializing to say all Lent is about is giving something up,” he said. “It is obviously more than that to them, so I am trying to say we are not trying to capture the meaning of your tradition, we are trying to make the most of our lives, and we have found something meaningful and useful in what you are doing.”

Vlad seems to think it never occurred to anybody to try kicking bad habits or to try and live healthier, so doing it for 40 days at a pre-appointed time is a revelation we can take from religion.  He actually has it backwards.  We’ve actually figured out that self-improvement is a good thing, and reducing it to an arbitrary window is actually a step backward.  That’s the problem we have with religion: it causes people to be less good than they would be without their dogmas.

And it’s especially depressing when atheists fall for the trick.  It’s even more sad when they treat religions as if their dogmas represent the pinnacle of human wisdom and wind up encouraging lazy thinking in others.  And that’s exactly how religious people are seeing it.

“I give every credit to these young people who are humanists and atheists because they are sensing that human life is more than just animal processes and that is worthy of the great philosophers,” she said.

Absolutely not.  Natural processes are all there is, and it’s awesome!  You can bet, upon reading that line, that none of the Lent observers will say to this woman “Hold on now, we never said that.”  They’ll just nod, let her keep being wrong, and consider that respect.  But hey, at least they’re getting along, right?

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X