It’s been nearly a week since the end of our 40-odd days of Lenten fasting, and we’d like to take some time to briefly reflect about the process. This post will be updating as we get more perspectives, and it seemed like a good place to aggregate all the links and writing we’ve done on the topic for easy reference.
- Our inaugural post this year.
- A defense of Lent as a secular practice
- Vlad writes about secular Lent on the Huffington Post
- A reflection on how we ought to treat religious holidays
- Kimberly Winston at Religion News Services interviews many of us on the topic.
It wasn’t until compiling this post that I realized how much time I’d spent and pixels I’d rendered on the topic of secular Lent. It seems like a lot of fuss has been made over of what was really just an innocuous, fun, and challenging practice we decided to take part in. You might imagine from some of the push-back that I’ve seen on Facebook and a few other blogs that our actions amounted to nothing short of an endorsement of all of Christianity, as well as a command that all atheists suddenly drop all pretenses of rationality to join the religion-loving horde we were apparently amassing. It might be somewhat cynical to note that none of this really surprised me, and I can’t say that this somehow opened my eyes to many of the more unsavory and dogmatic elements that can pop up in the atheist movement, particularly online. It did, though, serve as a fairly clear illustration. The problem isn’t religion, but rather dogmatism, and I think a lot of the push-back has shown exactly why this is the case.
That said, I’m happy to report that I’ve been continuing my veganism this week, for what I hope will be indefinitely. It went much smoother this time around (internet comment abstinence met some success, but not nearly as much), and I’m glad I did it. I’m happy for all the support, and for everyone who reached out to let me know that they thought what we were doing was cool. It meant a lot, and even though they weren’t as loud as many of the negative voices, my impression was that there were more of them.
I don’t think I did this on purpose, but my two commitments actually represent quite well the two categories of sin in Christian theology: omission (not doing something that you should) and commission (doing something that you shouldn’t). They’re represented by procrastination and eating meat, respectively. This Lenten journey has offered valuable insight into the nature of self-improvement. The main lesson I’ve learned is that the easier half of making a change is stopping a bad habit; the real challenge lies in starting a good one. My commitment to give up meat went wonderfully — to the best of my knowledge, I’ve consumed absolutely no meat in the past 46 days (the closest I’ve come is chicken broth). My performance on my commitment to stop procrastinating has been far less commendable. I get the feeling that I’ll be struggling with procrastination for a long time. I’ve had small victories, but I’m far from solving my procrastination problem. One was so easy to maintain and the other so difficult because it’s much easier to stop doing something than to stop not doing something (which is basically what procrastination is).
In short, what I’ve learned from Lent is this: All commitments for personal change could be categorized as omission or commission commitments. A commission commitment is easy to maintain (you may feel tempted, but as a rule, it takes zero effort to not do something) but less likely to have very significant rewards. An omission commitment is much more difficult, but if you’re successful, you’ve managed to make a positive change in your life.Adam Garner
As I originally predicted I failed hard. I was keeping up my “don’t obsessively check my cell phone/ Twitter/ Facebook/ every 30 seconds” promise for about 10 days before I ran face first into my lack of self-control. Well, it wasn’t just going cold turkey catching up with me. I took a trip for work that for some stupid reason I thought required me to relax my curtailed phone usage. I guess by itself wouldn’t have been a problem if I would have been able to shift back into my austerity plan right after. Problem is, I let myself cheat a little bit after I got back. That little bit very quickly evolved into a-lot-a-bit.
Without really realizing it, I was back where I started.
To me this emphasized the power of habit and actually the importance of things like Lent. To me, I see it as a tool that break up the crushing weight of habit and allows the critical distance that’s necessary to fix things like bad habits. It reminded me about the importance of stepping back and taking stock of who I am as a person and my short falls. I mean, I still ultimately failed, but it was a worthy experiment nonetheless.
Primarily, this whole Lent exercise has made me even more certain that I need to get out of the atheist “movement” as soon as possible. How it is possible for people to become offended that I choose to participate in a practice that I find meaningful, without any effort to force that practice on anybody else, is beyond me. It’s disgusting how much I’ve had to justify the simple decision to not drink alcohol for a few weeks. So yeah, that’s been disheartening.
But it’s also been an interesting experience in itself, independent of haters hating. It felt more like a mindfulness exercise than anything else. I became much more aware of when I drink because I want to and when I drink because it seems necessary within certain contexts. I already knew that adult socialization is often built around alcohol, but I didn’t even realize the extent to which non-drinkers can be excluded from social life until I put myself in their position for an extended period of time. I’m not sure exactly what can be done about this, but it’s troubling.
Oh yeah, and one bartender felt so bad for me that he gave me a free juice box.
I have written so many raisin puns and saved them in my Twitter drafts folder that my phone actually has started favoring “raisin” in autocorrects for words like “reason” and “rational” and I am totally okay with that.