Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cheese and Rice!

“What the hell is that on your forehead?” I asked my friend.

In hindsight, the question may have been a little insensitive but I was an Atheist at a religiously affiliated University and I seriously didn’t know what the hell that was on his forehead. Moments like these offered me a chance to learn about other cultures, belief systems, and traditions.

The answer to my question of course was “Ash,” as it was the beginning of Lent and my Christian roommate was observing the occasion appropriately. He explained to me that he had to give up something-- anything he wanted-- for 40 days in honor of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert.

My first question was that if Jesus could turn water into wine, why couldn’t he turn sand into sandwiches? But I had already insulted him with my first query and thought it better to keep that one to myself, so I moved on to my second question:

“What are you going to give up?”

“Cheese,” he said with a lamenting groan.

And here is where my confusion set in.

If you're giving up cheese for lent,
I recommend making this your last supper. 
First off, what kind of God would ever want you to give up cheese? Cheese is ridiculously good. It goes on salads, paninis, crackers, tortilla chips, and don’t get me started on burritos. Asking someone to give up cheese is like asking someone to give up oxygen or Facebook. It’s just plain torture. Especially for my roommate, who ate it all the time. But he explained to me that the fact that he ate cheese so much was the precise reason he was giving it up for Lent. If he didn’t have such a love for cheese, it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice.

So the more important the indulgence you give up, the more respect you are paying to your religion? Well if that’s the case, and if this Jesus guy gave up ALL foods for 40 days, why do you only have to give up one thing? If you want to really show Jesus your solidarity, do what he did. Go all out and stop eating altogether. I mean if you are only giving up your daily dose of pepper jack but your Deity starved himself for 40 days, it seems like you’re not really honoring him properly. Why don’t you just knock Lent down to a week while you’re at it?

Dear Jesus,

I know you starved in the desert for 40 days, so in honor of that I’m not going to eat cookies. For today. That may seem like an insignificant gesture, but I really, really, REALLY love cookies. Especially chocolate chip! Damn, now I want a cookie…

Okay, I can’t lie to you, I just had a cookie, but don’t be mad. I know you’re a forgiving guy, right? I’ll start my one-day cookie diet right now. Woops. Just had another one. Okay, starting… NOW. I promise.

Cookie Monster

P.S. Is cookie dough the same as cookies?

Bad habits should be given up for more than 40 days.
I will give in and acknowledge that Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, so he was able to fast for 40 days more easily than most mere humans would have. But if humans don’t have to give up eating altogether, to even things out, why don’t they give up their indulgence for more than 40 days? It makes sense to me and I’m sure Jesus would appreciate the extra respect.

If religion is truly there to guide people through this mine field called “Life,” why doesn’t it push peoples’ limits more than simply asking them to pass on the cheese every time they order a Five Dollar Footlong in the next month and a half? If what you’re giving up is something you recognize as unhealthy in your life, I say give it up for good. Jesus couldn’t have given up all food forever because he would have died, and there’s no coming back from that. Well, err, you know what I mean. But taking your 40-day commitment to give up cheese or cigarettes or coffee or whatever it is and expanding it into a lifetime goal sounds like an awesome ideal to preach. And that way, over time, your sacrifice will turn into a positive in your life rather than simply a 40-day test of faith.

Or is that what Lent is? Simply a test. A hazing ritual to make sure you earn your way into the coveted fraternity of J.C. If a religion wants to truly make their followers healthier and happier, they should ask them to give up a bad habit for good, not for 40 days. Otherwise, the tradition of Lent is just that: a tradition-- with no goal or true meaning other than keeping in line with the practices of the people who did it before you.

Haze Jesus!
(C. Spring Break 18 A.D.)
Some of the definitions for the word “tradition” include 1) a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting, 2) a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices, 3) a customary or characteristic method or manner. A lot of people love traditions, and that’s understandable. They often bring comfort and familiarity to an individual or group event or they offer a way to honor those before us by repeating their customs. But nowhere in the definitions of the word “tradition” do we see anything about a learned or evolved behavior, customized to incorporate what we have found to be true in more recent generations. All we see is a way of thinking that has been blindly passed down for thousands of years without question or ridicule.

I get that it’s easy for me, as someone who doesn’t believe in God, to say, “Don’t just do something because your religion tells you to.” And by no means am I asking you to question your faith in God or Jesus or Allah or Xenu or whatever you worship. All I ask is that you consider whether you want to be a follower of a religion that asks you to practice rituals that aim to make you a better person, or simply aim to test your faith by asking you to take on torturous sacrifices for no reason other than a book said a guy fasted in the desert for 40 days. When you groan that you’re giving up your favorite indulgence for Lent, you’re not honoring Jesus, you’re only punishing yourself. And if those things have to be intertwined, you might want to seek out your religion elsewhere.

It’s lunchtime and I’m going to go get a cheeseburger.


  1. Interesting point of view. I cannot speak for your Christian friends, but I know that for me, keeping to the "traditions" or "rituals" of Jewish culture is not for me to honor my forefathers or gain entry into a mythical heaven. Its more an association with something that is important to me - being a Jew. I don't know if there is a God, or if there is, what "its" role is in my life. What I do know, is that it feels good to be associated with something greater than myself. For me, being Jewish is a part of my identity and personality moreso than a religious doctrine that I live by. I know what you are going to say - how is this different than a fraternity or a social club. I don't have a great answer other than to tell you: get a circumcision like I've been telling you to do for years, then we will talk.

  2. "All I ask is that you consider whether you want to be a follower of a religion that asks you to practice rituals that aim to make you a better person, or simply aim to test your faith by asking you to take on torturous sacrifices for no reason other than a book said a guy fasted in the desert for 40"
    that asks you to practice rituals that aim to make you a better person – I would have to say that, essentially people who choose to give something up for Lent usually do it to better themselves or to see if they are even capable of giving something up. I feel like a lot of people use this time to reflect upon who they are as a person and where they are going in life (and it may be in a religious sense or just life in general). Giving up cheese might be difficult for some people or at the end they may realize it wasn’t that difficult at all and hopefully positive change comes from that – eating healthier in general, committing to an exercise routine, etc. And Lent just doesn’t ask people to ‘give something up’ they ask that you do something difficult or something good that you may not do in your regular life – volunteer your free time to good causes, read more, learn how to cook, be kinder to those around you. I agree – these are probably things that we should do anyway, but we don’t. Kind of like a New Year’s Resolution – usually stuff we should have done the previous year, but didn’t. There is never a wrong time to make positive goals for oneself and to try your hardest to attain those goals – even if it is for 40 days. :)

  3. This may be incredibly inappropriate, but your blog made me so effin hungry. I had thoughts of divulging on macaroni and cheese midway through that I had to stop reading for a bit.

    With that out of the way, I decided to participate in Lent. I'm not super Catholic, but it feels great knowing that there is a higher power and that I'm not just talking to air when I pray at night. I gave up meat for 40 days...I've never wanted a carne asade more than I do right now.

  4. Thanks for everyone's thoughts on this. Despite my typical sarcastic, know-it-all tone, I do like to learn different facts and perspectives on the issue :)