The 25 most popular things to give up for Lent online

Leave aside, for the moment, the obvious weirdness of publicizing your Lenten sacrifices on Twitter. OpenBible’s latest index of said sacrifices is out — and school, chocolate and Twitter rank chief among them.

The project, now entering its sixth year, pulls from the Twitter firehose to index mentions of Lent and various iterations of the phrase “giving up.” It’s the brainchild of Biblical Web guru Stephen Smith, who in his day job runs engineering for the massive Christian site BibleGateway.com. The list updates every 10 minutes, so it’s apt to change. But here’s what it looked like as of this writing:

  1. School (11,330 tweets)
  2. Chocolate (8,916)
  3. Twitter (8,171)
  4. Swearing (6,733)
  5. Alcohol (5,820)
  6. Soda (5,087)
  7. Social networking (4,087)
  8. Sweets (3,860)
  9. Fast food (3,830)
  10. Homework (2,687)
  11. Lent (2,649)
  12. Junk food (2,558)
  13. Meat (2,557)
  14. Coffee (2,532)
  15. Sex (2,236)
  16. Chips (2,021)
  17. You (1,910)
  18. Bread (1,869)
  19. Facebook (1,802)
  20. Pizza (1,510)
  21. Starbucks (1,471)
  22. Candy (1,311)
  23. Giving up things (1,165)
  24. Instagram (1,114)
  25. Religion (1,104)

Presumably, the prevalence of social media terms is ironic — using Twitter to give up Twitter seems like a counterproductive way to kick off a fast. (Alice Robb at the New Republic argues that using Twitter to give up anything is inherently counterproductive, but we’ll leave the intricacies of that to her.)

Standards like chocolate, swearing and alcohol stay dominant year after year, even if their percentages appear to fluctuate. But in six years of doing this, Smith has also noticed a certain amount of trendiness in people’s sacrifices, that least trendy of topics. He currently tracks 800 popular terms and has had to make regular additions.

“This year ‘electricity’ showed up in the top 100 in reference to a widespread power outage in South Africa, but it wasn’t popular in past years,” he told The Washington Post in an email. Other sacrifices that have only recently risen to prominence: selfies (with 689 tweets), rapper Lil Boosie (524 tweets) and Snapchat (467 tweets).


As trivial as some of these insights may seem, Smith’s work is actually part of a bigger movement with huge — even heretical! — implications. Smith has pioneered the interpretation of religion as data by graphing the frequency of word use in the Bible, plotting which saints appear in church names the most, and tracking which scripture passages are most popular online. He was a popular speaker at last year’s BibleTech, a conference for people working at the improbable intersection of religion and tech. In fact, Smith and his BibleTech talk are the subject of the cover story in this month’s Christianity Today.

“The Bible in the original Geek,” reads the magazine’s cover. “How hackers want to turn you into a Bible scholar. That’s good, right?”

Intriguingly, some religious people are convinced of just the opposite — that some “Bible hacking” crosses from benign interpretation to something much closer to blasphemy. That’s not a risk with this project, at least, though numbers 11, 23 and 25 are suspect. Those are the jokesters giving up Lent, religion and “giving up things.”

We see what you did there.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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