Other People Are Doing Their Mindful Practices Incorrectly

In the most recent post dedicated to Lent, Saul posted a link to this Vox article that explained that “secular Lent” misses the point.

That post was intended to be a thread dedicated to stories about what people were doing themselves, not what they thought that other people were doing wrong and that comment started off a thread that wasn’t appropriate for the post.

But just because you shouldn’t talk about it in that thread doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk about it at all.

Please use this thread to complain about other people’s stupid religious practices that miss the point. The Vox article provides a good starting point but, by no means, should the assumption be made that criticisms of other people’s stupid religious practices need be limited to Lenten abstinence.

So… what beef do you need to steam-clean?

(Note: Civility Rules Still Apply!)

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67 thoughts on “Other People Are Doing Their Mindful Practices Incorrectly

  1. Personally, I think that the Vox article was silly and stupid in the same way that many of the gatekeeping discussions are silly and stupid.

    “You shouldn’t enjoy what you’re enjoying the way you enjoy it… you should enjoy it the way these other people enjoy it.”

    I mean, as an atheist, I don’t think that there is a “right” way to do Lent anymore than there is a “right” way to do (insert any holiday from the calendar).

    There are *TRADITIONAL* ways to do things, granted… but saying that “the Traditional Way is the Right Way!” is usually pretty transparently wrong (and kinda funny when you see such things published by Progressive websites like Vox). (And that’s without getting into how “Traditional” means everything from “this is how they did it thousands of years ago!” to “this is how the Baby Boomers did it in the 70’s”.)

    I’m sure that there are Catholics who sniff their nose at my claims to be giving up something that isn’t meat for Lent (even as they give a grudging thumbs up for pancakes the night of Carnival). I’m sure that there are others who say “If (clapping emoticon) You (clapping emoticon) don’t (clapping emoticon) observe (clapping emoticon) Lent (clapping emoticon) then (clapping emoticon) don’t (clapping emoticon) celebrate (clapping emoticon) Carnival!” and see my giving up carbs as just barely good enough reason to eat pancakes for supper on Fat Tuesday.

    And I’m sure that the Pope thinks various things too.

    But gatekeeping Lent is silly and stupid in the same way that gatekeeping anything is silly and stupid.

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    • I think that the Vox article was silly and stupid in the same way that many of the gatekeeping discussions are silly and stupid.

      Well let’s be sure not to have any opinions then.

      I think it’s every bit as fair a point as the annual articles about how Christmas really isn’t about finding the hot new toy and about how Easter has very little to do with bunnies and chocolate eggs. There’s plenty of societal force pulling holidays in crass and commercial directions, so pointing out where that intersects and objecting to it seems completely reasonable.

      With lent, of course, the crass commercializers aren’t Hershey and Hallmark (yet, anyway). They’re the diet industry. But I think it takes less than a layer of abstraction to eliminate the difference.

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      • Well let’s be sure not to have any opinions then.

        I don’t understand this response to my criticism.

        There’s plenty of societal force pulling holidays in crass and commercial directions, so pointing out where that intersects and objecting to it seems completely reasonable.

        Sure.

        And telling someone who says “Christmas isn’t about presents, if you’re not a Christian you shouldn’t get other people presents at Christmastime” that their opinion is silly and stupid is not telling them that they shouldn’t have opinions.

        Or are we in a place where the bigger problem is that there’s no such thing as a silly or stupid opinion and someone who thinks that there is would be automatically wrong in the first place?

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        • Christians have only a tenuous claim on Christmas anyway – anyone trying to celebrate Yule without sacrificing a boar to Frey and anointing themselves and the statues of the gods with its blood, their piddly little wreath neither on fire nor rolling down a hill in celebration of the sun’s rebirth – they don’t get to tell us from doing traditions wrong.

          At least the secular Christmas has something vaguely resembling Odin and Sleipnir on the roof.

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  2. I am observing the British tradition of Dry January again this Winter, albeit during the month of February as I am a splitter. I am fairly confident though that once people familiarize themselves with the numerous implications of the February rite, it is just bound to become the mainstream observance. But October Dry January is just plain silly.

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  3. I thought there were some interesting parts to the article, and I found the conclusion moving, as did, even though I don’t like how she got there … but for me the tipping point was the use of the word “appropriated” to describe “the secular world”‘s relationship to Lent.

    I mean, it’s not like we have some vast cohort of cradle atheists going around grabbing up the Christian minority’s traditions and repurposing them to their own secular ends. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! IMO at least). *Most* of these supposed appropriators are part of the Christian tradition, in one way or another, themselves.

