Pope Adam Heath Avitable

Why You’re Probably Stupid If You’re Giving Something Up For Lent

Pope Adam Heath AvitableI’ve made fun of organized religion many times on my site, whether Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, or other.  I don’t think that I’ve ever had a serious discussion about it, though, until now.  It goes without saying that this is my opinion, and I would love to hear your opinion in the comments below, unless you’re a Scientologist.

The ritualized acts, arbitrary restrictions, and symbolic gestures that make up organized religion are nothing more than fear-mongering and ignorance-spreading techniques to keep people unquestioning and subservient while truly preventing any real belief in a higher power.

There is nothing wrong with faith or the unwavering knowledge that there is a power or force or being greater than us out there.  Having a conviction that we are not alone can be inspiring, motivating, even exhilarating.  It’s when people have faith in an institution that is steeped in tradition and ritual with no basis in truth or reality that religion takes an ugly turn.

You are either a good christian person (christian meaning moral, upright citizen) or you’re not.  If you are a decent human being with good intentions and strong ethics, you will be closer to your higher power.  If you leave this world knowing that you did what you could to make it a better place, and that your actions were generally more honorable than shameful, you will end up in the place that you deserve to be.  No church, no institution, no human can or should dictate actions that you have to take in order to get into heaven, become reincarnated, become one with God, talk to God, or wherever your faith leads you.

What you can do to fulfill the needs of your particular faith:

  • Be a generally good person
  • Take the actions that genuinely make you feel closer to your God

What you do not have to do to fulfill those needs:

  • Avoid birth control
  • Confess your sins to any earthly person
  • Wear a special garment
  • Rest on specific days
  • Sacrifice a pleasure for forty days
  • Get ash drawn on your forehead
  • Go to church
  • Pray five times a day
  • Avoid pork products or unclean foods
  • Genuflect
  • Abstain from alcohol or caffeine or dancing or swearing
  • Go on missions
  • Get baptized
  • Eat the Eucharist
  • Procreate
  • Convert others
  • Fast
  • Any other of a thousand other restrictions

All these rules do is confuse the issue, segregate people based on their adherence, promote intolerance and self-righteousness, and take away from the entire point of faith in the first place.  If you feel closer to God because you sit quietly on your bed and think about your faith for a little while, do that.  Going through a ridiculous ritual that was created as a result of a mandate from a bunch of old men is not necessary.

A friend was telling me that she recently had a pregnancy scare.  She and her boyfriend are using the poorly conceived (pun intended) pull-out method, and apparently there was one time when he got too excited to pull out in time.

I asked her, “Did you go get Plan B?”

“No, because I’m Catholic and I don’t feel right using any type of  birth control.  That’s why we don’t use condoms either.”

“So you didn’t use Plan B or condoms and decided to try the pull-out method because of the Pope and the rulings of the Catholic Church?”


“And what do you think the Pope and the Church have to say about premarital sex?”


That is a perfect example of the idiocy of the doctrine of any church or religious institution.  A mob of fallible humans interpreting a book that was written by another mob of fallible (also: uneducated and intolerant) humans, just so they can fabricate a carefully set framework of rules and restrictions that you must follow in order to get into heaven.

Next time you consider getting ashes on your forehead, going to Easter Mass, praying at a set time of day, not working on Saturday, or anything else that your religion demands of you, ask yourself why you’re doing it.

Are you doing it because it truly makes you, personally, feel closer with your faith?  Then absolutely do it!

Are you doing it because it’s tradition?

Because you feel like you’re otherwise not a good Muslim/Christian/Jew/Mormon/etc.?

Because you think you have to?

Because you think that it’s the only way for you to achieve the ultimate goal of your faith, and if you don’t, you’ll go to hell (or whatever the equivalent is) along with the billions of other people from other religions who must clearly be wrong because they’re not following your exact set of arbitrarily designed rules and regulations?

Then I don’t want to call you an idiot, but I will call you a follower who is not thinking for yourself, a person with no conviction in his or herself, and someone with no innate ability to tell right from wrong, good from bad, moral from amoral who needs to be told what makes them a good person.  Are you?

