The religious practice of fasting is one aspect of the unfortunate doctrine of autosoterism (“self-salvation,” i.e., divine merit through human endeavor; works religion), which taints both the Jewish and the Christian faiths. An analysis of this inferior practice is given below:
Motivations of Fasting:
Primitive people fast:
as an act of magic to obtain whatever they will;
the deity is supposedly forced thereby to obey their wishes.
in order to obtain ascendancy of mind over body. They fast to a state of delirium in order to obtain trances, visions, and ecstasy.
as a means of self-torture or self-punishment for sin,
as a means of slackening sexual desire, and
as a good work toward meriting heaven.
Religions enjoin fasts:
to enhance respect for holy days (such as Lent or “meatless” Fridays),
as a means of self discipline, and
as an outward show of sorrow or piety.
St. Ignatius Loyola said that exterior asceticism is employed either:
to make reparation for past sins, or
to overcome oneself by bringing the lower faculties into submission to the higher, or
to obtain some grace or gift from God.
Critical Analysis of Fasting:
Fasting is part of the dead letter of the Law. Early Christians kept certain Mosaic dietary restrictions about not eating blood or animals that had been strangled. They also fasted. In opposition to these rules, the Apostle Paul spoke out against Jewish restrictions about eating.
See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition...and not according to Christ...Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath...Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and angel worship, taking his stand on visions...Why do you submit to regulations: do not handle, do not taste, do not touch...according to human precepts and doctrines?...Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Colossians 2:8,16,18,21,22, 3:2
Jesus, no doubt, fasting in keeping with Judaic practice. But His gospel was basically opposed to such religiosity. He was so unascetic that He was called a glutton. In Mark 9:29 Jesus enjoined simply “prayer,” but a later scribal hand added “...and fasting.” (See RSV footnote.)
An early writing, The Gospel of Thomas, if it is not the actual words of Jesus, still shows that there was opposition to the practice of fasting: “His disciples asked Him, Do you wish us to fast? How should we pray? How should we give alms? What diet should we keep? Jesus said, Do not lie. Do not what you hate (for others to do to you).”
The True Fast is described in Isaiah 58:3-7:
Is this not the fast that God prefers:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the thongs of the yoke,
To let the oppressed go free,
And to break every yoke? (Isa. 58:6)
Fasting is an intrusion of magic into pure religion. The Free Church tradition has been opposed to the empty religious forms of the Papacy.
Fasting is an unnatural disturbance of the bodily processes. It is, therefore, unhealthful and a sin against the temple of the body. Juvenal’s maxim Mens sana in corpore sano (“A sound mind in a sound body”) recognizes the interdependence of mind and body. To hurt one does not help the other.
Fasting results from the old belief of Gnostic dualism that the body is evil and must be chastised.
Ecstatic experiences and hallucinations achieved through starvation should be suspect.
Richard L. Atkins