Fast Times

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

Look. I’m all in favor of getting religious once in a while, as long as a person doesn’t get all religious about it. There’s nothing worse than a religious wacko who’s proud of being a religious wacko. Those kind of people make me wish we still burned people at the stake, but that’s just my personal opinion. (I would also add door-dingers, cell phone addicts, and people who talk baby talk to their pets to the stake list too.) But, for the most part, I think occasional bouts of religious religiousness are okay, provided there’s a time limit, showers are taken regularly, and nobody gets run over.

When a person has a bout of religion, they develop symptoms. These are sometimes known as rituals, practices, or dysfunctions. Very common ones are prayer, scripture reading, hymn singing, deer hunting, and turning Republican. Some of the less recognizable ones include vacuuming, power walking, and shopping. Religion is everywhere if you look in the right places.

A real religious thing is usually accompanied by some kind of agony. (Some cheerful people try to pass themselves off as religious, but they’re totally bogus.) This religious torment is evidence that the person is having a bout of religiousness. Without the agony the person would have no idea they were having a bout and this would defeat the purpose entirely. If a person is having trouble getting agony to happen, some traditions allow the person to whip themselves bloody. Of course, there’s always the sackcloth and ashes thing, but that’s harder to clean up afterwards. (Tapioca can be substituted as long as it’s uncooked.) Generally, it’s enough just to feel crappy about yourself and have done with it.

There is one religious practice I do not like, and that’s fasting. Fasting is going without food to get God’s attention. That’s why you don’t really need to feel sorry for the hungry because God is paying more attention to them than to somebody who just ate a Big Mac, a large fries, and a chocolate milkshake. The Bible also says that fasting shows God how humble you are. When you starve yourself God sees that you don’t think much of yourself and he likes that. This is why you don’t have to feel sorry for anorexics either. God likes them just the way they are most likely. Since humility isn’t one of my strong points, you might think that I would want to fast to make up the difference. But I’m not all that interested in humility per se; being humble would jeopardize my career. Besides, hardly anybody would recognize me then.

The main reason I hate the fasting thing is that it means you can’t eat food. Some people have tried to change that by “fasting” from television, the computer, or sex. I have to admit that fasting from sex is pretty impressive. If I were God I would for sure award extra humility credits for that. Still, fasting is supposed to be about food not sex (which is a fuzzy line, I’ll grant you). When you fast you don’t eat. When you don’t eat, you get hungry. And when I’m hungry there’s no way I can think about God. This defeats the whole purpose of starving yourself in the first place. I try to fast sometimes, but after an hour or so I’m a complete supersized basket case. All I can think about is food, which I don’t always think about when I’m not fasting. The whole episode ends up being a wash, a total donut hole.

So when I want to get religious about my religion, I choose a different form of agony. I go to church, for one thing, which usually fills my agony quota for the week. Sometimes I even slow down by one of those cardboard sign people and lock eyes with him before I drive away. And when I really want to get agonized for religious reasons, I apologize for something that I didn’t do, usually to my wife, but that’s only when I need what you call extreme unction. Otherwise I just sprinkle in some minor agonies every so often to keep myself from religious buildup.

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