A Culture of Diversion for an Age of Boredom

The deeper you probe human nature the more alike human beings from every class and country and age appear. Language and customs change, but the human condition remains the same. And yet, every age has its signature, a particular way the human condition manifests itself. Each age combines humanity’s perennial virtues and vices, pains and joys, and strengths and weaknesses in a unique way. What is the signature of our age? I admit that seeking an answer to this question is asking for superhuman knowledge, which no human being can attain. Nevertheless we cannot help but wish to understand.

I will leave it to others to describe the unique glories of our age. I am driven to understand its spiritual sicknesses. Every time I think about this question two concepts force their way to the top of my list: boredom and despair. Today I want to explain why I think contemporary culture, if it could sign its name, would write “the age of boredom.” I leave despair for another day.

Perhaps you are already objecting to my thesis: “We live in an age of frantic activity, of 27/7 city life, nonstop entertainment, and ever-present social media. How can you say that we live in an age of boredom?” To anticipate my full response let me say here that your objection actually supports my thesis. I argue that we live in the “age of boredom” because fear of boredom drives us to live the frantic lives you describe.

What is boredom, and why do I think it’s at the root of the spiritual illnesses that plague our age? Perhaps our first thought about boredom is of a feeling of having nothing to do, or more precisely, of having nothing that appeals to us at the moment. We feel restless, at a loss, decentered, numb, scattered, empty, and directionless. We need something with enough power to gather the scattered elements of our souls into one place, focus our attention on one task, and energize us toward one goal. The activity of this powerful object in gathering, focusing, and energizing our souls puts us in touch with ourselves; it enlivens our numbness and fills our emptiness. We feel alive again.

The nature and quality of our revived feelings depend on the nature of the object that overcomes the boredom. Some objects move us by awakening feelings of compassion or love or hope. Others call forth fear or anger or grief. Still others evoke greed or pride or lust. In every case boredom is overcome by placing (or finding) ourselves in the power of an object that possesses our souls in a way that unifies, energizes, and directs them. It seems that the soul doesn’t have the power to unify, energize, and direct itself. Hence boredom is the state of every soul not possessed by a power greater than itself. But not every power is truly greater than the human soul or worthy of its highest love.

We live in the age of boredom, not in the sense that everyone is always in the actual state of boredom, that is, the state of being restless, at a loss, decentered, numb, scattered, empty, and directionless. What I mean is this. Our age is dominated by fear of boredom. For many, much of what we do is designed with one purpose in mind: to fight off boredom for another day. In past ages boredom was a malady limited to the leisured classes. Most people were too occupied with digging a living out of the dirt and keeping their families clothed, warm, and housed to wake up Monday morning feeling aimless. Coping with disease, death, and war left little time to dwell on the emptiness within. But very few people living in the western world today are poor in the same sense that the twelfth-century French peasant or the eighteenth-century Russian serf was poor. We’re all members of the leisure class now! Boredom and fear of boredom have become pervasive problems.

The vast expansion of wealth in modern culture has allowed our spiritual poverty to come to the surface. When struggle for survival no longer possesses, unifies, and directs the soul, we face prospect of boredom. We look for other powers and goals to energize us and give us purpose. Many fight boredom by seeking exciting experiences. Fearing to be alone with their empty selves they seek ways to stimulate the feeling of being alive. They want to feel fear, compassion, triumph, surprise, delight, sadness or desire. And the entertainment industry’s main function is to invent ways of creating these feelings within our souls whenever we desire. We listen to music, watch movies, and go to concerts. We buy stuff. Protest stuff. And eat stuff. We hang out and hookup. We numb ourselves with alcohol and prescription drugs.

Modern life is a gigantic, multifaceted project designed to draw our attention away from the nothingness at the center of modern soul. The present age knows of no power great enough to gather all the soul’s passions and focus them on a goal worthy of all its love. And in my view, this absence is the cause of its sicknesses and the reason it deserves to be called “the age of boredom.”

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6 thoughts on “A Culture of Diversion for an Age of Boredom

  1. nokareon

    Excellent diagnosis. And lest anyone think that this is a new development in the spirit of man, I commend Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” as a case study. The barrage of stimuli humans are given may change, but the nature of humanity does not.

