How do we make sense of our world? Does reality even make sense? What does it even mean for something to “make sense”? Blaise Pascal, one of my favorite philosophers, asks these same questions and muses on our miserable state in light of reality—it’s uncertainties, it’s difficulties, our finitude in the face of infinite space and time.
We desire truth, and find within ourselves only uncertainty.
We seek happiness, and find only misery and death.
We are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness. (Pensées, 401)
Given our unhappiness and uncertainty there are two popular paths that people follow: indifference and distraction. Life is so daunting and our death is ever approaching so that many or perhaps most people choose the path of least resistance.
Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition. (Pensées, 434)
The last act is bloody, however fine the rest of the play. They throw earth over your head and it is finished forever. (Pensées, 165)
We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us seeing it. (Pensées, 166)
I often return to these ideas, these concerns—and even more so given my recent schedule. I’ve been unusually busy with responsibilities as of late. As a result, I’ve had no time to think, to reflect—to pray. I long for these times—these times of leisure. Many people seek out distractions of schedule, work, and general “busyness” for very purpose of avoiding such times. The idea that one would sit and think is anathema to people.
I had originally written “anathema to the modern mind,” but I was immediately reminded that this is not a condition unique to modernity. What is unique to modernity is the creativity, diversity, and scale that goes into creating distractions. In a world where every technological advance purports to “save time”—we find we never have enough! How can this be?
The answer is that we don’t want the time. We don’t want to have to think. We don’t want leisure. Leisure means coming face to face with what matters most of all in the world. And this is the contradiction: the very truths that matter most to our existence are the very truths that we do everything to avoid!
Pascal is right when he laments:
…Men cannot be too much occupied and distracted, and that is why, when they have been given so many things to do, if they have some time off they are advised to spend it on diversion and sport, and always to keep themselves full occupied. How hollow and foul is the heart of man! (Pensées, 139)
Distraction has its time and place—but it’s not to be our lives. This is why I pity those people whose lives are consumed by “professional” sports. How little difference could the outcome of sport make on my eternal fate? I enjoy a good ball-game; it is not what matters to me.