Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lent, Abstinence, and You

Submission, self-denial, and artificial guilt are hallmarks of pro-afterlifers, especially those of the Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) variety. This time of the year is no exception, as Christians across the world are now celebrating Lent.

But what does Lent mean to us atheists? It means misery, that's what. Why? Because Lent is about abstinence, and I am not referring exclusively to sexual abstinence. I'm talking about abstinence from pleasure of almost every kind. Abstinence from value-fulfillment. Abstinence from life. If you are an atheist, then it is important this time of year to be aware of what Lent's virtues are, and how you can use those virtues to expose the immorality and downright ridiculousness of Christianity. If you are lucky, you may show the Christian their own worldview from a different angle, helping to plant the seed of doubt within them, and starting them on the path to mental freedom.

According to Wikipedia, Lent is a forty day period of abstinence from the things you like in life, including things necessary for survival. Lent involves fasting - not enough to kill you of course, but just enough to make that artificial guilt feel real. Other things that Christians commonly choose to abstain from during Lent are sex, alcohol, games, parties, television, independent thought, fun, and any other behaviors you would expect from a normal person:

The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigor during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbor).


Submission to God = justice towards God. Nice. According to Christian Lent, only by letting your creator's will trample all over yours is justice served. I wonder how that concept applies to the Crucifixion? Was justice served when Jesus was impaled on a stake? The Crucifixion was technically God's will, after all.

Fasting = justice towards self. What? I thought that eating balanced and properly proportioned meals was justice towards self! But there are ways to test this fasting claim, observe: If fasting is justice towards self, then shouldn't we be just to ourselves all year round and fast 24/7/365? If fasting is just during lent, surely it is just all year round! It is often heard that, for example, we should keep the spirit of Christmas with us all through the year, so let's keep the fasting of Lent all through the year! If fasting is justice, then isn't eating sinning? Why do we feast on Christmas and fast on Lent?

Almsgiving = justice toward neighbor. While charity in itself is not a bad thing, compulsory charity is a bad idea. And the phrase "justice toward neighbor" is misleading. It should instead say "justice toward the poor," for the word "alms" means "money or goods given as charity to the poor." So one of the virtues of Lent involves a compulsory one-way flow of money going from the rich to the poor. From a Christian perspective, we should ask a few questions: "How much alms must we give? Must we give until we are now poor and the poor are now rich? Is it a virtue to be poor?" For a much more thorough explanation of why compulsory almsgiving is a bad idea, I strongly suggest you read Stefan Molyneux's blog entry entitled "Welfare and the Argument from Morality."

Some Christians may counter by saying that this last directive is not compulsory, but a virtue nonetheless. True, this would remove the teeth from my argument from compulsion. However, it would still not remove other inherent problems with charity, especially when it almsgiving is applied as broadly and universally as it is in Lent. What if the recipient of your charity is an abusive husband and shiftless alcoholic who has no interest in holding a job or producing anything of value? Is charity still a virtue when the money is thrown into a proverbial black hole of misery, serving only to enable the misery further? Compulsory or not, charity is dangerous and can easily do more harm than good. While the Christian holiday of Lent pushes charity as a non-contextual and universal virtue, it clearly is not. If you want to know more about why charity should be dispensed with caution, and why the universal charity promoted by Christianity is a bad idea, you should read another blog entry from Stefan Molyneux (yes I love that guy), entitled "The Challenge of Charity." Unlike the other blog entry Stefan wrote that I linked to earlier, this one doesn't talk much about coercion, but instead focuses on the concept of charity itself. It destroys the notion of universal charity as a principle and explains why charity is so sensitive to context.

Of course, many Christians don't even give money to the poor or fast during Lent, but instead practice self-denial and artificial guilt in other ways as I mentioned earlier. They abstain from all kinds of things that give them pleasure. Why? To show a willingness to suffer for God's sake. It goes along with the Abrahamic concepts of sacrifice, guilt, denial, and destruction, all in the name of appeasing a supreme cosmic dictator. Why would God get pleasure from watching humans repress their own pleasure? Why must their afterlife values conflict with their present-life values? It exposes the immoral, illogical, and antisocial dysfunction of the beliefs of our ancestors.

In summary, Lent is another time of the year for Christians to practice their virtue of value-repression. I encourage everyone to ask their friendly neighborhood Christian what Lent means, how they practice it, what the core virtues are behind Lent. Then challenge them to apply those virtues more consistently in their lives. Try to help the Christian see the consequences of applying these absurd virtues consistently and on a daily basis. Apply the Lentian virtues they provided to various examples of charity and value-fulfillment, and show them how it leads to misery and ruin. Help them break the spell. Help them kill the afterlife.

