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What is Fasting?

Fasting has been criticized from early times. Many Old Testament prophets and early Christian writers condemned the abuse of fasting as an empty formality by persons who led immoral lives. In modern times criticism of fasting has been based principally on other grounds. Physicians and psychologists have challenged the indiscriminate practice of rigorous fasting, maintaining that it is frequently harmful. Custom, moreover, has greatly modified the manner in which fasting is observed. With marked exceptions, selective fasting rather than total abstinence is the rule today. In the Roman Catholic church fasting may involve partial abstinence from food and drink (as in the fast before partaking of Holy Communion) or total abstinence. Roman Catholic fast days now are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, fasting is observed chiefly by Episcopalians and Lutherans among Protestants, by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and by Roman Catholics.

In modern times the hunger strike, a form of fasting, has been employed as a political weapon. Innumerable political prisoners in various parts of the world, including conscientous objectors in the U.S., have engaged in hunger strikes. Mohandas Gandhi, leader of the struggle for India's freedom, undertook fasts occasionally to compel his followers to obey his precept of nonviolence.

"Fasting," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.

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