Pascal's Pensées: Week 24, Boredom


We are so unhappy that we would be bored even if we had no cause for boredom...


(Just a note for those unfamiliar with the Pensées. You might have noted that both last week and this week the pensée has come from the same number. Pensée #136 is a long, famous entry on diversion and the last two weeks I've pulled lines out of that longer passage.)

"God may be dead, but we sure do miss him."

That line comes from Hunting Magic Eels, from the chapter called "The Ache." The point I make in the book is that in an increasingly post-Christian and secular world we're experiencing a wide variety of emotional symptoms and ailments. Some of these symptoms are pretty alarming. Increasing rates of depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide. Other symptoms are chronic, low-grade nuisances. Less like a cancer diagnosis and more like the common cold. 

Boredom, for example. 

I go on to say in Hunting Magic Eels that a lot of young people have lost the ability to correctly diagnosis their pressing need for God. They don't understand spiritual angst and anomie. They just know they are incredibly anxious and on meds. They also know they are very, very bored.

Chronic, pervasive boredom is one symptom of the death of God. Lacking a transcendent sense of meaning and purpose, my students struggle to imbue life with existential significance. So they spend their days drifting in the sea of consumer and entertainment culture. They scroll through Netflix and can't find anything to watch. Then they scroll through Disney+ and can't find anything to watch. Then AppleTV. Nothing to watch. Amazon Prime? Nothing to watch. HBO Max? Hulu? Still nothing to watch. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of movies and shows to watch. But nothing interesting or compelling. Their constant bingeing on entertainments eventually reaches this point of satiation. Nothing to do. Nothing to watch. Boredom.

So that's how I often start conversations about God with my students. I simply ask, "How many of you are often bored?"

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