Friday, March 13, 2009

Morality, food, and Lent

KarateMonkey and I are atheists. Not a surprise to those of you who know us, I'm sure. But I was raised half Lutheran, half Southern Baptist (long story), so I'm familiar with Lent.

I was taught (or at least absorbed the idea) that giving things up for Lent was a reminder - every time you denied yourself, it reminded you of your faith and its importance. I remember giving up listening to tapes on my boombox. (Yes, I'm THAT old....) I've heard people suggest cell phones, blackberries, PC, gaming consoles - but I never hear people say that they've actually given those things up. It always seems to be about food.

This year, my family and coworkers (apparently they aren't heathens like us....) have been talking about their Lenten duty and I was astonished at how many of them were giving up some type of food. Refined sugar, sweets, candy, Diet Coke - all verboten for 40 days. And it got me thinking about why THESE foods. Is it because they're "bad" foods? Nobody ever says "I'm giving up broccoli for Lent." It's almost as if you get a double dose of virtuousness by giving up this "bad" food, as well as sacrificing for your faith.

Which leads me to the morality of food. I happen to believe that food is not a moral decision. I don't eat things because they're bad or good, or even because I'm bad or good. I eat them to fuel my body, to enjoy the taste and texture. And I find myself wondering if people giving up sugar or candy or whatever for Lent are consciously trying to get extra credit, either with God or their fellow practicioners. (Have you ever been part of the "What are YOU giving up for Lent?" conversation? It's almost as bad as the "My kid's going to school at _______")

Just an observation.


Your mom said...

You give up what you desire most, and most people don't desire broccoli that much! What I think about eating most is cake, cookies, ice cream, all the stuff that fills my arteries with goo and shortens my life with your dad and my family.

My vision of heaven is being able to eat that stuff to my heart's content, and I'm not joking.

Mar said...

Ooh ooh! I posted about this a couple weeks ago. I find the whole idea so foreign, and I also think that many people, who aren't particularly religious, become more distracted by the sacrifice than anything else, and far from focusing more on god, they focus more on what they've given up.

Anonymous said...

Got linked here via Shapely Prose. I have given up soda for Lent, but not because it's "bad" for me. Instead, I gave it up because that was an actual sacrifice. I don't drink a lot of soda, at least compared to some people I know. We're talking maybe 2-3 times a week. But those are times when I feel like I *need* it. And having to give it up is a real sacrifice. While I could easily have chosen some sort of sweet/snack/other "bad for me" food instead, I don't crave those as much as I crave soda. And your mom has a point, I don't think I've ever craved broccoli.
I should note - I've ALSO given up playing Wii for Lent. Again, one of those things I don't do very often (maybe 1-2 times a week?), but when I do play, it's because I REALLY want to.

Mary said...

Nice observations, RedSonja. When I was Catholic I remember being almost the only person in church giving up anything remotely having to do with spiritual life. I don't think giving up chocolate furthers anyone's salvation, whereas giving up road rage at least makes me less sinful person and won't hasten anyone's trip to purgatory.

I'm now a self-actualized agnostic with a healthy dose of Pascal's wager, so I don't practice Lent. But I remember how competitive people got about it. :)

RedSonja said...

Glad to hear from all you Lent participators! As someone who doesn't practice it, it's good to have the input.

I have to admit to being guilty of judging the sacrifice quality of the people around me. I suppose that's easy to do, since I'm not giving anything up for 40 days! I think I just assumed that things being given up for Lent should then make room for other things that allow one to grow personally or spiritually or whatever - forgetting the whole point of the sacrifice, regardless of what it is, making you think about WHY you're giving something up.

That said - I bet that if there WERE someone out there who really really loved broccoli, they still wouldn't give it up. Mostly because nobody would believe that it was a sacrifice! Choosing "bad" food does eliminate that social pressure.

Once again, thanks for the comments!

N! said...

Born and raised Catholic chiming in: I've always understood the Lenten sacrifice to be something that you feel you need God's help in overcoming or giving up something that you felt was an impediment to your relationship with God/Jesus. In addition, all the time/money/effort you normally put into the thing or activity you gave up was supposed to be redirected towards prayer/charity/the church. Finally, you didn't give something up just to count the days until you have it again - it was intended to be a time of profound spiritual regrowth.

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