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87 Replies to “Why You’re Probably Stupid If You’re Giving Something Up For Lent”

  1. Trish Smith

    I make it even easier – I avoid belief in things that don’t rely on logical proof or material evidence. But I get why folks need religion – death is scary, and religion makes it less so. I’ll just be over here enjoying my chocolate and martinis (no, not together) while y’all sort it out.

  2. Kirsty

    One of the (many) points of discord between my ex and me is organised religion. He was raised Jewish and got himself (and our two daughters) baptised as Protestants here in France, a predominantly Catholic country. I think that in itself pretty much sums up HIS state of mind, but that’s another story.
    I, on the other hand, subscribe to more or less the exact same view of religion as you do.
    My ex frequently accuses (and accused, even when we were still together) me of being “earthly”, “unspiritual”, even (my favourite) “incapable of emotion”, largely because I refuse to believe any of the claptrap spouted by “anointed” pastors or whatever. I fully admit to being against organised religion, for myself anyway, but refuse to accept that that in and of itself means I’m unspiritual and incapable of emotion.
    I have always had an issue with the whole concept of “blind faith”. And I greatly enjoyed reading Chaucer in middle and high school, precisely because of his lucidity – at a time when such things were surely punishable by death – with regard to “religion” and “the church”.
    My (Protestant) girls attend Sunday School, though I’m not enthusiastic about it, and go to a private Catholic school because there are no Protestant schools, their school is a good one and the local state school is crap. But the obligatory sessions in the Chapel, chanting lord knows what, the “fish-on-Friday” crap, all that, makes me shudder.
    I’m raising them to be fairly godless (and certainly religion-less). I read stories about Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology, I try to teach them to be open-minded in the hope that they will become good human beings. I’m not so sure their Protestant teachings will do as much.

  3. alimartell

    I take serious issue with many of the rituals of religion…mostly, obviously, in Judaism, since that’s the one that affects me directly. I worry that too many people get too caught up in doing the rituals JUSTRIGHT that they are taking away from the really nice parts about the religion.

  4. Sheila

    Most Catholics I know only actively practice their faith at Easter and Christmas, which annoys me. I think it’s stupid to walk around with dirt on your face, just because some old dude in a dress said you should.

    I think that the whole idea of Lent is awesome – having a dedicated time of fasting, prayer and sacrifice is cool. But I think most people do it because they’re afraid they’ll wind up in purgatory or something, which is stupid. I think it’s weird when religions change the rules every few decades. If Jesus wanted you to not eat meat for forty days, it’s pretty presumptuous of whichever pope dude changed it to only Fridays.

    I like my religion because I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want……in fact, we wallow in gluttony, seven mortal sins be damned. Of course, my religion is not down with alcohol, mixed bathing or dancing. Basically, the only fun thing we’re allowed to do is chow down without guilt or shame.

    This also proves that, why yes, I am a drunken whorey hypocrite at times. It’s okay though. Jesus still loves me.

    PS : I said “I think” waaaaaaaay too many times in this comment but since I gave up creative writing and commenting, as well as tact and political correctness, for Lent, you’re stuck with it.

  5. Amy

    This Christian agrees worth you 162%. And I’m doing a couple things for lent. But not because of lent. Just because it’s a set period of time. I could have easily done these things for the month of March, for example. But there’s something about lent being a month and a half….

    so am I exempt from being stupid since I don’t give a rip about lent other than the fact that it has a beginning and an end and if I do these couple things for 46 days I’ll feel pretty awesome about myself? (which probably defeats the while point of lent… right? what’s the point of lent again?)

  6. Nenette

    As someone who was in private Catholic school from Kindergarten to Grade 12, sang in the church choir every Sunday since I was 14, and played the church organ for various weddings, baptisms and funerals over the course of 10 years, I agree with you 100%.

    I’ve seen too many people think that, as long as they follow all the dictates of the Pope, follow church doctrine and go to church every freakin’ Sunday, they can do all sorts of bullshit to others. Sometimes, the strictest Catholics are the worst human beings.

