Atheist Lent

I like to joke that I gave up Christianity for Lent years ago and just never picked it back up again. But hearing about people making their Lenten sacrifices, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been wanting to join in.

It’s not my intention to mock Christian beliefs by doing this. It is kind of piggybacking, and I can see why some people might find that distasteful or point-missing. The type of person who smugly proclaims that nonbelievers wouldn’t have morals or ethics if it weren’t for the Christian societies we live in would have a field day, I’m sure. But I think that many religious beliefs and practices endure because they address human needs — needs we have whether or not the supernatural exists.

Some people use Lent to try to kick a negative habit. Some people try to do a daily act of kindness or charity. Others use the act of giving up pleasurable food or activities to help them focus on something larger than themselves. As a humanist, I can see the value in that. And having people around you doing it at the same time makes it less scary, easier, less of an individual burden.

So I’ve decided to do Atheist Lent. I’m going to try to give up self-doubt for 40 days.

I can see how this might not come across as a sacrifice. “You’re going to tell yourself you’re awesome for six weeks? Oh, what a burden.”

The thing is, my self-doubt protects me, in a twisted way. It keeps me from risking all the consequences I fear.

  • I can’t do that; I’ll look like a fool.
  • I can’t do that; people won’t like me.
  • I can’t do that; it won’t be good enough.
  • I can’t do that; it’ll make me a bad person (for things that won’t actually make me a bad person, like standing up for myself).

And my self-doubt interferes with my ability to contribute to the world. It keeps me from reaching out to people, from doing my best work, from writing, from volunteering, from everything. I can be a better member of my community — all of my communities — if I start saying “I can.”

(self-doubt is telling me not to hit “Publish”)

Hell? No!

He’d said this earlier in the year, but either he reaffirmed it this Sunday or some news sites are confused. Either way, according to Pope Francis, atheists who do good (mind you, I suppose our ideas of “good” might be different) aren’t going to hell:

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.

“Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good,” he said.

Now of course, I don’t believe in hell or redemption via deity or any of that. Nonetheless, I really hope this attitude percolates down to the membership. The main reason I’m not as open about my atheism as I could be is that it would break my father’s heart to think that one of his kids is going to hell. (No, he doesn’t read the blog.) And if it’s Catholic doctrine that I am, well … he might end up not believing it, but it would be a hard choice. I would really like for the Catholic Church not to put him in that position.