Monday, July 18, 2011

Life is a distraction

From what, you ask? From death, of course.

In a recent post on his teaching blog Bruce Charlton tosses out some quotes by Blaise Pascal a 17th century thinker that have really stuck with me for some reason.

the quotes courtesy of Mr. Charlton:
Who does not perceive the vanity of the world? So, who does not see it, apart from young people whose lives are all noise, diversions, and thoughts for the future?

But take away their diversion and you will see them bored to extinction.

Them they feel their nullity without recognizing it, for nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion.

Not that I've been thinking about death so much as I have been thinking about life. I suppose its because I recently reached a milestone age-wise and that my children are grown and will soon be off living their own lives. Pascal is saying that if we removed all the noise and distraction from our lives all that would be left is quiet introspection. Left with only this we would see the futility of life itself.

We are born, we live, we die.

Unless we are actively engaged in working to put food on the table or directly caring for children everything else is a distraction. Distractions that without we would become insane with boredom.

Professor Charlton takes it a step further and delves into how this is manifested in the current culture. Youth, he says, is incapable of seeing the futility of this life because they live in constant noise and diversion and lack the ability for introspection. These are the traits that make being young so much fun. When you scold a child and say, "how would that make you feel" you are forcing them to examine themselves. Children almost always become sad when forced to do that.

In this new culture, the one that has been championed since the 1960's, the culture I grew up in, we are not allowed to grow up, says Prof Charlton. I believe he is right. Everything outside of work is positioned around having fun and being youthful. Seriousness is frowned on.

Those who look at the world in a larger sense are sometimes criticized for being too serious and being no fun at all. Why drag people down with your bitterness and negativity. If you're introspective about your country and your culture you run the risk of coming off as a grownup. Not good. Look at everything being sold from night cream to Viagra, it's all about being youthful.

What's wrong with that? What is the alternative? Surely if we didn't surround ourselves - especially as we get older - with TV, sports and hobbies and any number of busy-body activities we would soon be bored with our own company and likely fall into depression. The question is are some of these activities even worthwhile? Are some destructive? Wasteful? Of course. Vanity is usually destructive, wasteful.

We could lose ourselves in the glory of God too... But no, this culture clearly frowns on that. Our culture is drifting into destruction by our own unserious hand. While we culturally worship youth we are financially transferring the wealth to the old - in the most wasteful and inefficient manner, potentially destroying both. The one thing that could bring things together is the one thing the new cultural overlords hate the most - that would be God Himself.



Timothy Birdnow said...

Great post!

Craig, this reminds me of Ecclesiastes I:

All Is Vanity
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
8 All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.


Indeed, we live in an era of vantiy. We can only chase pleasure and enjoyment for so long before it pales. Life without thought of eternity is quite meaningless - and is at the heart of what is wrong with our society. No amount of sex, booze, drugs, food, any physical thing can satisfy - even the pleasures of the mind pale when looked at from a larger perspective. If life is not the most cruel of jokes, if a man holds any reason to exist, it is only through God.

No wonder our society is so ill. We've made ourselves into shadows.