    People are taking traditions that for the most part they were born into, or some of their family members were born into, or that they heard about from their gran this one time, or whatever, and adapting them to suit their own beliefs.

    That’s not appropriation, it’s synthesis. For someone who writes about Catholicism for (part of) their living to complain about synthesis of tradition and belief by others, and the way in which such synthesis misses the point, is so… history-deaf that it shifted the article from balanced, thoughtful, etc., to obnoxious for me. Like, for example, a modern Wiccan complaining about how Brigid isn’t REALLY a Catholic saint, so those Catholics are just so darn foolish / wrong / whatever to be including her in their belief. I mean, sure, yes, and Catholics who rigidly insist that all their saints are literal facts and anyone who thinks otherwise should be anathema are equally frustrating. But for the love of Pete, can we not just let people have their folk beliefs and folk practices and let them more or less alone to conduct their lives as they see fit, if they’re not actively harming you or trying to control you by so doing? Why not ethnographize rather than sermonize? It’s honestly, to me, a tinier, less socially damaging version of the same impulse that leads folks to claim that same-sex marriage is an offense against God and therefore no one else should marry someone of the same sex whether or not they share those beliefs. Can we not just give each other some space?

    And for someone who writes for Vox of all places to complain about how those darn secularists are appropriating her (majoritarian, colonial, etc.) culture is just… yeah, I really can’t come up with a better word than history-deaf.

    Which isn’t to say that anyone in particular shouldn’t feel annoyed that people are giving up Twitter for Lent, I suppose. But if, from a religious perspective, you don’t think that doing so has a good chance of including elements of rekindling spiritual concerns, getting closer to God (even for people who don’t believe in God), and alienating oneself from worldly ones…. well, I have trouble seeing that as anything other than a profoundly uncharitable read on them.

    Personally I’ve found that people’s supposedly trivial and shallow concerns often tie in to great gulfs of spiritual need and complexity.

    (@slade-the-leveller Pst, we’re over here on this topic now. I only deleted your comment over there because I’d already said, “quit talking about this over here, more comments in this subthread will be deleted,” in so many moderator-labelled words.)

    ((And to be totally clear y’all can tell me and/or Jaybird we’re full of horse pucky all you want over here. just that lent! thread is not FOR that. ))

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    • Thanks, missed that. Let me reiterate, I think it’s a thoughtful piece.

      I’m a more or less observant Lutheran (lapsed Catholic) who struggles daily to live a Christ-like life. More often than not I fail. Striving is expected of Christians, and failure is the expected outcome. That should not signal an end to the striving, however.

      I’ll also state that it’s been years since I’ve given something up for Lent. My vices are few, and fairly petty, so I don’t see the need to eschew any of them in a symbolic gesture the end of which I’ll be looking forward to as soon as I begin the deprivation. I’ve yet to meet the person whose life changed due to a Lenten vow of abstinence.

      As for the article, I fail to see how an atheist can object to the word “appropriate” when referring to a secular vision of Lent, perhaps Christianity’s most holy observance.

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      • I have no idea how an atheist would object to it, but as a not-entirely-lapsed and sometimes heterodox Catholic, i object to the word (as detailed above), the frame that atheists who were nonetheless raised Christian are not allowed to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to spirituality (her frame, not yours), and the tone-deafness of anyone who bears the shameful / enspiriting inheritance of Catholicism’s role in annihilating / preserving native cultures through programmatic efforts of appropriation / synthesis, calling someone else out for appropriating their/our stuff. Like how could you even start to do that with a straight face? (To be clear, both Catholics and Protestants get the side eye from me on this one.)

        I also have a very marked theological objection to the idea that Lent is the holiest Christian observance. But then, as a Catholic, I would ;).

        Alsotoo, though, you have met at least one person whose life was changed due to a Lenten vow of abstinence, because you’ve met me, and there’s one particular Lenten season whose abstentions (from a behavior, not a thing) taught me to be a better and different person in a really meaningful way. Uncoincidentally IMO, it’s also a season in which my experience is that Grace is the only thing that got me through the process, many times over. Part of my Lenten observance every year for the last more than a decade since it happened is actually to reflect on that particular gift, and be grateful for it, and to examine myself for signs of that particular vice creeping back in again.

        It’s too personal to talk about in detail in the wrangly context of this particular post, but if you’re interested in the details, you’re welcome to ask in email or something. If not, not. But although it’s entirely reasonable to doubt my experience of my life having been changed, I’m thinking that’s not what you meant by saying you’d yet to meet that person.

