Forty Days, Forty Nights and Zero Substance

The widespread Mardi Gras celebrations have died down – and for many Christians, they’ve been replaced with the grueling 40 days and nights of sacrifice known as Lent. Whether this means abstaining from junk food, swearing or masturbation, generally it is not a time practitioners of Lent look forward to.

It’s not hard to see why most wouldn’t look forward to Lent. According to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, there has been a nearly 20-percent increase in consumption of alcohol by college students since the 1980s. This is merely one example of the increasing prevalence of vice. But despite this trend, self discipline shouldn’t apply only to those of faith, nor should it be reserved only for special seasons such as Lent.

To put it simply, Lent is a time of alms giving, fasting and increased worship. It’s best known for the requirement to give something up for the entirety of the season, lasting from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday – symbolic of the same 40 days Jesus was tempted by the devil but resisted. This is supposed to be a time for sacrifice and self reflection, during which sin is discarded.

The main ideology of the tradition is embodied by the difficult sacrifice Jesus made by giving his life up for the salvation of sinners. More than just his bravery, Lent is about recognizing the ideal for which he stood – that it’s possible to sacrifice sin and instead help your fellow man. Sadly, however, Lent is commonly misunderstood.

The religious practice is deeper than a bunch of Christians acting their best for 40 days and nights – it’s a symbolic season encouraging everyone to take a stand against hedonism. The time should be spent reflecting on the vices in life and striving to understand the trivial nature of such vices.

Take the vice gluttony. At one point or another, most students at UCSD have looked in the mirror and wanted to lose a few pounds. Their goals, however, would likely be more tenable if they instead attempted more self-discipline.

Instead of focusing on selfish interests and thus encouraging materialism, Lent should be a time reach out and help others. According to a study conducted by HERI, volunteer work has dropped over 44 percent among college students since 2003. It’s clear that altruism is a dying ideal in the midst of a society where materialism and individualism are emphasized.

With this in mind, the problem with Lent is that it is viewed as a temporary ordeal – almost a chore. It’s as if being moral has been manifested as something undesirable. Society has reached a point where immorality and lack of discipline is the norm (just take a look at the lyrics in contemporary rap music) and altruism has to hold some reward to encourage practice (extracurricular activities for college admissions for example). Feats of altruism have become extraordinary while vices such as pornography have become rampant. In other words, there is a trend to sacrifice ideals and replace with them with depravity.

Sure, one could argue that life is too short to spend constantly abstaining from indulgence – but honestly, at what point is the excess just that? We were raised with the false notion that substance abuse, sex and other superficial ideals to be happy are acceptable practices. The innocence of happiness has been lost and the simplest things have lost their meaning. Society is increasingly becoming enslaved to the depravity created by manmade media, and ideals such as Lent are now revolutions against such hedonism.

We shouldn’t wait for Lent to remind us about the value of sacrifice and altruism. It shouldn’t be a burden for us to sacrifice our vices for 40 days and the ideals of Lent should be integrated into our daily lives – Christian or not. The core ideals of Lent are not reserved just for the pious but for the secular as well and should be observed all 365 days of the year, not a mere 40 and perhaps finally people will be able to lose those extra five pounds they’ve been putting off.