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.