Life is Like a Mansion with a Wallpaper-Covered Hole Leading to a Rhinoceros Covered with Millions of Mice or Why Are We So Busy?

In his Pensees, Blaise Pascal wrote, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

Philosopher Peter Kreeft’s commentary on this passage is insightful and convicting (though it ends with a mixed metaphor that would make even Thomas Friedman cringe):

We ought to have much more time, more leisure, than our ancestors did, because technology, which is the most obvious and radical difference between their lives and ours, is essentially a series of time-saving devices.

In ancient societies, if you were rich you had slaves to do the menial work so that you could be freed to enjoy your leisure time. Life was like a vacation for the rich because the poor slaves were their machines. . . .

[But] now that everyone has slave-substitutes (machines), why doesn’t everyone enjoy the leisurely, vacationy lifestyle of the ancient rich? Why have we killed time instead of saving it? . . .

We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hold in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.

So we run around like conscientious little bugs, scared rabbits, dancing attendance on our machines, our slaves, and making them our masters. We think we want peace and silence and freedom and leisure, but deep down we know that this would be unendurable to us, like a dark and empty room without distractions where we would be forced to confront ourselves. . . .

If you are typically modern, your life is like a mansion with a terrifying hole right in the middle of the living-room floor. So you paper over the hole with a very busy wallpaper pattern to distract yourself. You find a rhinoceros in the middle of your house. The rhinoceros is wretchedness and death. How in the world can you hide a rhinoceros? Easy: cover it with a million mice. Multiple diversions.

From: Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees, pp. 167-187.


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