Around the Web on Ash Wednesday

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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13 Responses

  1. I’m giving up sodas this year…and I’m terrified. I better get a good place in heaven for this!Report

  2. Avatar Tony Comstock
    Ignored
    says:

    Contrarian even when I don’t mean to be, I picked today, not even realizing it was Lent, to write an essay on the foolishness moderation.Report

  3. Avatar Chris Dierkes
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    says:

    I think the central element that has to be kept in mind is the utter mercy of God. The discipline part, to the degree it is necessary, is all a means to that end. It is to discipline and let go of those things that prevent awareness of the fact that are awash in a God of transcendent mercy.

    Otherwise it tends towards further self-focus through self-laceration. It has to be directional outward to God (and by extension God’s creation). I’m not into guilt, or shame, or inferiority feelings, but rather turning (con-versing) unto the Divine.

    From the Book of Common Prayer for Ash Wednesday:

    O Lord hear our prayer
    And let our cry come unto thee.
    O Lord save thy servants
    Who put their trust in thee.”

    And elsewhere:
    Mercifully forgive our trespasses; receive and comfort us, who are grieved and wearied with the burden of our sin.”

    As the old gospel says, down by the riverside, I’m gonna lay my burdens down.

    If we ain’t laying down our burdens, we ain’t doin’ it right.Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Thanks, Chris. I was hoping you’d weigh in on this….Report

  5. Avatar Chet
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    says:

    Lent, I’ve come to realize, highlights the best part about being an atheist.

    I’m not saying there’s no utility or value in self-denial. I’m no hedonist. (Too much the Minnesotan to be.) But I can decide if the value of denying myself something is worth the cost. I don’t have to do it because everybody else in my religious cohort group is doing it – if the benefit of, say, abstaining from caffeinated beverages is worth the sacrifice, I can simply do it. If I arrive at the opposite conclusion, I feel no guilt or pang of selfishness.

    And I don’t have to wait for Lent. After all, who would give up eating candy on Feburary 1, knowing that in a month they’d have to give up something else as well? Nobody would – they’d “save up” giving up candy, so they could give it up for Lent and kill two birds with one stone.

    I don’t have to do that. I can decide when self-denial is the winning strategy and when it isn’t; that’s the freedom of being a moral self-actor, employing my own reason and sense about what is right and wrong instead of relying on others to tell me what to do and when to do it.Report

  6. Avatar DarwinCatholic
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    says:

    Actually, from a Catholic point of view, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with your point that self denial can be embarked on (or avoided as unnecessary) at any given time, not just in Lent, Chet. Though being the forgetful creature that I am, Lent is a useful reminder. Though it’s easy for people to get caught up in the legalism of the thing, the liturgical seasons essentially exist to remind Catholic to hit the right points every year, not because there’s something inherently magic about a specific set of days on the lunar calendar.

    In my case, I’ve taken to giving up alcohol each year for the reason that I never seem to get around to going for more than a day or two without a drink throughout the rest of the year. And so having that opportunity each year to regain control over my pleasures, and recall that while they add enjoyment to life I don’t need them in some dependent sense, would be a good discipline for me, I’m sure, even outside of the religious context.

    Within that context, reminding ourselves that we own our desires rather than they us is always a useful exercise in preparation for refocusing oneself on more eternal priorities.

    And, of course, that’s that good old “suffering in union with Christ” thing which generally sounds weird even to other Christians when we Catholics go on about it.Report

  7. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Very well put, Darwin. I think the thing that atheists don’t realize is that there is liberation in order, freedom in tradition. This is simply something very human that all the individualism or detached reason in the world will never replace. Of course, both individualism, reason, and self-determination have their place in the larger scheme of things, but this does not disqualify the beauty of order, tradition, or God in our lives…Report

  8. Avatar Chet
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    says:

    Actually, from a Catholic point of view, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with your point that self denial can be embarked on (or avoided as unnecessary) at any given time, not just in Lent, Chet.

    Would you consider not giving anything up for Lent this year, but instead, giving it up for the 40 days following Easter instead?

    If not, why not? And if not, if you would feel like you were committing a sin for which you would require God’s forgiveness, doesn’t that sort of put the lie to the idea that you’re being “liberated” by this order?

    And so having that opportunity each year to regain control over my pleasures, and recall that while they add enjoyment to life I don’t need them in some dependent sense, would be a good discipline for me, I’m sure, even outside of the religious context.

    Well, sure. You’ll recall I said nearly the exact same thing.

    But is 40 days the exactly right amount of time for you to gain the benefits of that self-discipline? Is the 40 days before Easter the precisely correct time of the year to embark on that journey of self-discovery?

    Are these questions you’ve ever, in your life, asked yourself? Or is it just the 40 days before Easter because that’s what the Catholic Church says you must do?

    Within that context, reminding ourselves that we own our desires rather than they us is always a useful exercise in preparation for refocusing oneself on more eternal priorities.