  7. Gretchen Gerth

    I tend to say that I was a good Catholic until I gave up hypocrisy for Lent.

    I see too many people who need to tell you they are Christian, because you could never tell by their actions. I found spirituality when I gave up my religion. I now have a relationship with God based on love and not fear.

    Spirituality is sitting in a boat thinking about God.
    Religion is sitting in a church thinking about fishing.

  8. bakingsuit

    While I agree with a lot of what you’ve written, I have to toss it out there that there are some doing it for other reasons too. I don’t believe if I don’t do it, I’m going to hell our that I’m sinning. For me, the sacrifice is goodfor my soul and yes I could do it any time during the year, but by doing it now, I feel more connected to my grandpa and other family members and friends who are giving up something too. Besides, for me, a month and a half of changing something about myself, usually helps it stick.

  9. Nina the slackmistress

    My dad is fond of saying:
    “Any Asshole can give up something for Lent. Try giving up being an asshole.”

    (I’m an atheist, but I am gonna give up booze for 40 days just because I think it’s good for me to do so occasionally. But I’m doing it under the cover of Lent so I don’t have to answer 8 million questions about it.)

  10. Alan Labovitz

    I was born and raised in a fairly religious Jewish home and by the time I was about ten or eleven and began paying attention to the English language parts of the services I attended I realized it had absolutely nothing to do with my life. I continued with the religious life to please my parents and had a bar mitzva but I knew I didn’t believe any of it. I identify myself as being Jewish because I look it and because my name is an identification but I consider myself as an atheist. I remember how angry I was with my parents when, at the age of seventeen, a neighbor offered me a blt sandwich for lunch and realized I had been missing something that good. I don’t care what anyone else believes or practices as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else or pushing their beliefs on me. So, happy Lent or whatever else the season brings to all who are believers. Thanks for bringing joy in your bizarre sense of humor which I usually enjoy.

      • Alan Labovitz

        @ohjennymae, I actually consider myself a Jewish atheist. I enjoy being part of a culture that’s over 5,000 years old. I even like a lot of the food. We have given our grandson and some of our friends a demonstration of Hannukah by lighting the menorrah (sp?) candles and singing the blessings. By the way, when you have spent much of your childhood at Jewish services, you never forget the prayers, music and culture. One of my sons has said of himself on facebook that he is a Jewish atheist.

  11. Ben

    Tell your friend in addition to the whole premarital sex thing, the Catholics also say the pull-out method will get you a one-way ticket to hell. Have her read the story of Onen in Genesis. It’s the reason the catholics are against all forms of birth control, not just Obama’s mandate.


      • Ben


        Yeah, yeah, call me out for being lazy and not looking up the spelling of an uncommon name. Yes, I was referring to Onan.

        Normal Christians (is there such a thing?) would argue that Onan’s sin was his greed in not wanting to split the inheritance, and that is what got his ass smited..smote…smitten…I’ll look it up later. At any rate, the Catholics say it was the spilling of the seed….Boy am I in trouble if they are right.

        Shalom Auslander wrote a fantastic book called Foreskin’s Lament in which he opined that perhaps God set up our reproductive systems so that the best, brightest, most athletic sperm are formed first when we are young, and they get progressively stupider, slovenly and ignorant the more we waste them. So the ages of 11-18 effectively wipe out any chance we have at progressing as a society.

  12. Krëg

    Pretty good op-ed piece, but you forgot to mention that voodoo is the universe’s one true religion, and all others are just the devil’s black lies.
    Besides, with voodoo you get to play with chicken bones and goat’s blood. What’s not to love?

  13. Melissa

    Excellent. I loved this post because of its honesty. There are many people today that do things out of “tradition” but couldn’t tell you the origin of the tradition if they had to – that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, thanks – I enjoyed reading this.

  14. B.E. Earl

    “Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood. ”

    That being said, as long as they aren’t bugging me or harming others, I say let people practice their faith however they want to practice their faith for whatever reason they see fit. It’s THEIR faith, after all.

