Lent as a Cultural Phenomenon?

I’ve been thinking about Lent recently, the 40 days (give or take) leading up to Resurrection Sunday set aside for fasting, prayer, reflection, and and overall soberness. To me, Lent seems to have taken on a life of its own as a cultural phenomenon, as opposed to a religious observation.

I started to write some thoughts about this shift of Lent from the religious realm to the secular realm, but I’m still working out my thoughts about it, so I’ll keep this tame. What started my thinking was the realization that most people who I hear talking about Lent merely talk about how they are “giving something up,” rarely bringing up anything about preparing oneself for Holy Week or reflecting on Christ’s death and resurrection or spending time in prayer.

It instead seems almost like a statement of status, or an exercise in personal fulfillment to show that one can overcome the absence of important pleasures like Facebook, chocolate, or reality television shows. I think that the act of “giving something up for Lent” has taken on a life of its own, divorced from the intent of observing Lent. It has grown into a cultural act, not a religious one.

That said, I’m not yet ready to make the jump from mere observations to biblical critique. I would hope, however, that if it was a religious observation, that more thought would go into biblical principals of fasting (i.e. Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6).

In lieu of my unformed thoughts, what do you think? Has the observation of Lent been wrung from the realm of the religious? Or is it a legitimate cross-cultural observation? Neither?

6 thoughts on “Lent as a Cultural Phenomenon?

  1. If you want to fast for 40 days, I suppose that could be a good thing… (I know I would probably benefit and finally birth the baby!)And I suppose that giving up things (anything you like, enjoy) in general for a period of time in order to reflect on the thing we should like/enjoy most would benefit also, if in no other way than to keep it from becoming an idol… but whether you are talking about Lent as it is observed by the RCC, or even the not eating meat on Fridays (which they also observe), or what Lent has become as a cultural phenomenon, it is just another form of works righteousness, another way for people to say “look God, look at what I am doing for you, what will you do for me?”Real fasting is not just the giving up – it’s what you replace it with, and of course, the heart in which it is done.My $.02 off the cuff.xo,G

  2. Agreed on the heart issue, and what is replacing what is given up. That was a paragraph in my original, unpublished post. Maybe I’ll release it on a “rarities and unreleased material” blog after the band and I break up and need money.

  3. I don’t care if people ‘celebrate’ Lent or not. I just don’t want to know about it if they are. Shouldn’t one’s right hand not know what the left hand is withholding for Lent?Isn’t it fun to say the phrase “Lenten Season?”

  4. Right, and not even so much the right hand and left hand (said in the context of giving), but even moreso with Matthew 6 in mind:”But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”

  5. Forgot to sign in, so I lost my comments. So, I will be short, which may be better.1) It is a cultural phenomenon – right in line with a whole host of other “spiritual” practices (Christian or otherwise)2) I see nothing wrong with evangelicals participating in Lent – in many ways, as a pastor, I wish more would undertake this sort of discipline. Not for the sake of pride or spiritual show-boating, but for the intended purpose. Every spiritual practice/discipline will always lead to that temptation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. 3) This year I am actually adding something for Lent – inspired by something in Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor . I’ll keep it to myself here, lest you think wrong of me. But if I do, it may be because I am seeking to lead and encourage others (akin to Paul’s encouragement of 1 Cor. 11:1

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