The Common Good

My Lent: Ashes, Addiction, and the Reality of Hell

Lent is late this year, thanks to an unusual alignment of the earth and heavens -- the vernal equinox, the paschal full moon -- and to the Easter algorithm that for centuries has determined the date of the Feast of the Resurrection. You don't hear too much about it: Ash Wednesday via liturgical math.

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Early or late, Lent is a time to consider our mortality -- to remember that we are creatures of the soil and to soil we shall return. There's plenty about our finitude worth reflecting on: the acts both large and small by which we diminish our humanity; the countless ways we hurt ourselves and those we love. We know our transgressions, as the Psalmist says, and our sin is ever before us.

It's been painful to watch the Charlie Sheen spectacle in recent days. Painful because he is clearly a man out of control, caught in a web of illness and unchecked ego; painful because he's both a victim and co-conspirator of his own exploitation at the hands of self-serving voyeurs masquerading as serious journalists; and painful because the countless ways he is hurting himself and those he loves -- and those who love him -- are not unfamiliar to me.

When you have someone in your life who struggles with addiction, the late-night jokes about Sheen (or any celebrity "screw-up") are not entertaining, nor are the tweets and status updates hurling the latest zingers, looking for easy laughs. But I understand that we all want to be funny on Facebook (and to be "liked") and that we live in an age when everyone is an armchair therapist.

[This post originally appeared on Religion Dispatches. To read the rest, click here.]

Debra Dean Murphy is assistant professor of religion at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture and Politics and at

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