  15. fiwa

    Woohoo, I bet comments get ugly on this one. I love the picture by the way – almost as good as the one with Hitler in the car.

    I was raised Catholic. I am impressionable, and my sex life was scarred by sermons and things that we were told as young adults. Sex was completely miserable for me for most of my 20’s and I resent the hell out of that. I had my first dream about dying and going to hell when I was 5 years old. 5 years old! I think that says something about the religion I was subjected to.

    I will never forget reading a book about Christianity and Paganism and realizing that most of the religious holidays we observed were taken directly from pagan holidays and morphed into Christian ones. It really opened my eyes and helped me let go of a lot of the guilt that I felt about being a fallen away Catholic. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to be a very spiritual person, just not a religious person.

  16. Megan

    I agree.

    I recently did some research on Martin Luther after seeing the movie “Luther” with my son (who currently attends a Lutheran school because it is the best education option for him, not because I care a wit about Lutheranism). I got the movie solely because I have a thing for Joseph Fiennes, who plays Luther, so you know where my head was at. Anyway, I was surprised to find that he did not believe that the path to Heaven was being a good person, that you could achieve salvation through faith alone. This explains so much to me about so many Christian sects. It also pisses me right off. I seriously doubt that Jesus would give a crap about whether you “believe” in him or not, but would care very much how you behave.

  17. happyhippierose

    Love the photoshop – nice job.

    I was a practicing Catholic for 27ish years. I was even a Catechist and occasional Lectern. Slowly over time, the voice telling me how silly and over-done, hypocritical and false all of the rigamarole was became much louder than the one that found the tradition and routine charming.

    A friend took me to a low-key, nondenomination church, and I’ve had so much fun.

    I don’t think I’ll ever go Catholic again.

    My mom is crushed (of course). My extended fam has been more supportive. Interestingly enough, my Dad and Stepmom (relapsed Jews of sorts) have been really supportive.

    I love what you said about recognizing a higher power.

    But I still like praying, and I like being at church. I enjoy the “fellowship” aspect of it. For me, it was finding a fit. Finding a church that was (mostly) made up of genuine people with intentions I can get behind. I’ve experienced so much genuine love, care, concern and goodness from these people – it’s amazing.

    But I think it’s just to each their own. If someone wanted to know my take on my beliefs or wanted to learn, I would love to share. And I do post about religious/spiritual items all the time.

    I just don’t like telling others what to do. Nor do I like being told.

  18. Gamanda

    Amen. I’m what others like to call a recovering Catholic. When I was young and naive I thought that it was the world. It baffled me that others would only attend big holiday services or not follow the rules like I did. And then I grew up and learned a few things and my perspective has changed completely. I actually feel the same way as you on most of it, which is scary 😉 I can see how others like to give up things for Lent. It’s nice to feel that connection with others. A lot of people just need to have a sense of community, and organized religion can fulfill that to some extent.

  19. Trilby

    You hit the nail on the head of why I just don’t go to church anymore. I feel closer to God in the 15 minutes a day I spend in quiet thought, than I ever have for the hours upon hours I have attended church since I was born. The rituals, the rules, the condescension, and the hypocrisy of organized religion… its all very maddening and none of it feels very “Christian”.

  20. Lynda

    I was baptized as Catholic, but I don’t practice. I believe in just doing the best I can, and no church is going to tell me what I need to believe.

    I worked at a bank once where a woman came in and was so proud of her children, because no matter how much money they got, they always gave a 10% tithe to the church. All I could think is that they probably buy stained glass windows with that money.

  21. Amy

    There are many people who do the things you listed because of a spiritual connection present in those activities. You don’t take your wife to a movie as an empty act of resentment and boredom and expect that to improve your relationship. (Hopefully) But you do it because the experience is meaningful to your relationship.

    There are many people who follow those rituals from habit or to secure their ticket to heaven. It’s easier to follow rituals that mean nothing to them than to invest in the spiritual relationship. Or they don’t know what that even means and aren’t motivated to pursue it.

