Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, far more important than the Valentine's Day it happened to land on because all around the world ex-Catholic sots, a massive tribe, give up the drink for 46 days out of habit and some sort of sense of obligation.

Of course the Church says you don't have to fast or abstain on the six Sundays of Lent, I know, so really it should just be 40 days off the booze. But those of us round the world intent on lashing ourselves like the flagellants of old ignore this and grit our teeth and do the whole 46 days.

I mean, otherwise you might as well shift to Ramadan, which is only 30 days. But giving up alcohol to observe a Muslim month of fasting seems inappropriate. So Lent it's got to be with no Sundays off.

Non-Catholic non-believers sneer at us doing our annual Lenten observance. They ridicule us. "All that's left of your faith," they scoff. "Why bother?"

Why bother? Well not the least for the look of alarm on the faces of modern people with modern ideas when they offer you a drink and you tell them, sorry, you're observing Lent. You might as well propose a flat earth.


And all that's left of our faith? I went to see that Saoirse Ronan movie Ladybird at the Capitol last Saturday and the scene where the convent girls casually lie around snacking on communion wafers from a jar brought gasps of horror from sections of the audience — sections which very much included me.

These weren't true believers doing the horror-gasping. True believers would have sat there silently and grimly saying to themselves, "What would you expect from convent girls like Saoirse Ronan?"

Whereas ex-Catholics who have nervously crept away from the church not wanting to create a fuss would have seen right there on the screen a blasphemy they themselves would never, ever have stooped to. And gasped! Consecrated or not, a host is a host.
Ex-Catholics are in fact the real true believers, still besotted with the faith they no longer believe in.

How sweetly I recall the episode of Father Ted where three church theologians visit Craggy Island and one of them takes poor innocent Father Dougal aside and says, "If you have any doubts, any little tiny doubts about the faith Dougal, now is the time to share them."

And Dougal says, "Well you know how Adam and Eve ate the apple and were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and thus our souls were stained with Original Sin so we couldn't go to Heaven but were stranded in Limbo, and then God sent his Son to redeem us, and he was born of a virgin in the manger at Christmas and then he was crucified for our sins by the Romans and died on the cross but rose again from the dead three days later…?"

"Yes," nods the theologian in reply. "Well — that," says Dougal.

And all around the globe ex-Catholics collapsed, giggling. Oh, but guiltily giggling.
We continue to be as obsessed with the church as a dry drunk with alcohol.

Every Friday I meet in the Thirsty Dog on K Rd with an ex-pupil of the Christian Brothers (I'm Marist) whose father was a spoiled priest and we discuss, as generations have done before us, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Lourdes, the Nine First Fridays, Fianna Fail, Irish literature, the New Zealand Labour Party, St Peter Chanel, the Irish Times, de Valera, Bishop Pompallier…


And I tell him I'm not drinking for Lent and he respects that.

• Dean Parker is an Auckland playwright.