Lent for Non-believers

Per, CH's recommendation, here's a stand-alone post for this discussion. It's religion, so please, tread lightly.

Today being Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent, I find myself with some genuine questions for non-believers. For myself as a Catholic, Lent is a time to grow. By giving things up, I develop more will power. By taking time to reflect on my failings, I find paths to address them. By recognizing and working on my weaknesses, I grow into a stronger person. By going without, I ensure others don't have to. Etc.

For me, this is both recommended by my religion and a point of personal growth. Having a time set aside each year for this type of thing has a lot of appeal to me. It makes sure I'm actually doing the "hard work" of becoming a better person, not just subscribing to a vague notion of self-improvement (not that I mean to imply that for others; I just know myself, and that I tend to not do what I intend to do towards self-improvement a lot of the the time).

So I'm curious what non-religious people do in this regard? Are there specific sacrifices you make? At certain times? Do you set try to focus on this type of thing, or do you go about it differently?

I look forward to learning more, if you're willing to share. Thanks!

21 thoughts on “Lent for Non-believers”

  1. Within the context of moral/spiritual, would you say that pursuing personal growth through a particular means, the presumption is that folks are, A) concerned that they need to become 'better' in some way ... appreciate that they're lacking, B) interested in actively doing something about that, and, C) know what they could or should do in order to affect that change?

    I took my kids to Mass at the Basilica last Sunday.* First attendance at a service in probably 8 months. I will not be receiving ashes today, more out of apathy than antipathy, and had not contemplated the arrival of Lent, let alone giving anything up. If I'm being honest, I've never been comfortable with an outward symbol of a need for repentance and grace-seeking. Having ashes on my forehead always feels like I'm getting credit for piety. Not a huge deal except where there isn't the associated (sincere) internal belief. How do you admit your spiritual or moral failings and repent when you're unsure God exists?

    Caveat: responding - or at least this response - may suggest that I've given this serious thought. That would not be accurate.

    * SelectShow
    1. I think those 3 presumptions (or at least the first 2) are certainly part of the question I have. It could well be that the answer is "I don't do anything because I don't think I'm lacking" or "I don't do anything because I'm not interested in fixing myself." I kind of doubt either of those responses would be super common around here, given the type of people who usually engage on the WGOM. But maybe.

      I don't know about knowing what to do... I think that's always a big question. It's one of the reasons I find my religion to be so essential - far too often I'm bad at self-identifying flaws, and even worse at knowing how to correct them. For me, religion helps me with both answers, and does so in a way that is generally encouraging, not discouraging.

      How do you admit your spiritual or moral failings and repent when you're unsure God exists?

      Being a believer*, I suppose I've never really tried. But from my outsider perspective, it seems like one could admit their greed, or their laziness, or their anger, and want to do away with those things, without needing belief to point them out.

      *I mean, there's always doubt. I don't think faith is true faith unless it is accompanied by doubt. But ultimately I keep resolving the question in favor of belief.

      1. But ultimately I keep resolving the question in favor of belief.

        I like this. When I give my mind over to the question, I generally end up here too (though unconvincingly & without the zeal I once had).
        Then I go further and ask myself, "Is it really belief if it's the process results in the, 'Better to believe in God and live accordingly, only to find that there is nothing after death, than to disbelieve and learn you were wrong.'?" and I'm back where I started.

    2. I've never had ashes up until the past ten-ish years or so; it's up to the pastor or church to decide if it would be observed or not; have to ask Rev. Jeff if this is typical for Methodist churches. I know ~20 years ago I did a double take when a coworker with ashes walked by after being at the morning mass (I guess); being raised an (ignorant) Lutheran I was unused to the practice. Also, giving something up for Lent is also not typically practiced.

      Lent has really hit home the past several years after our church began a fish fry 😉 (best non-catholic one in the area!)

      1. All the United Methodist churches I know observe Ash Wednesday, but that's pretty much limited to the Dakotas, so it's kind of a small sample size. I don't think it's a requirement that we observe it, but it's standard around here. The congregations I've been associated with would have been disappointed had we not observed it.

          1. I'm not sure why you would have an Ash Wednesday service without ashes. That would seem to just make it a Wednesday service. But to each his own, I guess.

              1. So do we, in Gettysburg. But I don't know why you would call it an Ash Wednesday service if you didn't have ashes. But again, whatever. It doesn't offend me or anything. I just don't quite get it.

      2. I hadn't really thought about the Protestant observation or not of Ash Wednesday until my college roommate got mentioned in the news a few years back. I guess I was generally aware that it was (mostly) only Catholics with the marked foreheads. (Orthodox? Not significant enough anywhere I've lived, and maybe their calendar is different anyways.)

    3. I don't feel like wearing ashes is a sign of "piety", but pretty much the only outward symbol I make of my faith all year. It's not like I talk about it or anything. And I know that at least twice it has reminded other Catholics in the office that it was Ash Wednesday.
      For that reason, it's my preference to go to Ash Wednesday service/mass in the morning or at lunch at St. Olaf's downtown, rather than in the evening with my family (so the family goes during the day, too).

      During yesterday's homily, the priest mentioned that Ash Wednesday is the second-most attended service after Christmas, despite it not being a Holy Day of Obligation. I think that means among liturgical days not falling on Sunday (so, excluding Easter). He didn't mention it in the homily, but I think a big reason is the secular acknowledgement of Mardi Gras gives notice to those not otherwise attuned to the liturgical calendar. I don't think there's the same awareness of the coming of the Solemnity of Mary, Assumption, All Saints' Day*, or Immaculate Conception. (Leaving Ascension off the list because the US Catholic Bishops have moved its observance to a Sunday.)

      *While Mardi Gras is widely recognized as "party and indulge before Lent", I don't think there's any such connection between Halloween and All Saints'.

  2. I guess in the abstract, I like the idea of setting aside time every year for focused reflection and self-improvement. Ideally, we would all live lives that incorporate intentionality and reflection and goal-setting and self-improvement and humility. In the real world, of course, there are always fires to put out and chores to be done in the here and now. It takes a lot of effort, or a lot of leisure, or both, to live with that kind of omnipresent intentionality.

  3. As a half-baked apostate, my Lenten observation is mostly about eating Filet-O'-Fish sandwiches these days. And as an overthinker, I don't need a special time of year to reflect on my deficiencies.

    1. I'd be interested in hearing more about how you respond to those reflections, if you're willing to share.

  4. I was raised and confirmed Catholic, but I haven't attended church besides weddings or funerals in probably close to 20 years. For whatever reason (mostly that I was a selfish adolescent, I suppose) I hated giving up meat on Fridays. I'd do it around my folks, but if I was with a friend or at school, I'd just eat whatever I wanted. I never really spent time giving things up for Lent, but I wasn't terribly fond of the particular ways in which a lot of these acts of faith were framed in the diocese I attended, which is probably a big part of why I feel a lot of the ways I do today in regards to religion.

    Honestly, my association with Lent is mostly my father's salmon loaf, covered in creamed corn.

    1. It has been a long time since I've heard someone mention salmon loaf with creamed corn. I hope your association is a good one - mine is.

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