We can best grasp the concept of thoughtlessness by contrasting it to the idea of thoughtfulness developed in Part 4 of this series. We are thoughtless when we don’t think about our involvement with the object of experience. One falls into thoughtless by becoming absorbed in the process of observation, common sense, scientific thought or introspection…or in any other activity in which something displaces our self-awareness with itself. Thoughtlessness is the absence of awareness of the self and the character of its relations with other things.
Thoughtless people immerse themselves in work or objective thought or the search for pleasure or attention to the point that they do not question, do not become aware of themselves as distinct from their activities. They don’t ask ethical, existential or religious questions of themselves. They don’t ask about their identity, the meaning of their activities, and the morality of their actions. They don’t see the deeper dimensions of things or people and their relationships to them.
In chapter four of my recent book, God, Freedom & Dignity, I examine three images of thoughtlessness: the esthete, the conformist and the celebrity. The esthete seeks only pleasure while the conformist seeks only success as measured by what other people consider success; and the celebrity seeks only attention and lives only in the minds of others. They have no time for self-examination and no space for awareness of God.
It’s like they don’t really exist as selves, as self-aware subjects. They observe their lives but don’t live them as their own free action; they are whatever they are doing…without any awareness of the meaning of what they are doing! They may wake up one day and realize that they have not been consciously living their lives. They’ve been on automatic pilot, asleep at the wheel, while their lives pass before them like a dream. Other things determine what they feel, love and do. They move through life unaware of whole dimensions of what is happening around them and within them. They can’t see through the reflective surfaces into the real substance of things and the meaning of the relations among them.
Most disturbing of all, thoughtless people have no awareness of God as really present and active as their Creator, Lord, Judge and Savior. And in my view, lack of awareness of God and our relation to God is the root of all thoughtlessness. If people were aware of God they would also be aware of themselves as dependent, responsible, unworthy and yet loved. Awareness of God, who is the absolute ground of our existence, opens our minds to depths of ourselves we could not know otherwise. And if we gain deeper self-awareness before God we will also become aware of the God-relatedness and interrelatedness of all things; that is, we will become thoughtful.
I conclude this series with Søren Kierkegaard’s observations about the lives of the thoughtless:
[The thoughtless person is] “a sort of marionette, very deceptively imitating everything human—even to the extent of having children by his wife. At the end of his life, one would have to say that one thing had escaped him: his consciousness had taken no note of God” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript).
“By seeing the multitude of men about it, by getting engaged in all sorts of worldly affairs, by becoming wise about how things go in this world, such a man forgets himself, forgets what his name is (in the divine understanding of it), does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier to be like others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd… spiritually understood, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self before God—however selfish they may be for all that” (Sickness Unto Death).
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Until next week…