24 comments:

Aaron Kinney said...

Hmmm, 5 days and no comments. I never had a post with no comments before.

Is it because this post sucks?

cara said...

Nah it doesn't.
It's ironic because I go to a Catholic school and we're on Lent right now. I think it's all bullshit. nice entry.

Vic said...

I thought it was a great post, personally, and didn't think I could add anything beyond a 'good job'. I guess I should have done so at the first.

Good Job! :)

(Besides, I was wondering if any of the christians were going to come in with their panties up their cracks over this, and was waiting for the ensuing comedy...)

Bill Marshall said...

Hi Aaron,
I might be jumping into a hornet's nest here, but in reading some of your blogs I couldn't help but notice an angry edge to your writing. It seems you do to those that believe in God and an afterlife the same thing that they do to you. My view is that nobody needs saving and that we should pay more attention to what we do than to how we allow others to affect us. I have a very different take on reality than some if not most. You can click this link www.createwhatyouwant.blogspot.com
and see what I have to say in more detail. It;s quite different.
Bill Marshall

Anonymous said...

I am not religious, but I was raised in a practicing Catholic household.

Rubbing up against practicing Catholics during that time, I noted the extreme prevalence of two ideas:

People who have bad things happen to them (like cancer) must deserve it, even if why they deserve it isn't obvious.

People who have good things happen to them should be careful, because God's probably giving them a little bonus goodness to soften the blow of a future trial.

In light of these two (bizarre and superstitious) ideas, Lent starts looking more and more like protective magic. Participants stage some "bad life expriences" to build up a sort of cosmic imbalance which supposedly will favour less hardship in the future, or at least will favour good luck in the hereafter.

It's amazing how many of my family's christian friends and aquaintances think this way.

To me, it's like they're trying to fool god. "Look god, my life is already full of pain. Lotsa pain her, boss. No need for you to supply any pain, got plenty already, see?"

Tanooki Joe said...

"Why do we feast on Christmas and fast on Lent?"

Because God loves bulima?

By the way, what do the starving do for Lent? Give up breathing?

Aaron Kinney said...

Awesome, I got comments now. Thanx for sharin the love everybody.

Hey Bill, I will check out your blog. Yes there is anger in my writing because I am angry at the imaginary concepts that infect the minds of my peers, plus the fact that I was myself infected with Christianity for 17 years. So its a bit personal for me.

I get angry at bad ideas that hurt me and my fellow humans. This is a perfectly natural and healthy reaction. If you hear of innocent people being murdered in the world, it will likely piss you off. Similarly, if I hear of religion crippling minds and ruining lives, it will piss me off as well.

And to a small extent, I do try to ham it up and make my writing somewhat entertaining for my readers. I want to capture peoples attention :)

ty said...

Aaron,
In the words of Bill Clinton "I feel your pain" but from the other side of the line. I'm one of those true converts, ie pure atheist growing up from in a house full of aethisits who escaped from behind the iron curtain in the late 50's, to being one of those "born again" Christians. Education/engineering/science/Logic were the religions of choice. Individualism was the crowning acheivement, From Eastern Europe to England first, then immigrate to the US. The transitions cost everything - ie all family ties broken. Us kids all done-did-well here in America, Grad degrees from prestigous engineering schools, and successful careers, my brother even owns a software company in the Bay area. There is a fundamental flaw with your approach. Neither the socialist/communist side nor the individualist/anarchist side can corral human nature, both the breadth of its beauty, nor the depths of its cruelty. Its is the depths of the cruelty that require restraint. The beauty needs more encouragement. Unfortunately only the religions and govt's are doing anything about it. The first teaching and training in self-control (ie learning to repress etc), the second coercing through force. Undortunately again, these collectives will be run by folks who suffer the same cravings as anyone else, as you or as me, their just better at it. So what are rules? - don't murder, don't steal, don't take someones spouse from them, etc. etc. All pretty tame stuff - nothing really backbreaking or oppresive. And if you want to go to the extreme, the "Love your neighbor as yourself" command, again restrain our cruelty and expose the beauty. If God exists, he exists whether we like it or not. In the end that is the only real question. I realized God in fact does exist - which brings a third party to the discussions of "us" and "them".

BTW; I'm sure your realize your namesake, Aaron, was the first Biblical Priest, also if you do link through I'm sure you won't be especially amused - its more about restraining cruelty, and allowing exposure of beaty with the third party involved. Anything less is Anarchy, and if you want a taste of that in real praxis, move to the most lawless part of your city for a while, everywhere has a place even the police won't go - thats ultimate in individuality.