    As for the problems with organized religion – oh yeah, there are plenty. BUT, You can get a free meal any night of the week in our town at a church. There’s a free clothing shop; free haircuts; transportation for shut ins; a senior activity center; money for those who can’t pay their heating bill or rent; free coats and gloves; free snow plowing; Thanksgiving meal baskets for those in need; a free Christmas dinner for those without family or funds; Christmas gift programs that provide for victims of abuse, foster families or financially destitute; and more. Without organization, none of that would be possible.

    • Faiqa

      There are many people who do the things you listed because of a spiritual connection present in those activities. You don’t take your wife to a movie as an empty act of resentment and boredom and expect that to improve your relationship. (Hopefully) But you do it because the experience is meaningful to your relationship.

    • Avitable

      @Amy, if you re-read what I wrote, I have no problem with someone who takes part in a ritual or activity because they actually draw comfort from it, find that it brings them closer to their faith, or have a connection.

      And all of those free things you talk about are also provided by secular organizations without any church behind them pulling the strings.

  22. ec

    What gets me is the number of couples that live together before marriage yet once they get married are all HAIL NO about the BC. Like WTF were you doing before? I don’t care what you do really, but quit being hypocritical about it.

  23. Faiqa

    Your assertion that ppl who engage in ritual are unable to experience “true” faith is a huge generalization. HUGE. It’s not any different than saying atheists can’t be moral because they don’t believe in God. The thoughts above don’t take into account the idea that people use collectivity of action as a spiritual experience that brings them closer to God.

    I don’t cover my head only because I’m Muslim, I also cover it to experience a very meaningful connection between another person who is Muslim. It’s also an expression and statement about my values regarding my personal and sacred definition of womanhood. Furthermore, I combine being friendly, respectful and kind to people who are not Muslim in order to illustrate that being separate or different or having a visible boundary is not the same thing as being unfriendly, unkind, immoral or evil. Not everyone wears a scarf, kipah, bindi, ashes or a cross for the same reasons I just described, maybe a lot of people do it just to be self righteous. But, as your tone above and some of the comments illustrate, being self righteous doesn’t seem to be the sole province of folks who follow organized religions.

    I don’t feel that the rules are arbitrary, but I can understand/respect the reason behind thinking so. Still, I think using the point of them being arbitrary to invalidate their meaning as they are practiced by people diminishes the need for some of us to be part of a group. You don’t value that? That’s reasonable. Still, I think it’s unkind to call people who do value that “stupid”, and it makes you guilty of the same sin of dogmatism that infects the minds of people who seek to enforce their religious agendas on people without compassion.

    • Avitable

      @Faiqa, if you continued to read my post and didn’t stop at the bolded part, you’ll see that I fully support people who engage in rituals when it brings them closer to the community, when they have a genuine connection with their faith as a result, or if it has a deeper meaning to them.

      I do have some issue with people who are sheep and follow along in rituals because everyone else is doing it and they’re afraid not to be part of the crowd, which, to me, is the same thing as feeling one with the crowd. However, I don’t think they’re stupid, just misguided.

      It’s all the other people that I think are stupid – the ones that I describe in the last few lines of my post.

      So, in conclusion, I covered all of the areas you discussed in my post, and you are guilty of SKIMMING!

      • Faiqa

        @Avitable, I did read it. At a red light. The point is… I read it. I would normally just say this to you on the phone, but what the hell: when you lead off with the assumption that I didn’t read it — it makes you look like a douche. Rather, it proves that you are, in fact, a douche.

        I think it’s okay if someone goes to church and doesn’t believe in God. It’s strange, oc. But my point was mainly that wanting to be “on a team” is not as awful as you’re making it sound. Using that team to limit people’s rights or harm them is what’s deplorable. And I know you’re not going to let this go and come up with some response that I’ll think is aimed at making me look stupid, and when I call, you’ll say, “What? I was just point out that ” and I’ll come back with, “Shut up, you’re dumb.”