    Sure. Obviously I disagree that there are any eternal priorities, but I can see the temporal benefits of self-discipline. But – if you’ve fasted because the calendar told you to, because everyone in your religious peer group is also doing it, and because you’ll feel a sense of shame or transgression for not having done it, in what sense can you claim to “own” anything about it?

    Kain:

    I think the thing that atheists don’t realize is that there is liberation in order, freedom in tradition.

    I think one of the many things the religious don’t realize about atheists is that there’s no less order or tradition in our lives simply because I don’t believe in the supernatural.

    The difference is that those traditions are in my life because I have determined they should be; because I have weighed the benefits and the costs and determined, as a moral self-actor, what is appropriate for my own life.Report

  9. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Same for many religious, Chet. It’s not as though everyone who is religious subscribes to every tradition ever practiced by their Faith etc. The difference here is that you think it’s silly to give up something for Lent, while we think it’s nice to have this sort of calendrical system to remind, to unify, and to add value to the experience. Not giving up something for Lent would hardly be considered a “sin” either.

    In any case, this debate is really quite silly isn’t it? I certainly don’t hope or desire to convert the atheist to this way of thinking, nor do I much like being told that my approach is somehow wrong or stupid or irrational. It is really an exercise in futility, or in distraction, or perhaps in the bolstering of the self against the other. I’m not sure. What compels you to argue against Lent? Does it really matter to you one way or another?Report

  10. Avatar Chet
    Ignored
    says:

    The difference here is that you think it’s silly to give up something for Lent

    I wonder if you’ve read a single thing I’ve written. No, I don’t think it’s silly. Quite the opposite. What I think is silly is giving up something for Lent simply because it’s Lent, and the fact that people like DC have never in their lives wondered if Lent was the right time and duration to practice self-denial simply highlights that this is how Catholics approach Lent. The benefits of Lent, if they’re not completely obliterated by the devotion to the act, are simply post-hoc justifications for religious obedience.

    And if that’s true then what “value” can be said to be added to the experience? If the only reason it’s being done is by the command of the Church, the experience has been robbed of all value.

    Not giving up something for Lent would hardly be considered a “sin” either.

    I haven’t been a Catholic since 5th grade but this is not at all my recollection.

    What compels you to argue against Lent?

    What compels you to argue for it? I’m not the one who posted to his blog on the subject; that was you, remember? I simply saw a link to this post on Andy Sullivan’s blog and made a comment. If you didn’t want comments on Lent, why did you activate comments on a blog post about Lent?Report

  11. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    First of all, Chet, I never said I didn’t want comments or arguments against Lent. I merely asked, what compels you to argue against it?

    Second, I just think you’re missing the point when you question the time and duration (or think that people should question the time and duration) of Lent, for instance. The Catholic calendar year is full of cyclical practices – Lent, Advent, etc. etc. etc. There seems little difference if one were to say that it would be more reasonable to move Lent to June. Where does reason play a role in this?

    I also think you miss the point when you state that the only reason people practice Lent is out of obedience to the Church. Obedience, I think, is the wrong word altogether. I think “unity” or “humility” personal devotion all fit better.

    But to round this out, Thanks very much for commenting. You have well thought out and respectful posts and I certainly do want people to state their thoughts and beliefs. My question “what compels you…” was an honest question, not an attempt to shut you down…Report

  12. Avatar Chet
    Ignored
    says:

    I merely asked, what compels you to argue against it?

    You asked, I answered. I’m not “compelled”, in any way. You were having a conversation about it; I had some thoughts. If Sullivan hadn’t linked you I’d have never known.

    There seems little difference if one were to say that it would be more reasonable to move Lent to June.

    Well, it depends what you’re giving up. If you’re giving up sweets it might make sense to avoid doing it during Christmas, which might be the only time of the year your relatives bake cookies and you might cause offense by abstaining. Or maybe for another person it makes the most sense to abstain from sweets during Christmas, since the increased temptation results in a greater reward from self-denial.

    I can think of a dozen ways in which a period of 40 days in one part of the year is completely different in regards to the same type of abstention from a 40 day period in another part of the year.

    And, indeed, saying that it doesn’t ever matter when you do it sort of begs the question: if it doesn’t matter when you do it, why do it during Lent? Because everybody else who’s Catholic is?

    That’s not freedom; that’s simply an exchange of one kind of slavish devotion for another. There’s nothing freeing about that. It’s a little like the drug user’s refrain: “I can quit whenever I want – I just don’t want to.” Sure, sure. You can practice self-denial any time of the year you want to; you just only ever want to do it for Lent, exactly when your church tells you to do it.

    My question “what compels you…” was an honest question, not an attempt to shut you down…

    Then I apologize for kind-of taking it that way. It’s kind of something atheists hear a lot, the attempt to poison the well: “if you don’t believe in GAWD, why do spend so much time arguing about him?” But I accept that the similarity was misapprehended on my part. No biggie.Report

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