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        • Dang it, I’m an idiot. Of course, I know Easter is the holiest. My Lenten vow is now to proofread my comments ;-) I’ll blame that on the flu I’ve been battling all week.

          I’d be very interested in hearing about the vow that changed your life. Most of the ones I’ve done, or know other people to have done, have been so superficial so as to have been hardly worth the bother. Look for that email.

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    • I think we’re reacting to two different things.

      If someone wants to give up Twitter for lent, it feels churlish to say that isn’t a meaningful sacrifice/the right sacrifice/whetever. Heck, if someone wants to give up NOTHING, that is what it is.

      I’m reacting to the part of the piece about how to “Lose X pounds before Easter” or to otherwise convert a moment of sacrifice into another commercialized holiday focused on self-benefit.

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  4. I like exchanging gifts and cards at Christmastime. I find most commercial Christmas music annoying but am usually tickled by people decorating their homes. I do not believe Jesus was the Son of God, and am actually dubious that the Jesus described in the Gospels existed at all. I like wearing a Santa hat around Christmastime and usually eat more chocolate and imbibe of alcohol more than is strictly good for my desire to lose weight. Obviously, I don’t go to church.

    Am I doing “atheist Christmas” wrong? Of course not. I may be doing “Christian Christmas” wrong but so what? It’s a free country and I have no gripe with friends who do the holiday in a more religious way than me.

    Why should Lent be any different?

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    • Fundamentally, I don’t think it is.

      Also, fundamentally, I don’t think people would take an article saying that our culture has buried the point of Christmas in Amazon receipts as silly and stupid. Instead, we’ve long-since passed the point where that particular observation is both true and irrelevant.

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      • I would take such an article as silly if it demonstrated zero awareness of the pre-Christian historical context in which Christmas became a festival in the first place. (Yes, this means I find a lot of articles about Christmas silly.)

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  5. I didn’t like the Vox article, probably for similar reasons, although I may be a more lapsed Catholic than she is. (I’m making that assumption based on comments here and elsewhere she made…..I don’t really know that for a fact.)

    I do think there’s value to giving up something or some behavior in order to refocus one’s energies on something else that is good or even transcendental. There’s probably also value in doing so within a tradition and a religious community so that one isn’t doing it alone.

    And yet, one thing that irks me a little about Lent (and here I think I’m departing from the theme of the Vox article) is the very community aspect of Lent that some seem to find comforting. I’m referring to how so many people seem to use giving up something for Lent as a marker of identity, as a signal that one is being virtuous, akin to someone putting on a long face of deprivation instead of washing their face and combing their hair. It “irks” me, but I’m not sure it should. If someone else wants to do it and it doesn’t harm me, what’s it to me?

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    • I think there’s an interesting parallel with other religious denials here.

      There certainly seems to be a community spirit to observing Ramadan, and the same is true of Yom Kippur. That said, in this country neither of those religions have quite the in-your-face value-signaling component that is so common in modern evangelical christianity/christianism.

      All of that is to say that shared sacrifice isn’t wrong, and does/should be a community experience, but I get why some of it irks you.

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    • I’m referring to how so many people seem to use giving up something for Lent as a marker of identity, as a signal that one is being virtuous, akin to someone putting on a long face of deprivation instead of washing their face and combing their hair. It “irks” me, but I’m not sure it should.

      You know who else was irked?

      “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

      Matthew 6:16-17

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  6. I sort of liked the Vox article. The author is right in a way. A lot of religions believe in self-denial for its own purpose for a variety of reasons. The goal is to practice discipline at least or something deeper. The idea that you should deny yourself pleasure for some vague, nebulous reasons goes against modern morality though. Self-denial is good if it is for self-improvement but not if it is for anything else.

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  7. Lent is the only well know religious fasting period that makes sense to me from an historical point of view. “Hey, let’s tell everyone to eat less and give up meat a few times so our winter supplies stretch until a month past the Spring Equinox, when we finally get some more food”

    Ramadan is far more hard core, but adherence to a lunar calendar without a kluge results in a fasting period that makes a cycle completely through the seasons every 15 to 16 years. Jewish fasts are also hard core, but as far as I can tell, for single days interspersed throughout the year.

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  8. I find the whole “spiritual but not religious” thing to be vague and inchoate. The other issue with concepts like “secular Lent” or “secular Christmas” is that they lend themselves to a form of Christian majoritarianism anyway. “Come on, why do you have to be so Jewish? I’m doing secular Lent and so can you! Or I’m doing atheist Christmas and so can you.” So the idea of choosing non-participation because someone does not identify as Christian, did not grow up as Christian, etc is still not really accepted. There is still the angle of “Why do you Jews have to be so openly different?”