        And then we’ll laugh and laugh until Y. asks for a Coke or something and he drinks half of it before I realize what I’ve done.

        So. In the interest of Y. not drinking a Coke on Monday morning, let’s just do this:

        Shut up, you’re dumb! Hahahaha….

  24. Lisa

    I agree completely. I think if ritual and tradition makes you feel closer to your faith, serves to keep the tenets of your faith in the forefront of you mind, and/or generally enhances your life experience then great. I’m all for that, and I may even like to learn about it as a way of knowing you better. I’ll still be over here maintaining my own set of beliefs.

    However. I have no patience for those who blindly follow tradition and dogma out of fear and lack of understanding, not because it enhances their lives but because it gives them a stick with which to batter those they consider infidels (or sinners). Those are the people who are totally voted off my zombie apocalypse team.

  25. tracey

    The rules. Oh the rules. I was raised Catholic and didn’t understand a lot, so I asked a lot of the questions you listed above. The religious ed people and priests didn’t like my questions. At all. I was told, several times, to just be quiet and accept that this is the way it is. Um, No? Even at a young age, I knew that books written by men were just that: books written by men. Inspired by God? Perhaps. Edited by political figures with their own agendas? Absolutely. Politics and spirituality should never be intertwined. And so I live my life thinking for myself, raising my children to do the same.

  26. Liz

    Agreed. I respect everyone’s religions, but I cannot respect when people are bending over backwards to do right by someone else’s standards — and that applies to everything, not just religion. Live your life, be a good person, and treat others the way you’d want to be treated.

  27. Abby

    Great post, Adam. (This from someone who’s usually too shy to comment.) Had to say it, though!

    I’m someone who has never been particularly religious, but I would say that I am spiritual and always try be an ethical, “good” person. I’m also a person who has been hurt badly by someone in the name of their organized religion. I lost my best friend because I decided to divorce my husband after a very short, 8 month marriage (despite having been in the relationship for close to 8 years.) My friend, all in the name of her religion, felt that I hadn’t taken the religious aspect of the marriage vows seriously. And this was with her knowing full well that I am not a religious person. She seemed to have accepted this fact about me in the past, but I guess since we decided to have a “semi-religious,” protestant ceremony (mostly in order to please members of both of our families,) she expected us to follow the rule: “till death do us part.” It was a deal breaker to her. The sad part was we had a great friendship before that. I had so much respect for her; I thought she was a very intelligent, insightful person who had good reasons for following her faith. I was really hurt and confused by her actions. Now I just tell myself that she wasn’t the person I thought she was and I was lucky to find that out sooner rather than later.

    The REALLY sad part, though, is that my story is a very mild example of the hurting (emotionally and physically) and judgment that happens every day in the name of various dogmas. I hear worse stories than mine all the time (e.g. people being disowned by family, physically or sexually abused, murdered, etc etc.) I think everyone should ask themselves, do the benefits of organized religion outweigh the hurts? Maybe sometimes, but aren’t there other activities that would allow us to connect with others and connect with a higher power? I say yes, dammit! I think there is definitely something about organized religion that puts blinders on otherwise smart people and makes them into sheeple. And that’s a very dangerous thing.

  28. Bryan

    “The ritualized acts, arbitrary restrictions, and symbolic gestures that make up organized religion are nothing more than fear-mongering and ignorance-spreading techniques to keep people unquestioning and subservient while truly preventing any real belief in a higher power.”

    “Are you doing it [getting ashes on your forehead, going to Easter Mass, praying at a set time of day, not working on Saturday] because it truly makes you, personally, feel closer with your faith? Then absolutely do it!”

    If these things are “nothing more than fear-mongering and ignorance-spreading techniques,” how exactly could they make someone “feel closer to [their] faith”? Could it be that they CAN be something more than what you make them out to be? Could it be that they aren’t just “fear-mongering and ignorance-spreading techniques to keep people unquestioning and subservient while truly preventing any real belief in a higher power,” but can help a person to feel closer to, more in tune with a higher power?

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