Tanooki Joe said...

You always get the fun ones, Aaron.

sean said...

this website is the most pathetic and disheartening thing i have encountered in a long time. I just read the bit about you turning into an 'anarcho-capitalist', it's like saying you're a pro-war pacifist. this site and the views it represents is the epitome of postmodernism and the 'ever changing but always staying the same' arguments that so many cynical and alienated youths turn to thse days. I think If you really had no belief in some kind of life after this one you would not care that other people do. I feel pity for people like those who run this website who probably read some books and study some political science and philosophy and reach these really reactionary and absolutist conclusions that you feel you must force on others(JUST LIKE RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS!!!), i'm not saying i'm right and you're wrong,i just think you should consider that atheism and monotheism and theism and every other thing like that is just the same thing but with a different word used to describe it. But you'll probably just go on reading shitty books and absorbing other peoples views and worshipping atheism instead of actually trying to do something positive, or you'll just move on to the next trendy philosophy to replace atheism.

Subnormal said...

aaron, have you heard anything about or from TLD? I havent forgotten him. if you have heard anything, please let me know. is there any way you can mirror his blog? i fear he may be dead

Aaron Kinney said...

Sean,

You obviously dont know what postmodernism is. Either that, or you didnt read my blog.

And your charge that "anarcho-capitalism" is a contradiction in terms is unfounded. Please explain why you think its a contradiction, otherwise Im going to assume you dont know what you are talking about, just like your silly postmodernism claim.

Your claim that I dont do anything positive is also unfounded. I am an extremely positive and productive person. Once again, you are spouting off about something you know nothing about.

Aaron Kinney said...

Sub,

No it seems that TLD dissapeared from the face of the Earth. It is truly a real shame.

Tanooki Joe said...

Amazing. He both endorses and excoriates you for being postmodern, when you clearly aren't. It's remarkable how far some people can stick their heads up their asses.

sean said...

well, i would say that anarcho-capitalism is an oxymoron because anarchy isn't just about getting rid of government, it is about freeing ourselves from all forms of domination, that means property and heirarchy, hence capitalism. And in what way do i endorse postmodernism?

sean said...

the basis of postmodernism, is that people are encouraged to doubt and suppress their natural instincts, fellings and emotions so that everybody is saying 'oh well, no one has the answer, nothing will change, no ones going to do anything about it', and therefore they just let the instituitions of society make all the decisions for them, nihilism is the defining aspect of postmodern culture. We are told that we live in too complex a world for people too start trusting their own instincts and so people become stuck in their indecision even when the truth is so blatantly obvious, and that allows the powers that be to sit back in comfort while they destry the planet and say 'so you'd better just leave us to deal with it'

sean said...

belief in an aftelife is a very natural thing, maybe in some fundamentalists it induces irrationality, fear and obedience to the ruling order, but for many people, who aren't neccessarily religious(like me) believing that there is more to existence than this life right now does not devalue this life, it actually makes it more profound and and meaningful and makes me want to try and make lie better for others. The mentality of the majority these days that there is only this life and then that's it, eternal nothingness, that to me is the view that really devalues this life, and it is basically the way that world powers want us to think because it makes people see everything as just meaningless and futile and therefore everybody is complacent and docile. i believe there is more to existence than what we experience with our senses and even though there is plenty of scientific evidence that supports the idea of an afterlife, i don't need evidence, because it is something that i just feel, something deep inside me that knows it, and i don't need to wait for another person to 'prove it' before i start believing it. If we all went by the rule of 'proof' and 'evidence', then we couldn't believe in love or integrity, because the 'experts' and clever scientists can't prove these things are real.

sean said...

I know plenty of people who are atheists who are very decent people, they don't judge me or other people who believe in an afterlife just because there are some idiots who use religion as a tool of prejudice and fear. However that is what this website is doing, it is lumping millions of people into one category, just because there are religious extremists doesn't mean everyone who believes in god or an afterlife is a nut. For many, including me, believing in an afterlife and the soul doesn't really affect the way i live my life other than i want to see less cruelty and injustice, because i know all things are connected and humanity means more than just being a pile of chemicals on a planet in an emty universe. This site is just as bad as religious fundamentalism, because you are trying to put your views into other peoples minds and judge evreyone else on your own terms, when there are plenty good people who just keep their beliefs to themselves and judge their actions by it.

Aaron Kinney said...

