One of the many benefits of worshipping the Devil is not having to participate in Lent. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, the faithful practice fasting and self-denial as an act of penance. Some do this to honor the Passion of Christ, some to bring them closer to God, and others just do it as a yearly period of introspection. Though it's traditionally a Catholic ritual, observation of Lent is on the rise among many denominations, including Baptists and the Amish, and even among the nonreligious.
There are strict guidelines to proper fasting, but most people tend to approach Lent fairly loosely. You pick something you like such as chocolate, booze, sex or the first three things without the intervening commas, and you abstain from it through the period. It can be healthy to learn to live without luxuries or vices, and in general it's not too rough a deal.
Then there are some religious practices that make Lent look even easier, such as...
Jainism (Not to be confused with Jayneism, the adulation of the Hero of Canton) is an Indian religion that is centered on nonviolence. They have some interesting views on karma, that the force is a natural law rather than a moral one, as predictable and understandable as the laws of physics. There are two sects of Jainists, the Svetambara, who wear white, and the Digambara, who wear nothing.
To be fair, only the monks in Digambara give up clothing, and not even all of those. It's still a major part of the religion (Digambara means "sky clad"). Ascetics consider themselves clothes in the environment, and use the practice as a means of denying the weakness of the body. They are also only allowed two possessions, a broom and a water gourd. So while giving up Hooters for Lent may sound like a chore to you, at least you get to keep your T-shirt.
Katie Holmes gave Scientology's Silent Birth practice a lot of press when she was expecting her first child. The idea that L. Ron Hubbard had was that a child was super-susceptible for the first seven days of its life, and that the wrong words or sounds could do real damage to its mind. Women are allowed to moan or grunt, but screaming is out, and no one involved is to speak except when absolutely necessary.
Hubbard never went to medical school or studied pediatrics, and there's absolutely no evidence that the silent birth practice does an infant any good at all. It's been proven that children hear just fine in the womb, so they're already hearing anything you say. On the other hand, the practice hasn't been proven to hurt, either. Providing a calm, quiet birthing environment is perfectly understandable and beneficial, as long as it's not taken to extremes.
"I think that all people would agree that having delivery occur in a calm environment is pretty important," said Dr. Patricia Connor Devine in a WebMD interview. "If a silent birth is how someone wants to achieve that, it's reasonable. But remember: You can't banish words completely. It still has to be a birth environment that's safe. If the goal is to have it quiet and peaceful, that's fine -- but it can't be enforced to the point that it would hinder clinical outcome by preventing care providers from communicating."
Lots of religions have across-the-board bans on things. Islam forbids alcohol, Mormonism forbids caffeine, and Jews have that eruv thing that sometimes prevents umbrellas. You've got to be pretty serious about your beliefs, though, to give up the lifesaving technique of blood transfusion.
Various Biblical texts do deal with the ingestion of blood being abhorrent, and Witnesses believe that blood is so sacred that only the shed blood of Christ should be bestowed upon a person. Members who receive transfusions are generally shunned as a result. Without blood transfusion, many surgeries become extremely dangerous.
It's been rumored for years that prominent Witness Prince is avoiding double-hip-replacement surgery unless it can be performed bloodlessly. He seems agile enough, but pictures of him riding a scooter hint at problems getting around.
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More than likely you've heard of Heaven's Gate, the UFO cult founded by Marshall Applewhite. We keep running into weird connections between us and him. We were married in the Unitarian Church where he served as choir director, we work with a former acquaintance, and Christi Lain revealed to us that one of the songs we'd recorded together was inspired by him. This has nothing to do with anything, really, it's just an eerie bit of weirdness, and we're trying real hard to avoid writing the next paragraph. Okay, here we go.
Members of Heaven's Gate were expected to be ascetics on a level that makes the naked monks up there look like freakin' Caligula. In addition to being expected to give up all worldly possessions and share everything communally, the male members voluntarily got castrated in Mexico, Applewhite included, so at least you can't say he didn't practice what he preached.
In the end, the group committed suicide trying to reach aliens hiding behind the Hale-Bopp Comet, meaning in the end they gave up even their lives for their faith. Keep that in mind when you decide 40 days without cheesecake is just too much of a trial.