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An atheist fasts for Lent – Week 1: Welcome to the Hunger Games

I’ve been fasting for Lent for 18 years. It started as a solidarity thing with my best friend, who has long since lapsed in his Catholicism. It was a time when I was exploring my own spirituality. I kept going, and it’s one of the few traditions I have maintained that reminds me that there is something greater than me.

Not in the sense of God, or a supreme being of any kind. No. I am the furthest from that – atheist, in fact – and I have no intention of “finding God” or God finding me (that would be creepy). I mean in the sense that no matter how huge everything may seem; problems, worries, frustrations, ego, desires, and even happiness – there is always something out there greater than me, keeping the world turning.

It’s not that our individual needs are superfluous or insignificant. We do matter. We are matter. We are part of the world and what gives the spaces around us meaning, and vice-versa. And no matter what we believe in, or whether we study the Quran or subatomic particles, we’re all just searching for a truth that’s greater than ourselves.

Lent is a season of 40 or so days, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at the start of Easter. It comes from the Anglo Saxon word, lencten, which means “spring”. The 40 days represents the time Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

For Christians, Lent is a time of repentance and fasting; a time of self-examination and reflection. Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others. In a spiritual sense, it’s a time of reflecting on one’s connection with God. Some see it as physical betterment. I see it as a combination of both: I may not agree with organised religion and its ability to oppress – as we have seen religious organisations lobbying against minority groups like the LGBT community and women – but I understand that I cannot be so naive as to not question the world around me, but neither so arrogant to conclude that God absolutely does not exist.

Lots of people ask me why I fast for Lent when I don’t even celebrate or observe most traditions that come from my Hindu heritage. Growing up in a family of atheists, my sister and I were taught that there is no single truth – only a truth you choose for yourself, of which the consequences you must face with courage of conviction. For me, fasting for this holy observance has built upon that teaching; that the only truth that is absolute is that we are alive, and exist hand-in-hand with those around us. The choice comes in with what we do with that truth.

Looking at it from a spiritual perspective, you could say that my God is my conscience, and that instead of fasting to become closer to an omnipresent god, I fast to get closer to my goal of being able to peacefully coexist with everything around me within this mass of rock and water that we call home, as well as better myself for the people and environment around me.

It’s also a sense of discipline, which every person needs every now and then to come to grips with the crazy world we live in.

Many have criticised my choice of observing this fast, saying that it’s appropriation of something that isn’t mine, and I get that fully. Instead of Lent, let’s call it something else and pretend that it falls on some random day and goes on 40 days into July. The intention is the same – and while some Christians will call it a bastardisation of their tradition – goodness, kindness, and discipline are aspirational, regardless of what influences them.

Rather than instilling the fear God in people, I imagine a world that is good without the fear of retribution. Some may feel that this goes against the principles of religion, with being God-fearing as one of the main tenets of Christianity. This, I find, is counter-productive. If it works for you, all good. No buts.

All the sentiment aside, it’s 43 days to go until 13 April, which is when Lent ends. Wish me luck as I cut out refined sugar from my diet (excluding chocolate, because chocolate helps me handle my seizures much like it helps Harry Potter deal with the dementors) and give up using plastic cutlery (including straws) for environmental reasons. It’s also not only about giving up something so I am also going to take up walking for half an hour every day. May the odds be ever in my favour.

Featured image via Shutterstock
1 Comment
  1. Ian Cooper says

    Lent is not actually a Christian or even a religious thing. The word Lent is derived from the Old English “Lencten” and simply means spring. In Northern European traditions, it marks a period of fasting, possibly due to stocks of food being low before the growing season.

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