Hey Sean thanx for the quick reply!

You said:

well, i would say that anarcho-capitalism is an oxymoron because anarchy isn't just about getting rid of government, it is about freeing ourselves from all forms of domination, that means property and heirarchy, hence capitalism.

The confusion here Sean is that you think that free trade between mutually consenting parties is "domination". A Lazziez-Faire anarchist market would not involve "domination". Only governments and states use wholesale "domination".

For the record, I dont think I called you a postmodernist but instead I stated that I am not a postmodernist. I honestly dont know where you got that idea from? Since clearly I am a strict materialist and a strong proponent of objective reality, all of which are not related to postmodernism.

the basis of postmodernism, is that people are encouraged to doubt and suppress their natural instincts, fellings and emotions so that everybody is saying 'oh well, no one has the answer, nothing will change, no ones going to do anything about it', and therefore they just let the instituitions of society make all the decisions for them, nihilism is the defining aspect of postmodern culture.

Well it does seem that you know what postmodernism is, but isnt it clear that I am not a postmodernist by reading my numerous blog entries? I abhor nihilism. I do not write for the suppression of natural instincts, but the indulgence of them.

We are told that we live in too complex a world for people too start trusting their own instincts and so people become stuck in their indecision even when the truth is so blatantly obvious, and that allows the powers that be to sit back in comfort while they destry the planet and say 'so you'd better just leave us to deal with it'

Fair enough. But I am not one to promote "sitting back" and letting shit just happen. Quite the contrary, I am a proponent of direct action for change, and I myself put my principles into action on an almost daily basis.

belief in an aftelife is a very natural thing, maybe in some fundamentalists it induces irrationality, fear and obedience to the ruling order, but for many people, who aren't neccessarily religious(like me) believing that there is more to existence than this life right now does not devalue this life, it actually makes it more profound and and meaningful and makes me want to try and make lie better for others.

The only way the afterlife can NOT make you devalue this life is if you assign primacy not to the afterlife, but to this life. So which "life" is more important to you Sean? This life or the afterlife? For Christians and most other theists, the afterlife is obviously much more important.

I dont think its very logical to NOT assign primacy to the afterlife if you happen to believe that it exists.

Its a very simply black-and-white logical choice, Sean. Which life do you think will ultimately be more important to you? This life, or the afterlife? Whichever one is not your first pick is the life that gets devalued by pure logical necessity.

The mentality of the majority these days that there is only this life and then that's it, eternal nothingness, that to me is the view that really devalues this life,

But can you explain why you think it devalues this life?

and it is basically the way that world powers want us to think because it makes people see everything as just meaningless and futile and therefore everybody is complacent and docile.

That is factually incorrect. The powers that be quite clearly want us to believe in the afterlife and pay homage to it. The powers that be even base their political policies on their afterlife beliefs. This is common knowledge.

i believe there is more to existence than what we experience with our senses

That may or may not be true, but regardless, it in no way supports any afterlife claim or god claim or any immaterialist claim whatsoever.

and even though there is plenty of scientific evidence that supports the idea of an afterlife,

There is no scientific evidence that supports any afterlife claim. I would like to request that you share this evidence with us, otherwise I am going to have to assume that you dont know what you are talking about. And why havent you collected on Randi's million dollar challenge yet?

i don't need evidence, because it is something that i just feel, something deep inside me that knows it, and i don't need to wait for another person to 'prove it' before i start believing it.

Wow. So you are an immaterialist, and probably a postmodernist as well. So how do you "know" this? Can you share it with me so that I may also discover the truth that is so obvious to you?

And Sean, since you believe in the afterlife, do you also happen to believe in a beforelife? Like, do you think your spirit or soul existed before your physical body was conceived?

If we all went by the rule of 'proof' and 'evidence', then we couldn't believe in love or integrity, because the 'experts' and clever scientists can't prove these things are real.

Yes we could and yes they can. Love and integrity are simply thoughts and emotions, and we can prove that those thoughts and emotions physically exist within our minds thanx to high-tech brain scanning devices and other wonderful machines.

I know plenty of people who are atheists who are very decent people, they don't judge me or other people who believe in an afterlife just because there are some idiots who use religion as a tool of prejudice and fear.

I dont trust people that dont judge my actions and beliefs, for those people will not correct me when I am wrong, nor will they encourage me when I am right. They will do nothing for me. I damn well expect to be judged based on what I do and what I believe.

However that is what this website is doing, it is lumping millions of people into one category, just because there are religious extremists doesn't mean everyone who believes in god or an afterlife is a nut.

