For 2000 years, one of the central pillars of Christian practice has been the necessity to deal with thought and conduct deemed to be against the will of God, founded on the Jewish tradition of restitutive sacrifice, enshrined in the Sacrament of Penance and brought into sharp focus in the penitential periods of Lent and Advent.

The Jewish approach to wrong doing was strictly legalistic: wrong and its respective restitutive sacrifice were well defined; and it was not long before Christianity instituted a set of tariffs for different 'sins''. In addition, Christianity also set aside special periods for self examination and fasting.

Today we rather archly look down upon legalistic views of wrong-doing and restitutive sacrifice as primitive; most of us have abandoned the use of the Sacrament of Penance (now referred to by Roman Catholics as "Reconciliation"); and fasting during Lent and Advent is no longer common. Some say that we have abandoned "hell" and "sin" and put nothing in their place other than a recognition that "getting it off your chest" is a psychological necessity.

So, as we approach Lent, perhaps we should ask the following questions:

  1. Are we better off for abandoning a regime of good conduct motivated partly by fear of damnation?
  2. Is there any such thing as "sin"? And, if so, what is it?
  3. Is self discipline enough to keep us moral?
  4. Is saying sorry to God and each other enough?
  5. Is there any virtue in sacrifice?
  6. Does suffering have a positive role to play in our earthly lives?
  7. Is there any point, other than therapeutic, in fasting and self denial?
  8. Is life enhanced by living the cyclical drama of Christ?
  9. Is prayer optional?
  10. How do we value collective worship, as opposed to private worship?
  11. Is Lent redundant?