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      • Certain Christian groups have been known to celebrate Pesach to better understand the Last Super. I’ve read accounts of at least one Methodist girl in Texas having a Bat Mitzvah because in a short book on the history of Bar Mitzvahs. We live in a multicultural, universal age and that’s a problem for cultures that define themselves as peculiar. Its an even bigger problem for minority peculiar cultures.

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        • “We’re Jews, Christian Jews, like Jesus’s early followers” is a thing among some Christian groups. I find it annoying, but that’s more on me than on them.

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        • Well, the complaint was that atheists adopting Lent/Christmas ended up being a form of Christian majoritarianism.

          So let’s branch out! Let’s get some Jewish influence in there!

          Come (festival), I can write a post about how we’re doing (festival) this year and here’s how I’m doing it in my household and doing what I can to make this tradition something for me and mine and my kitties (who got an extra packet this week as their way to celebrate Carnival).

          Purim is the Jewish Halloween. Can we do something like that? Everybody likes Halloween.

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          • I’m pretty sure that given your lack of experience with Purim, that would (justifiably) result in a number of people explaining how you are doing Purim so wrong as to be offensive?

            Or was that your point?

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            • Well, I’m doing some research here, and it says:

              Many Jewish people, especially children, in the United States use this event as an opportunity to listen to the Megilla (or Megillah) to relive the events that are told about the story of Esther, Mordecai and Haman. It is customary to twirl graggers (Purim noisemakers) and stamp one’s feet when Haman’s name is mentioned.

              Many Jewish people give to the needy around this time of the year. Food baskets or food gifts are also given away. It is a time for people to celebrate and be merry. So some Jewish schools hold celebrations to remember the past and their heritage. Other groups or organizations hold Purim carnivals filled with activities, costumes, food and games. Special prayers, particularly the Al HaNissim prayer are also included in evening, morning and afternoon prayers.

              I figure a night devoted to telling the story of Esther (did you know it’s the only book of the Bible that doesn’t talk about God? It’s true!), putting together a gift basket, and donating to a nice charity would be easy to write a post about.

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    • To a large extent Christmas was always a secular holiday. The reason why the early Christians created Christmas was that they had rough idea that they would not get pagans to stop celebrating Saturnalia and other winter solstice festivals, so they decided to come up with a Christian equivalent about Jesus’ birth. The religious observations were always just a coating for the party underneath. Lent and Easter were always more religious than Christmas, so a secular Lent is a bit weirder.

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        • Reminds of when I went to Israel. I was a volunteer on a dig and met someone from Bethlehem whose family actually raised sheep and had for generations. He was Muslim, and while giving me a tour of the area, that of course included the Church of the Nativity, remarked “You Christians, you don’t know what you believe. No one has sheep out in December.”

          I laughed – I’d studied enough history to know why Christmas was in December and that it had nothing to do with anyone knowing the actual date of Jesus’ birth.

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      • “The religious observations were always just a coating for the party underneath. Lent and Easter were always more religious than Christmas, so a secular Lent is a bit weirder.”

        Most of Europe, under one set of Gods or another, had a big party in the middle of the cold time to mark a shift toward spring, a fallow time until spring and a party around rejuvenation and new hope around the spring solstice for hundreds of years before they became Christian.

        That’s part of my annoyance with the article, the lack of even blinking in the direction of being aware that a holiday named after the pagan goddess of the dawn just MIGHT not need to be built up to only in the ways one particular Catholic approves.

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        • Isn’t this more of a Celtic-Germanic thing than a Greco-Roman thing? Granted winter means something entirely different in Italy and Greece than it does in Britain and Norway but they still get cold. Christmas was originally a Saturnalia replacement.

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          • That’s why I said “most of Europe.” I was thinking about Scandinavian countries, Celtic countries, Germanic countries mostly, but I wasn’t ONLY thinking about them. Eastern European countries have similar traditions.

            As for the Greeks and Romans, Greeks have the least connection, to my knowledge (which is tiny so I might be missing something). That said, “Eos” is a Greek titan and the scholarship drawing a line between Ostara (Easter’s etymological root) and Eos is fairly solid.

            The Romans pretty much line up with the Celts and the Germans: February 5th was the first day of Spring (similar to Celtic Imbolc) in the Roman calendar. The 4th-10th of April was the Great Mother (Cybele) festival. The 12th-19th of April was a week long festival for Ceres… goddess of Agriculture. Both of which were well established before the year 0.

