by Jason Fowler on 08/03/2012 (http://sustainabletraditions.com/2012/08/lament-neil-postman-and-a-culture-of-distraction/)
In a culture of distraction there is an urgent need to reclaim lament
“It is better to go to a house of mourning, Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, For when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” – Ecclesiastes 7:2-4
I woke up early this morning before the dawn. It was quiet and dark here on the farm. Everyone was asleep. Over an hour’s time the sky went from darkness to light. Birds began their morning songs. A stillness prevailed in the newness of the day.
But though the day started out in peace – my spirit has not been at peace. And so what I have to say may be more in the form of lament rather than encouragement. In the midst of the quiet morning my mind turned to the spiritual insanity that seems to be gripping our nation.
In the past several weeks we have moved our collective attention from the fever of a blockbuster film and then to a mass murder which took place in a theater as the viewers were watching the blockbuster film that portrayed similar chaos and death on the screen. We then moved to a global sports summit – en masse our faces glued to the peak of competitive world sports. In the midst of all this the political/religious theater kicked into full swing with cultural proxy wars involving protests at a fast food chain that has somehow become the battleground for a moral and religious wrestling match concerning the limits of democracy and human sexuality. And we did this without taking a breathe.
To put it another way – I was still mourning the Aurora shootings when suddenly all the attention went to the Olympics and then just as quickly to gay marriage and chicken sandwiches. I feel like I have whiplash.
What I just mentioned is of course only a small snapshot of a fracturing and increasingly superficial culture. We are supremely distracted. We are breaking apart at the seams as we continue to approach greater levels of crisis. We sip our lattes on the eve of an apocalypse. But it’s a whirlwind of our own making.
And in the midst of this, as Christians we are inflamed with a zeal to see our nation “return to GOD” but meanwhile because our own lives are so full of idolatry – we cannot even find room for rhythms of lament. For example – if we think we have taken a stand for Christian faith in a godless culture by mobilizing mobs to buy ‘Christian’ fast food – it only shows how bizarre the whole circus has become. We’ve fallen for the trick – the one where a spirit convinces you that you can overcome it by wrestling with flesh and blood. The soul of our nation hangs in the balance while we stuff our faces with food fed to us in a grand political theater.
There is a brilliant battle tactic called distraction where an enemy comes near and creates a diversion – while the real front is silently and in hiding, overcome. I have my suspicions that maybe we are in such times. It reminds me of the prophetic warning given by the great communications theorist, cultural critic, writer and educator Neil Postman. In his 1985 book ‘Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business‘ he begins with two warnings and a clarification of which future we may have chosen already:
“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another- slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophecy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a trivial culture…As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.” (from the foreword)
I pray for an awakening in this nation and in my own heart – that we would be able to extract our minds from the slavery of media-induced spectacle and the opiate of self-centered, reactionary spirituality (and reactionary politics for that matter). We must learn again to weep before GOD for our own godlessness and stop looking to call down fire on a nation that is wandering in darkness. We can never forget that Judas was a Zealot and Peter did not build the early church until he was broken by his own pride before the loving face of Jesus. The only way forward is a journey of lament