I have never much enjoyed Lent; of course the purpose of Lent is not enjoyment. Repentance, mortification, fasting casts for me a gray pallor over this time of year. Like many things in life I do not like, foul tasting medicine, judges who insist on strict adherence to the law, honest traffic cops, I benefit from Lent. It reminds me of my sins and the necessity to amend my life. This is especially good for me because we live in a sinless age.
Prior to, say 1965, people enjoyed sinning just as much as we do, but most did not delude themselves about what they were doing. Promiscuous sex was just as fun then as now, but few were able to convince themselves that what they were doing was not, deep down, wrong. A trip to an abortionist might “solve” a small “problem”, but the destruction of human life that went on in an abortion was acknowledged by almost all. Standards of morality, as even a cursory study of human history reveals, have often been ignored by men, but the standards remained.
Now we live in a new and glorious day! If something is physically pleasant then there can be no sin about it. Good and evil have been banished from our lexicons, to be replaced, at most, with “appropriate” or “inappropriate” behavior. If over a million innocents have to die for one of our pleasures each year it is a “small” price to pay, and in any case we aren’t the ones paying the price. Some of our friends find gratification in sexual behaviors that were near universally condemned a few decades ago? Not a problem! We will rewrite the laws to make their behaviors “appropriate” and give a hard time to those retrogrades who do not adjust their concepts of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” to match ours. We will celebrate those with great wealth and seek to emulate their lives, no matter how squalid, unless they hold political opinions that are “inappropriate”. We will create wealth out of thin air to care for the poor through that magical device known as “government”, the same poor that we would never personally lift a finger to aid. Lies will cease to be lies if we wish to believe them, and the term lie will soon be banished in any case. Too “judgmental”, the closest thing we have remaining to sin.
Of course this flies in the face of the Christianity that traditionally our society has paid at least lip service to, but we will deal with that by having a new faith, Atheism, and banishing Christianity to harmless “worship” services on Sunday with no role otherwise in our culture. Some of us may secretly have doubts about Atheism, but that will be a small cost to pay for eliminating sin and evil as concepts. In many ways we are living in that utopia predicted by a very wise man long ago:
Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like a child’s game, with children’s songs and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as their saviours who have taken on themselves their sins before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient- and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil.
It is almost a tempting vision, assuming that there is no God. Since there is a God, and good and evil, I swallow my pride and indifference and concentrate on repenting of my sins as I recall these words of another very wise man:
The great (and toothsome) sinners are made out of the very same material as those horrible phenomena as the great Saints. The virtual disappearance of such material may mean insipid meals for us. But is it not utter frustration and famine for the Enemy? He did not create the humans — He did not become one of them and die among them by torture — in order to produce candidates for Limbo, “failed” humans. He wanted to make them Saints; gods; things like Himself. Is the dullness of your present fare not a very small price to pay for the delicious knowledge that His whole great experiment is petering out? But not only that. As the great sinners grow fewer, and the majority lose all individuality, the great sinners become far more effective agents for us. Every dictator or even demagogue — almost every film star or [rock star] — can now draw tens of thousands of the human sheep with him. They give themselves (what there is of them) to him; in him, to us. There may come a time when we shall have no need to bother about individual temptation at all, except for the few. Catch the bellwether, and his whole flock comes after him.
The great lie of our time, and the great despair, is that we are creatures merely of our appetites with transient, meaningless lives. Lent says no to all of that, and that is why I welcome it, gray pallor and all!