This Lent, give up austerity

5 March 2014. For some people, it was the start of a fast lasting 40 days and 40 nights. But why exactly are Christians still observing Lent? Not to mention the non-believers who also take part in this tradition.

There is no one explanation of how Lent first came about. One hypothesis is that, as Lent falls at the end of winter, people were fasting because the winter reserves were running low – just before Easter and the new farming season.

So why exactly are we still observing this custom? Why should we commemorate an era of continual austerity when technological advancement was low and people were dying of hunger?

Like the so-called Earth Hour - where people switch off their lights for an hour as a sign of showy, eco-slacktivism - people forgoing any modern pleasure for Lent (be it chocolate, social media or whatever) perhaps don’t understand what’s it’s like to live in an era of scarcity.

Perhaps we should instead take 40 days and 40 nights to celebrate progress and how it makes our life better. How it’s now possible to feed billions, as Malthus turns in his grave. How humans are able to build structures that reach up to the sky. How technology makes it possible to communicate from one side of the world to another in mere seconds.

We should value diversity instead of austerity, and do so every day of the year. Today, we tend to forget that even so-called ‘austerity’ is much better than what our grandparents had to deal with. So, this Lent, instead of not eating chocolate, why not eat a new brand of chocolate? Instead of not going on social media, why not try a new sort of social media?

Harold Macmillan said in 1957 that Brits had ‘never had it so good’. The same remains true today. Let’s celebrate that.

Mat Vaillancourt is a Canadian writer. Read his blog here. Follow him on Twitter: @MVLibertas.

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