Why I Like Ash Wednesday
As most readers of this blog probably know, I’m a secular-minded Reconstructionist Jewish atheist. And yet, I like Ash Wednesday. Why? Not because of the particular significance of the holiday. But because it’s an actual holiday. With rituals. You’ve got the shmutz you have to shmear on your forehead. And then give something up for Lent. This is, in general, why I like Catholicism. It’s a real religion. Occasionally, you actually have to do shit.
You know those people who say: “I don’t like organized religion, but I’m a very spiritual person.” Well, I’m the exact opposite. I’m not a spiritual person, but I like organized religion. It builds community. And say what you will about Catholicism, for all its faults, it’s an organized religion. Like Judaism, with kosher laws and all the holidays and shabbos and everything. And Islam. Now there’s a religion. Fast for 40 days on Ramadan. Don’t eat pork. Pray five times a day. Five freaking times a day! Those are some rules and rituals for you.
That’s why I never much cared for Protestantism. Too boring. “By faith alone,” said Martin Luther, notorious antisemite. Faith alone my ass. I’m not doing anything on faith alone. I’m doing stuff because it’s tradition. Because people did it before me, and people are doing it with me all over the world. That’s why my heart sinks every time I see those little Iglesia Pentacostales or other Latino Evangelical Protestant churches. Because those people were Catholics once. Good, interesting, Catholics. And at that point, if you’re gonna believe anything, just stick with the culture of your parents. Or be a lapsed Catholic, don’t believe in anything, but go to church to make mom and dad happy. Us Jews know something about that.