Boredom, Divertissement, And Theology

Have you read that meme about how a study “showed” that people would rather receive electric shocks than sit alone for 15 minutes and think?

(I would warn caution about taking the study at face value, leaving it there given that I have neither the time nor the inclination to go dissect the study’s methodology myself.)

But, as is the blogger’s malady, we’ll talk about it anyway because it’s fun. The Week‘s Damon Linker gives a good overview and flags the best philosophical analysis thereof: what Blaise Pascal called the human urge of divertissement, a French word which means “entertainment” but whose etymology also suggests “to divert” and “to distract” oneself. To Pascal, and countless other thinkers before or since, divertissement is the consequence of our fear of death, whether an atheist fear or, perhaps, a pietist fear of judgement. And of course, to Pascal, the only thing that can cure this bizarre disease is faith in God. (“Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee”, Augustine famously said.)

All of which has never stopped reminding me of an anecdote N.T. Wright tells. (I am paraphrasing because I cannot find the source.) Talking about the importance of theology to all believers, he tells the story of how he put together a small program to teach theology to regular parishioners in his diocese of Durham, and visited the graduates of such a course to hand them a certificate of completion. After the low-key ceremony, he talks to an old lady, who he says never had any formal post-secondary education, and she remarks, “You know, once you get into this theology stuff, you can never be bored again.”

Ain’t that the truth!

That’s basically the secret excuse and reason for the blog you’re currently reading (for which I thank you, by the way).

Deo gratias.

Blaise Pascal“; a copy of the painture of François II Quesnel, which was made for Gérard Edelinck in 1691. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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