In the past, I have fasted on the Day of Atonement, since I grew up in a version of Christianity in which people did so. For the past two years, however, I have not. And I am not fasting today. Why not? In the past, it may have been because I felt that I, as a New Covenant Christian, was not required to do so. Nowadays, I really don’t care about that, for I’m skeptical of many attempts to organize the writings of the Bible into some grand, unified message, as if the Bible speaks with one voice and propounds a consistent “theology.” Consequently, I tend to greet most statements that begin with “The Bible says” with skepticism. This year, I’m not fasting because I just plain don’t want to. In the past, what fasting on the Day of Atonement meant for me was being hungry and thirsty for 24 hours and looking at the clock to see when the day would end. This was the case, even if I incorporated spiritual exercises into the Day. I don’t believe that I have to fast to have a better relationship with God—-to be reminded of spiritual and moral lessons, to remember that God loves me, or to reflect on what I should and should not be doing. Heck, at this point in my life, I feel that I get spirituality from watching good TV shows! Why should I put myself through a ritual?
I’ve wondered in the past why the ancient Israelites were required to fast on the Day of Atonement. The answers that I usually heard was that fasting reminds people of their limitations, that it is a manifestation of humility, and that doing it shows God that one takes his repentance and need for God’s forgiveness seriously. On the first, I don’t need to fast to be reminded of my limitations. Getting a headache reminds me of that! On the second and third reasons, I think of what Moses said in the 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments: “Does this god demand a scarred back and broken hands as the price of his favor?”
The thing is, I respect some of the people who are fasting on this day, looking for a profound spiritual experience. I know one lady who converted to Reconstructionist Judaism, and she wrote yesterday that she was looking forward to fasting. The same goes for a number of Jewish people I know. And, as I look back, I have had good Days of Atonement. I would take the day off from school (if my school didn’t already give students the day off, as the Jewish schools did), I wouldn’t do any homework, and I would fast. I’d either go to a Jewish Hillel service, or I would watch movies that edified me, or I would study Scripture. It was a change of pace for me, and it was a ritual that kept me grounded, in a sense. Those were good times. But I’m just not in that place right now. Maybe I’ll be in the place again sometime in the future. I’m just not inclined today to refrain from food and water, to remind myself of all of my faults, and to beat myself up just because I fall short of some perfect standard.