What is a danger we don’t talk about in our society? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
As we continue our look at Edward Castronova’s book Life Is A Game, we come to him diagnosing a major problem in our world today. We are bored. Now some of you might be odd to think that is a problem. “What? So the remedy to the world’s problems is to just have some fun and all is well?”
Let’s start by looking at the problem. To some extent, we all know that he is right. I sit here in my apartment at the seminary. I have a TV with multiple streaming services and free services as well so I can watch virtually anything that I want. I have a PS4 and a Switch so I can play a huge multitude of games. I have the internet so I can find many more things to do. I have numerous books and I have a Kindle so reading isn’t a problem. I have a smartphone with even more things to do on there.
Even if you don’t have everything I have, odds are you have plenty of things. I wager still that you are likely bored sometimes. How many times have you gone channel surfing through streaming and said “There’s nothing on.”? How many times do you open up Facebook and just stroll for half an hour or so because you’re just looking for something?
Castronova tells us the monks actually had a word for the boredom. Acedia. It’s a restlessness in life so much so that just to get some excitement, some monks would actually put themselves in places of temptation. Acedia is a real problem.
We have that problem in our society because there is very little struggle. Our ancestors had to fight and work hard just to survive. They couldn’t go to the grocery store and didn’t have central heat and air and indoor plumbing and couldn’t go from place to place super easily. They didn’t have countless medications to treat most every disease out there.
And guess what happens when you play the game and it gets too easy.
I love doing math, which I’m sure is odd for you, but I would hate the thought of being asked to come and do some math problems, thinking it would be something complex, and get to a sheet of paper that just has adding single digit numbers together. Boring.
Now it could be there could be some degree of excitement in it if, say, I was put in a room with other math geeks and we all tried to see who could finish all these simple problems first, but the problems in themselves are not problems for me anymore. Without challenge, life is boring.
The same can happen in church services. I understand pastors want to speak on a simple level to reach everyone, but you can’t always speak on the lowest common denominator or the people who are not there do get bored. Yes. I get bored often in a church service because very rarely is anything new said.
Now to an extent, there is some good in this. If I stayed at a simple level in theology forever, my life would be lacking. I can even take those simple concepts and go deeper with them. Let’s consider the song we grew up with. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”
Okay. Who is Jesus? He loves me? What is love? Why does He love me? The Bible tells me so? How do I know that’s what it really says? How do I know it’s reliable? How do I know it’s authoritative? Those simple questions can drive you endlessly into deep theology, but if you just stay on the surface, you miss that.
That’s just one of many reasons men hate going to church. This also ties us into quests. We need quests because we need excitement in our lives. We need to be challenged.
If we don’t have that, we fill it up with artificial entertainment. Castronova says that we have sex with one another as if wolves were about to devour our species. (No need for them to. Through abortion, we do that ourselves.) Whereas our forefathers would see sex as something pleasurable, yes, (Aquinas even said had the fall never taken place, the pleasure of sex would be even greater so thanks a lot Adam and Eve.) they also saw it as something deeper, a sacred demonstration of a covenant between two people and a revelation of God Himself. Turn on most any sitcom today and all you see is the pleasure principle.
We have a problem with obesity in our country. We often don’t eat to live, but we live to eat. We gorge ourselves and snack because we are bored. Many people on diets trying to lose weight are often told, and I think rightly, that they are eating not because they are hungry, but because they are bored.
Today, we have people on social media sites doing stupid challenges, like the Tide Pod Challenge, and while these challenges are stupid, note what they are called. Challenges. People want to do something risky. They want a goal to live for. They want something greater in their lives than just 9 to 5.
And often, we will invent grand problems so we can say we are fighting against a great enemy. It’s easy to talk about climate change and present it as a great disaster and then fight so you can say you’re fighting something. While I am skeptical of it, I understand that it can be fulfilling for people to have something to fight against.
Could this also be one reason why wherever the church has it easy, it tends to lose its effect? The church is growing in nations where persecution is rampant. Here in America, persecution is not yet rampant and yet people who identify as transgender, less than 1% of the population, seem to have more say than so many people that say they are Christians.
Without challenge also, it’s easy to wonder what we are living for. I have been pondering lately that could it be part of our educational troubles is our livelihood does not often depend on what we are learning. Do tests really help us learn? I don’t know if anyone has done the study, but I would be curious to see. After all, how many people study hard for a test and then promptly forget it all? They got the passing grade. How many of us passed tests in high school and now don’t remember what we learned?
Could this also be why gaming works so well? In 6th grade I used one of those geo-safari toys, I think that’s what they’re called, and got bored with North American stuff so I went and learned South American capitals. I don’t remember them all perfectly, but I know a lot more of them today than I normally would.
As someone who plays video games, I could still to this day turn on the original Legend of Zelda and go through both quests and find where everything is and beat the game. Did I ever have to sit down and take a test on this? No. I did it because it was fun and challenging and I learned.
When I first arrived at Southern Evangelical Seminary years ago with my roommate who I knew through TheologyWeb, we found we were doing quite well with our peers in knowledge. Why? Because we had been arguing this stuff for years online long before Facebook on that site. (If you want to debate my articles, go there also.) We had to know this stuff and it became a challenge. We used apologetics so much that we just knew it. We didn’t need to take a test on it.
When I was in Greek in Bible College, I did very well. Why? We had Parsons Tutor as our guide and it was a game of sorts and I would keep going through a lesson over and over until I got 100%. The challenge made it fun!
I am not saying this as someone who hates tests. I normally do great on them so there’s no reason for me personally to want to abolish them, but I am asking what really helps us learn and not just for the moment, but long-term?
When I am doing a game also, I voluntarily look up the information and research it. I want to know how to finish this quest? I will look it up. Back in the day also, something young gamers do not understand, we had to buy strategy guides and there was a lot of trial and error. There was no internet to look things up. We had to try again and again and work hard, but it was fun! When someone managed to beat a game, and normally that was me, the game prodigy, that was a cause of awe and admiration. What’s the result? I know this information long-term.
The prescription for our society then? Challenge. We need quests. We need to know what we are living for and why. Every man wants to provide for his family, but he also wants meaning and purpose. Wives will often want to provide and usually by being good housekeepers, but they also want meaning and purpose.
Christianity gives us that and we don’t know it. We sit on it not realizing our birthright. The Christian life is meant to be hard, but should it also be, dare I say it, fun?
(And I affirm the virgin birth)