            It’s not exactly novel or particularly Christian to have festivals of excess, belt-tightening, or joyous renewal, at the particular timings of Carnival, Lent, and Easter respectively.

            That’s part of the genius / horror of Catholicism taking over Rome (/ Rome taking over Christianity) and the rest of Europe! They lined all this stuff up! Perfectly!

            Ahem.

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    • The thing is that atheists don’t have our own rituals and festivals – there haven’t been enough of us for long enough. As such we end up having to use other people’s. Those of us who grew up surrounded by Christianity tend to use the rituals we are familiar with.

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  9. – “How have you been?”
    * “I’ve been busy. Stressed out. I’ve been on jury duty. How about you?”
    – “Oh, I’ve been watching American Idol. So I understand how you feel.”
    * “What do you mean?”
    – “Oh, you know, reviewing evidence, voting, that kind of thing. It’s just like jury duty.”
    * “No, it’s not. You watch American Idol for kicks.”
    – “But I take it very seriously.”
    * “Jury duty has a purpose that is more elevated than American Idol. It’s about a greater duty, not self-fulfillment.”
    – “I don’t see it that way. I don’t believe in greater duty. I’m offended that you don’t treat American Idol as morally equivalent to jury duty. I demand that someone pay me the same stipend for my watching time as you got for your jury time.”
    * “Well, ok, you can ask for that, I guess. But can you understand that to me it seems odd that you’re trying to draw an equivalence between them?”
    – “You’re just disrespecting American Idol because it hasn’t been around as long a jury duty.”
    * “No, I just don’t think it matters as much in the long run.”
    – “You’re disrespecting my tradition!”

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    • Please understand, as an atheist, I’m not seeing any judges or bailiffs where you’re going to perform Jury Duty.

      I’m seeing a building where you’re sitting on a hard bench listening to two people explain why you should or shouldn’t judge other people and then you decide whether they’re bad people or not.

      But you’re calling it Jury Duty anyway. Which is all well and good, of course, but without a judge sitting there?

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    • -“Would you quit calling the court I’ve been serving jury duty in for the last 30 years American Idol just because it’s not the court you go to for jury duty? It’s still a court.”
      *”But from my perspective it might as well be American Idol!!!!”
      -“So can you at least go somewhere other than the place where people who respect it as a type of court, there not only being one court in this system, are talking about their own experiences with jury duty in various courts, to complain about how only certain courts are REALLY courts and the rest of us are deluded?”
      *”BUT YOU’RE NOT IN A REAL COURT!!!!”

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    • Jay and Maribou, I get that. But we’re up against Pascal’s wager here. One side can argue that jury duty is elevating, the other side can argue that neither jury duty nor American Idol is elevating. No one can argue that both are elevating.

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      • There are mock courts all over town. Each jury claims that they’re a “real” jury and half of those “real” juries are saying that other people are watching American Idol. (The other half have mixed opinions on how many American Idols there are among the other “real” juries.)

        Pascal’s Wager is one of the juries telling me that, odds are, the judge is going to come back from chambers any minute now and so I should be in their courtroom instead of in one of the other not-real mock courtrooms around town.

        But other juries tell me the same thing.

        And I don’t see evidence that the judge was ever there, let alone is coming back.

        Let alone will be giving me ice cream for waiting in the courtroom that the “real” jurors are sitting and waiting in.

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      • “No one can argue that both are elevating.”

        One can, however, argue that what one side sees as American Idol is, in fact a form of jury duty, and therefore elevating, and that only the greater Power that elevates can actually identify whether someone is watching American Idol or attending jury duty, because only that Power is a true judge of the entire system.

        Seems to me I heard of someone, someone whom many of us believe was actually also that Power, while remaining a person, in a quite mysterious way, who said just that.

        Or at least, made it quite clear that it wasn’t anyone human’s job to adjudicate whether a person was, in fact, engaged in jury duty, or not.

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      • Pascal’s wager here. One side can argue that jury duty is elevating, the other side can argue that neither jury duty nor American Idol is elevating.

        I’m not sure why not. You don’t have to be a believer to observe that lots of people derive emotional, psychological, and social benefits from participating in the ritual practices associated with their faith. It’s not clear that such benefits would go away in the absence of belief.

        My perspective on this is heavily influenced by the fact that I am an atheist, and was raised Jewish by my atheist parents, and have gotten some real happiness from my occasional participation in Jewish ritual life. This isn’t a rare thing among American Jews, either.

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