Boring Ourselves Back to Life

disconnect

In 2003 and 2006 Carl Trueman published a pair of editorials that are worth reading (annually). Here are the especially pertinent excerpts.

Carl Trueman, “Editorial: Boring Ourselves to Life,” Themelios, 28.3 (2003), 3–4.

Why do we pay sports stars, actors, and the various airheads that populate the airwaves more than we pay our political leaders? We do this because they help to take our minds off the deeper, more demanding truths of life, particularly the one great and ultimately unavoidable truth: death. It is not just the entertainment industry that does that: the huge amount of money expended on the health industry in general and the cosmetic surgery industry in particular also point us towards the basic drive in society to avoid this one at all costs. As Pascal himself says, ‘It is easier to put up with death without thinking about it, than with the idea of death when there is no danger of it.’ . . .

This is where boredom is so important. Stripped of diversions and distractions, individuals have no choice but to reflect upon themselves, the reality of their lives and their future deaths. Human culture has proved adept over the centuries at avoiding the claims of Christ and the truths of human existence revealed in him. The modern bureaucratic state, the instability and insecurity of the work environment, the entertainment industry and the consumer society in which our modern Western affluence allows us to indulge all play their part in keeping us from reflecting upon reality as revealed to us by God.

Let us take time to be bored, to strip away from ourselves the screens we have created to hide the real truths of life and death from our eyes. Let us spend less time trying to appropriate culture for Christianity and more time deconstructing culture in the light of Christ’s claims on us and the world around us. Only then will we truly grasp the urgency of the human predicament. Oh and by the way, if it snows again, don’t rent a video; read a copy of Pascal’s Pensées.

Carl Trueman, “Editorial: The Eloquence of Silence,” Themelios 32.1 (2006), 1–2:

One of the distinguishing marks of God as he reveals himself in Scripture is that he is a God who speaks. He is a God who is not silent. This contrast with silence is fascinating; and, in a world which is full of all manner of ‘noise’ — cultural, social, commercial — reflection on silence, and the significance this has for the God who is not silent, can be most productive. Indeed, one could argue that silence is, in its own way, one of the most enlightening things about the world in which we live and about who we are within that world, both positively and negatively.

I have reflected before in an editorial on the contribution of the Christian philosopher, Blaise Pascal, to the development of Christian cultural criticism. I have looked at how, with his ethical understanding of the human thought and his categories of distraction and diversion, he probed the ways in which cultural pursuits, from entertainment to education to bureaucracy, could be used to avoid facing the moral realities of human sin and mortality, and the inevitable judgement that follows.

It would seem to me that one of the challenges that Pascal lays before us is that of silence: if cultural ‘noise’ is generated to allow us to forget or to avoid the reality of our human condition, then surely silence is useful as one context in which that condition can, indeed must, be faced. The measure of a man or woman, one might say, is the ability to sit alone and be silent in a room for an hour, contemplating nothing but their own mortality in the light of eternity.

Think about it. Think about the lengths we go to in order to exclude silence from our lives: from iPods as we travel to and from work, to the background hum of the television, stereo or radio as we go about our daily lives at home. Noise is everywhere. Much of it is unnecessary and a matter of our personal choice. We live in a world where silence is rare, and, if we are honest, is deliberately excluded even from those obvious contexts we have in which we might indulge in it. Yet silence is golden, for in silence human beings must face the starling reality of who they are.

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