Yes, I am judging people. When I see bad things, I provide negative feedback. When I see good things, I provide positive feedback. Afterlife belief is a bad thing.

But you are right: not everyone that believes in God or an afterlife is a nut. My writing in this blog tends to be harsh or aggressive because I am trying to provide an entertaining and provocative read. I want my blog to be read by as many people as possible, and nobodys gonna come back here week after week if my writing is boring.

For many, including me, believing in an afterlife and the soul doesn't really affect the way i live my life other than i want to see less cruelty and injustice, because i know all things are connected and humanity means more than just being a pile of chemicals on a planet in an emty universe.

I also know that humanity means more than a pile of chemicals, but I dont think the universe is empty. I dont know any atheists that think the universe is empty come to think of it. So since I am an atheist, and I ALSO believe that being human means more than just a pile of chemicals, where does that leave you?

This site is just as bad as religious fundamentalism, because you are trying to put your views into other peoples minds and judge evreyone else on your own terms, when there are plenty good people who just keep their beliefs to themselves and judge their actions by it.

Not true. You are confused. Sean, you are mistaking the passion of message delivery for the message itself. There is NEVER ANYTHING WRONG with ANYONE promoting their message as loudly as they want to (without coercion that is). It seems to me that you are against free speech, since you are against people sharing information enthusiastically. I must say that you are immoral if you think idea expression should be supressed. And ironically, you are railing against free speech while you use that same right to post in my comments section.

Sean, what do I attack in my blog writings? Do I attack the right of fundies to say what they want? NO! What I attack is their message itself; I never attack their right to say it. In fact, I will always defend the right of anyone to peacefully share whatever beliefs they have!

Sean, what makes fundamentalists "bad" is not their passion for their worldview, but their worldview itself. Think about this carefully, and please do not attack my (or anyoen elses) right to say what they want. Instead, try attacking my message itself, not my right to express it. In turn, you can rest assured that I will let you post in my comments all you want and I will never delete your comments. I may attack your ideas Sean, but I will never attack your right to express them.

sean said...

okay, let me clarify what i was trying to say, i am not objecting to your right to have this website, i am just disagreeing with the content of it. I think that your anger is misdirected, the person or persons who run this website appear to be against organised religion rather than belief in an afterlife, against people who take religion to the level where it causes harm to others, rather than against those whose beliefs do not have a negative effect on the wellbeing of others and that's basically the same as my views. I just think that the website is too generalised in that it equates belief in the soul, or god, or an afterlife or whatever you wanna call it with being a religious extremist who wants everyone to think like them. What is the difference between someone who believes in an afterlife who is a decent, kind person and someone who doesn't believe in an afterlife who is also a decnt person?, the answer is nothing really, if it doesn't affect the way they live their lives and the way their lives affect others in a negative way then what's the point in complaing about it?. I came across this website by chance and i could have just let it pass by me, but for whatever reason i felt that i should share my views on the website. if i didn't say that i want this website to either change or cease then i wouldn't be honest, but wanting that the website to dissapear and telling you i think so is not denying you your right to free speech, it is merely letting it be known that i don't like this website. If i had the chance to stop you from keeping this website functioning, i wouldn't do it because that would be me denying you free speech, i am just saying that i would prefer this site not to be operating.

Aaron Kinney said...

Oh ok well at least you dont endorse anyone forcibly stopping people from expressing their views.

But since nobody is forcing you to read my blog, the logical thing for you to say is not that you'd rather me not operate this site, but that you'd rather not read it.

Anonymous said...

what a sad, little man you are. there is so much to say that you will surely ignore. i'll pray for you.

Aaron Kinney said...

Re: Anonymous,

what a sad, little man you are. there is so much to say that you will surely ignore.

Oh my! What a sad little person you are. There is so much to tell you that you will surely ignore. :(

i'll pray for you.
Pray harder! I can tell from over here that you arent praying nearly hard enough. This half-assed praying on your part has got to stop. Youre gonna have to answer to Jesus when you die, and he asks you why you did such lackluster praying your whole life!

Annie said...

Hey, interesting points raised. I go to Catholic school, and I'm pretty spiritual but almost never agree with Church doctrine.

Beyond everything you said, which I mostly agree with, I think Lent is basically a way of saying thank you to Jesus for dying to forgive our sins. Its sort of like how you do all the housework and cooking for your mom on Mother's Day.

I do feel that your argument would be stronger if you adopted a less biased standpoint; people are more likely to be swayed by someone if it doesn't feel as if they are being attacked.