The Danger of Diversion

Americans seem to have an insatiable hunger for entertainment. Modern technology now allows us to have almost unlimited entertainment options. If nothing arouses our interest on the 200+ television channels the cable company offers, we can always connect to one of the many streaming services that provides a wide variety of entertainment on-demand. When entertainment provides an occasion for family members or friends to spend time and interact together, it plays a positive role in our society. It can be beneficial to use entertainment to help us relax. However, entertainment can also be dangerous, especially if it involves “diversion.” I am not thinking of the college student who chooses to binge watch all three “Lord of the Rings” movies one night rather than studying for a chemistry final he has the next morning—though that is likely a negative diversion. My concern involves folks who utilize entertainment to divert their attention from important questions they don’t want to think about because they make them uncomfortable.

Blaise Pascal is probably best known as a 17th century mathematician, but he was also a profound philosopher and theologian. He was convinced that people often used entertainment as a diversion from thinking about topics of ultimate significance, such as the meaning of life and death. In his day, sport hunting, games, gambling, and other amusements were used as diversions. It was a tiny repertoire compared to all that modern entertainment offers, but human psychology on this point seems constant. Diversions, Pascal warns, “lead us imperceptibly to destruction.” Why? “If not for diversion,” he says, “we would be bored, and boredom would drive us to seek more solid means of escape, but diversion passes our time and brings us imperceptibly to our death.” In other words, diversions enable us to be oblivious to our eventual oblivion. Pascal adds, “Man cannot help wanting to be happy. The best thing would be to make himself immortal. But as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop thinking about it.”

We often try to use diversions to distract us from our unhappiness. Pascal noted that “if our condition were truly happy we would feel no need to divert ourselves from thinking about it.” Woody Allen points to the same reality in the movie Manhattan when a character speaks about “people in Manhattan who are constantly creating these unnecessary neurotic problems for themselves because it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about the universe.”

There is, however, an alternative to diversions. It is to recognize that reality is actually much different than it may appear on the surface. Pascal encouraged everyone to embrace this alternative which is spelled out in the Bible. The way to deal with our mortality is the Christian hope of resurrection. We can face death with confidence knowing that, because Jesus conquered death, those trusting in Him will do so as well. (1 Corinthians 15:20) Christianity also enables us to find personal meaning in the midst of chaotic and difficult circumstances. Though “the universe” may not care, as atheist Carl Sagan once declared, the One who created the universe does care. His purpose, which will certainly be accomplished, is to bring about His own glory and the ultimate good of those who belong to Him. (Romans 8:28) This does not mean life is always easy. Trouble and tragedy are part of human existence. Yet, for those who trust and follow the Lord Jesus, it is a life full of grace, hope, and in the end, eternal joy. I often enjoy entertainment, but I need no diversions from this reality.
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Dan Erickson