• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Not Right Now, Please: I'm . . .

A friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail as he was preparing a speech:

“If you had to choose one issue that we Christians face as we tell other people about Jesus, what would it be? Would you say it’s pluralism—the wide range of religious and philosophical options available? Relativism—that says it doesn’t really matter what you choose? Consumerism—that encourages each of us to think of all of life as a supermarket? Individualism—that makes it all about me?”

I’d like to know what you think. Here’s what I said:

As you know, Brother A, I devote whole chapters, or at least parts of chapters, to these topics in my book Humble Apologetics! So I guess I’m on record as agreeing that they’re important—very important indeed.

But today I’m going to side with the great scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal and say that the major issue we face as we try to share Christ is distraction—or what he calls “diversion.”

Our neighbours are distracted, both individually and as a society, as they devote tremendous resources of time, money, and creativity to distracting themselves from what ultimately matters. These distractions can be positive, like caring for their families or pursuing an education or having fun. They can be negative, like hoarding their assets against financial crisis or botoxing themselves against increasing age or worrying all the time about global climate change.

We Christians, of course, are distracted by just the same things—plus our own peculiar concerns, such as policing minor matters of doctrine or battling over who runs the church.

Pascal mourns for us all: Diversion, he says, “is the greatest of our miseries. For it is that above all which prevents us thinking about ourselves and leads us imperceptibly to destruction. But for that, we should be bored, and boredom would drive us to seek some more solid means of escape, but diversion passes our time and brings us imperceptibly to our death” (Pensée 414).

Pascal’s warning would be echoed in Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning screenplay of one of the greatest movies ever, Network, which warns us particularly of the diversion of television and now, perhaps, would be updated to focus on the Internet. And the cover of a recent month’s Atlantic worries that Google has made us “stoopid,” unable to focus on an extended discussion of anything, much less the things that matter most.

Pascal cries, “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something [probably a big screen—note the double entendre] in front of us to stop us seeing it” (Pensée 166).

The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing, the saying goes.

That, I believe, is what our culture and most of us most of the time rarely do. No wonder, then, that we dully ignore anyone who wants to talk to us about what is, in fact, The Main Thing.

What do you think?

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