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  2. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

    “To press the weary minutes flagging wings,”
    Wrote Samuel Johnson in 1749, upon his pamphlet poem entitled ‘ The Vanity of Human Wishes’. The poem contains some remarkable similarities to our modern instigator. And it also contains even more classical instances that state this case for boredom down through the ages. Do have a look if you can…
    And I believe it was Professor Toynbee, in his book, ‘The History of Hellenism, and the city state empires” who suggests that the death of all civilizations comes about by a movement away from God, and in fact polytheism towards an existence where the self and self-worship becomes endemic. Is it possible that the great deceiver remains the great deceiver, but simply uses whatever methods and objects of deceit are available in that epoch? Is there any doubt that vast numbers of people now believe only in the flesh, not in the spirit, and have no comprehension of divine love and piety.
    The relationship between how we ourselves are deceived, and what drives us into boredom, has not really changed. The fundamental lies remain the same. We ignore the lost and the lonely, the sick and the elderly, and for the most part we do not really care about anybody else; and moreover, we cannot truly care about anybody else – because we do not know ourselves, we do not love ourselves, and we do not know how to forgive ourselves. And least of all, we do not kmow how to accept these gifts of love from God. These which are known as grace through faith, brought about by His gospel, and executed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. To everyone else, teaching now happens in parables, that in seeing they might perceive, in listening they might understand, and then they should turn (be converted) and I would forgive them.
    There is no doubt in my mind that the above essay is well made. But can we perhaps have a remedy? Could we read Phillipians 2: 1-5. Or the New Covenant?

    Post Script. Question. Are the levels to which man’s inhumanity to man is increasing or decreasing, or staying the same (corrected for population)? I am told that there is nowadays more modern slavery, more murder, more war, more hatred, disease, and prejudice than there has ever been. Then how quickly do we need to listen to those modern prophets among us and in our churches who declare that God may be rolling up the scrolls of time in our post-Christian world?

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  3. ifaqtheology Post author

    We definitely need a remedy, and there is a remedy. In short, we must learn to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Our of this, will come loving our neighbors as ourselves. Given these two loves we will never run out of important work to do. As to your point about whether we live in times more desparate and whether God’s judgment may be at hand, God alone knows such things. We know what to do in all times and under all conditions. Thanks.

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  4. CalLadyQED

    In my experience, despair and boredom go hand in hand with addiction. Not just to alcohol and drugs, as you mention. I think that compulsive pornography consumption and masturbation are driven by these spiritual and practical ills.

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  5. Richard Constant

    Opinions and Answers to Infrequently Asked Questions in Theology 😊

    Boredom
    Or interesting ways to make the Gospel relevant

    Thanks, RON, ya got me kick started by your post
    this is kinda along the line I think on sort a kind of. The possibilities of natural law and the works of the Spirit have changed, as far as I am concerned because Newtonian physics Is all well and good for a 19th-century mindset. Rom 1:20 So “we” are without excuse…(“So then, This is why I call Pre/Late 20th Century Theology A Flat-worlder theology, or reformation ontology, A 14th-century anti-Roman Catholic Pathology”). Theology NOW (N.T.Wright, Douglas Campbell ECT.) No longer take flat-worlder ( anthropological ontological theological) Mindset! And yes I meant to say that, for the very reasons of the of the deep-seated influence of NE plutonian Styled corruption of scripture interpretation (3ed century) also the epicurean viewpoints of most of the 18th-21st.century philosophical, if not just Flat Nihilistic Idealists. I will use One example of NEW natural LAW. I although could postulate a bunch as I have been looking into this since around 1995 and continue…
    Theoretical physics comes into play along with quantum mechanics.

    “The Greeks had a word for it — the force behind the laws — that, as Stephen Hawking puts it — puts the fire into the equations. The Greeks called it the Logos.
    It’s Jesus who makes the universe operate as it does, and for reasons known only to him, he likes for the universe to operate in ways describable mathematically.
    (Col 1:16-17 NIV) 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
    (Heb 1:3-4 ESV) 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
    So science and the Bible agree. In fact, the Bible gives a far more satisfying description of the nature of things than science. The equations are just ink on paper until some power greater than the created universe makes the universe follow its laws.”
    If the Bible says God reveals himself in the earth and stars, and if the earth and stars tell the story of an ancient planet in a more ancient universe, what does that teach us? But if the universe is that old, how do we reconcile that story with the story told in the Bible about the creation? Both are true. How can that be?
    Oh, and if it’s true that God made the heavens and earth only 6,000 years ago but he made the earth look ancient — but ancient in a way that tells a story –shouldn’t we want to know and study and profit from a story told by God himself?
    Therefore, whether you believe God made the world look old or God made a world that is now in fact old, either way, we are compelled to learn what God has to tell us from what he has made.

    The more I know or where theory begins and where science fact ends. (proof) the much more I are able to praise GOD… the tipping point for me is the theory (faith) that God was faithful To His words, (a theory) until the new creation (another dimension) was implemented by a faithful (son of Man, Son of God the Father) SON. Which brings about Paul’s bosting1Co 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
    1Co 15:2 By which also ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
    1Co 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins {{according to the scriptures;}}
    1Co 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day
    {{according to the scriptures:}} . … The Resurrection of the Dead
    1Co 15:12 Now if Christ is preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
    1Co 15:13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
    1Co 15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
    1Co 15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
    1Co 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
    1Co 15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
    1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
    1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.
    1Co 15:24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
    1Co 15:25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
    1Co 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
    1Co 15:27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
    1Co 15:28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
    1Co 15:29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
    1Co 15:30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
    1Co 15:31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
    1Co 15:32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.

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