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.

A Mini Theology of Technology

Pastor Jim Samra, writing in the new book The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision, assembled by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan (Baker; 2015), pages 67–68:

God has led me to realize that the Bible has much to say about technology — as long as we are willing to use a sufficiently broad definition: “Technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them.”

Stories from the first eleven chapters of Genesis give foundational principles relevant to the use of technology:

(1) Technology is possible because man is created in the image of God (Adam and Eve).

(2) Technology often hinders our ability to recognize our need for God and can be used to attempt to render God unnecessary (Cain).

(3) Technology can free us to sin by attempting to shield us from some of the consequences of sin (Lamech and Tubal-Cain).

(4) Technology is used by God to rescue us, to help alleviate some of the consequences of the fall, and to help us worship God (Noah).

(5) Technology is inherently dangerous because it is the product of purposive human activity, and we need help from God in limiting its use (Tower of Babel).

Of these five, I have found the last one to be the most difficult for people to grasp.

Studying the cross as a form of technology led to my recognizing that technology is dangerous inasmuch as it is constantly tempting us to imagine a better life available to us through technology: to covet and to put our faith in technology rather than God. The cross is associated with the Jewish leaders coveting a world without Jesus (Luke 20:9-19) and their idolatry in embracing Caesar rather than God (John 19:13–16).

Long iPhone Lines and Individualism

From Don Carson’s 2010 editorial, “Contrarian Reflections on Individualism”:

I wonder whether individualism is in reality as highly prized as some think. One could make a case that many people want to belong to something—to the first group that manages to purchase an iPhone, to the “emerging” crowd or to those who want little to do with them, to the great company that can discuss baseball or cricket or ice hockey, to those who are up-to-date in fashion sense, to those who are suitably green or those who are suspicious of the green movement, to various groups of “friends” on Facebook, to those who tweet, and so on. If you say that most of these groups do not foster deep relationships, I shall agree with you—but then the problem lies in the domain of shallow relationships of many kinds, rather than in individualism per se.

Techno Magic


Peter Kreeft writes that the following excerpt from C. S. Lewis, “contains the most important and enlightening single statement about our civilization that I have ever read.”

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, page 77:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.

Explains Kreeft:

If the Enlightenment helped the modern world discard notions of original sin and moral absolutes, it also uprooted the foundations of truth and goodness. Unlike the Medieval era, all we have left are vague political and psychological notions of what works efficiently. Technology has replaced religion as our civilization’s summum bonum. Naturalism has replaced supernaturalism. Subjectivism has defined a new age of moral relativity.

Explains Timothy Keller in The Reason For God, page 71:

In ancient times it was understood that there was a transcendent moral order outside the self, built in to the fabric of the universe. If you violated that metaphysical order there were consequences just as severe as if you violated physical reality by placing your hand in a fire. The path of wisdom was to learn to live in conformity with this unyielding reality. That wisdom rested largely in developing qualities of character, such as humility, compassion, courage, discretion, and loyalty.

Modernity reversed this. Ultimate reality was seen not so much as a supernatural order but as the natural world, and that was malleable. Instead of trying to shape our desires to fit reality, we now seek to control and shape reality to fit our desires. The ancients looked at an anxious person and prescribed spiritual character change. Modernity talks instead about stress-management techniques.