- Sometimes, these are people who are uncomfortable with Christian faith and practice in any form and wish to take the mickey out of it.
- Sometimes, these are people with a hyper-"Protestant" (whether "evangelical" or "progressive") approach to Christian faith and practice who seem to feel threatened or offended by anyone in a "Protestant" church - let alone a minister - who feels led to give something up for Lent.
This year, I haven't given up chocolate, or whiskey, or any of my usual "go-to" Lenten challenges. For Lent this year, I've given up pork, ham, bacon, and any other pig-related meat. Here's why.
In the scriptures, there are many encouragements to link one's fasting - and other religious disciplines - to one's search for social justice. By giving up pork, ham, bacon, or any other pig-based meat I'm linking my faith with living justly in three ways.
1. The two faith communities within our western culture, Jews and Muslims, who experience the highest levels of prejudice and discrimination are also faiths with dietary practices that exclude pork.
- In 15th and 16th century Spain, the Inquisition frequently offered suspected marranos and moriscos the challenge "Eat pork or die!"
- In France today, there are some bigoted educational bureaucrats who (when planning school lunch menus) still declare that Muslim and Jewish schoolchildren can either "eat pork or go hungry".
- Many people in many countries (including, sadly, the various English-speaking democracies) use the vexed politics of the Middle East as an excuse for giving expression to bigotries toward Jews and/or Muslims in their own communities, bigotries that are frequently only marginally connected to people's views on the Middle Eastern situation.
But that's not the only reason.
2. According to many reports, some of the highest levels of animal cruelty in the meat industry in Australia occur within the raising and slaughtering of pigs. By giving up ham, bacon, pork and other pig-based meats for Lent, I'm also stating my horror over the mistreatment of many animals who are raised for our food.
And, as they say in the TV advertisements for overpriced steak knives, there's more.
3. Here in Tasmania, the one reliable local producer of free-range pork products is owned by a member of the Exclusive Brethren. Whether we call the Exclusive Brethren a sect or a cult, it's a group I'd rather not support, in terms of their treatment of women and young people in their group, in terms of their "shunning" of people who choose to leave their group, and in terms of their support of far-right-wing politicians. Buying free-range (but Brethren-raised) pork products, I was always uneasy to imagine what activities were funded by a tithe of the profits of my Christmas ham. By giving up pig-based meat for Lent, I'm standing alongside the many people who have been hurt by their involvement in religious fundamentalism of any sort.
As it turns out, I fell "off the wagon" unintentionally once during Lent. I was at Hobart's annual "Festa Italia" and, as you do, ordered some pasta with meatballs, assuming that the meatballs were made from beef. Between paying for the food and receiving it, I hear the seller say that the meatballs were made from a mixture of beef and pork. On the grounds that it was ethically far worse to waste good food than to nibble a meatball of which I gave up 50% for Lent, I ate the meatballs. (Kyrie eleison.)
While Lent is supposed to be a spiritual de-tox rather than a physical one, I think I'm experiencing some physical benefits from going porkless during Lent. While I know the jury is still out on the health benefits of a pork-free diet, I feel generally a bit healthier for the experience.
As a result, even though Lent is over and I can return to my pre-Lenten practices, I won't be getting into a furious bacon-fest over Easter. While I'm relaxed about it, I'm not in any particular hurry to return to a porcine diet in the near future.