Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Obviously I've never been a Christian. There's a lot in Christianity, like the concept of the Trinity, that I just can't fathom or get behind. But there are two things about Christianity that I've always envied.

One is the "Spirit of Christmas." I've always longed to be part of the whole season of joy and I love the idea that everyone is more generous and kind to those less fortunate at that time of year. Of course it would be nice if people were that generous all year round, but as a Humanist, I've got to understand the limits of Humanity, too, and once a year is better than nothing.

The other is Lent. I guess it's an odd thing to envy, but as a child I enjoyed books about old-fashioned girls, like Anne of Green Gables and Betsy-Tacy. The girls were always Christian and church was always an important part of their lives. I enjoyed reading about the challenges and feelings around Lent. I particularly remember Betsy from the Betsy-Tacy series giving up fudge for Lent. Fudge-making was a common activity for teenage girls at the beginning of the 20th century, and at every gathering Betsy would take one piece of fudge, bring it home, and keep it in a box. At the end of Lent she had a wonderful sense of accomplishment and a big box of stale fudge.

Well, today is Ash Wednesday and there's been a lot of talk among my Christian friends on Facebook around the start of Lent. One is giving away candy she won't be able to eat until Lent is over, another is debating what to give up, and a Minister friend of mine posted a pancake recipe yesterday for Shrove Tuesday and is asking her congregants what they're doing to observe Lent. I, of course, jumped right in to these discussions with suggestions and questions, and I learned something new.

Some people do something positive for Lent instead of giving something up.

What a wonderful Humanist idea! Now, I believe that giving things up is good for you. It's why I give up bread on Passover and why I fast on Yom Kippur. Perhaps that's the origin of my Lent envy, or maybe it's the other way around. But giving up sweets or alcohol or meat doesn't really help anyone else (well, the meat does, I guess.) On the other hand, deciding to be nicer to those around you or more generous or to start a new volunteer project does help others. When I heard that Catholics in the town where I grew up have been adding positive acts for Lent since the 1980's, I thought, "Wow! Humanist Catholics! Who knew?"

Which is when I realized that I'm in trouble.

Because I don't see Humanism as having much to do with disbelief in God. I define Humanism differently. To me, it's about putting the dignity of others first and making decisions based on rational, rather than textual, reasons. It's the embrace of science and skepticism. To me, none of that precludes religion. If you do it, you're a Humanist.

So what does that make me?

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