It is that time of the year again: time to go without food or liquid from sunset to sunset. It is the Day of Atonement, one of the seven Holy Days of the year given in the Bible, a day observed by Jews and a small minority of Christians.
I hate it. I hate fasting. As I write these words I am weak, dizzy, and irritable. I do not feel spiritual, and I do not feel closer to God. Yet I am doing it. Why?
The Bible says so [Leviticus 23:27]. That should suffice. The Creator is entitled to be inscrutable or even arbitrary in his commands. I don’t need to like them or even understand why they are.
But the command is likely not arbitrary. Jews and Christians may need to obey it for reasons other than “just because.” Some possible reasons to fast:
- Self punishment for our own sins is contrition backed by revealed preference. This explanation fits well with the original ceremony, with the scapegoat and all, and it fits well with the early parts of the Old Testament. The later prophets and the New Testament scriptures downplay fasting in favor of good works for this purpose, however, and I’d much rather do good works than fast!
- A reminder of our blessings. We live in a golden age. We have so much food and entertainment available that many become fat and jaded. But I am neither fat nor jaded. In fact, for most of my life I struggled to keep my weight up.
- Fasting allows one to meditate deeply, or so some claim. It works not for me. A raw food diet and abstention from alcohol, yes. Zero food or drink (including water) and I am irritable, not meditative.
- A reminder of the will, that spirit can override fleshly urges. This I value, unpleasant though the process may be.
We live in a society that forgets the will. Teenagers want to fornicate so we must give out condoms or even provide legal abortions since they might not even have the willpower to use said condoms. Joe Camel appears on billboards and so millions cannot help but smoke. Only big corporations are to be held accountable for their actions. Only the federal government is truly responsible.
Here is my message for lovers of liberty: “If it feels good, do it” is a dead end. It leads not to liberty but to a European style nanny state. This is not to endorse the Bill Bennett agenda. That too, downplays the will. Freedom requires discipline from within. The process may be unpleasant at times, but discipline from without can be even more unpleasant.