The Secularization of Lent

Mark Oppenheimer’s article in the New York Times, A Religious Ritual Captures Non Believers, tells the story of how people who don’t identify themselves as Christians still continue to celebrate Lent. John Corvino grew up in the Catholic church until he decided he was gay, left the church, and identified himself as a “non believer” which he claims is safer than calling himself an atheist. He still celebrates though.

But this year, like every year, Mr. Corvino is giving up something for Lent, the six-week period of reflection and repentance observed by Catholics and many other Christians. “I’m giving up checking e-mail and Facebook before 10:30 a.m.,” he says.

Mr. Corvino attributes his observance as a bit of nostalgia.

Josina Reaves says that she never goes to church but still gives up something for Lent.

“This year it’s chocolate chips,” says Ms. Reaves, 39. “One year I gave up pretzels, and I never went back to pretzels. They were a crutch, and I felt cleaner and freer and lighter without them.”

Kate Paesani grew up in church but says she hasn’t been back in many years and isn’t sure that there is a God. But that doesn’t keep her from observing Lent.

“I’m not sure what inspired me to begin observing Lent again,” Ms. Paesani says, “but I know that I continue doing so because I like the idea of sacrifice, of challenging myself to give up something that I know will be difficult for me to live without.”

Lent is part of the church calendar that is usually identified with Roman Catholicism and a few Protestant denominations although not usually with evangelicals. Like most things, the observance of Lent can be something that is good for the soul or it can be just another religious ritual devoid of real meaning with a person’s motives being of crucial importance.

The thing that struck me in this article is how non-Christians are drawn to religious themes. Even Mr. Corvine who has spoken at events promoting skepticism and atheism, wants to be in touch with the divine. But also notice that the religious rituals are turned in a narcissistic direction. These lenten sacrifices aren’t made to draw a person closer to Christ in repentance but rather more in the vein of self improvement.

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