As a result of the discussion generated by last week’s post on this topic, I want to make some general statements.
First, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the question, is entertainment a waste of time? In that regard, I don’t think one person can give a definitive answer for someone else — only for himself. Third, I do think the Bible gives some things for us to think about.
Here’s my observation: our society is fast moving toward hedonism [as defined by the Oxford American Dictionary, “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.”]
Because we live in a society obsessed with making it to the weekend, I think we Christians, and especially we lovers of speculative fiction, ought to think through our own personal “philosophy of entertainment.” It might affect what we view, listen to, read, play, and for writers, it might affect what we write.
First, a further word about our culture. Here in the U.S. we’ve morphed a phrase from the Declaration of Independence which might be at the root of our current condition. What the document says is this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. [emphasis mine]
However, we live as if we have the right to happiness and that we are to pursue it with vigor.
What does the Bible say about entertainment or pleasure or happiness? Not a great deal. We know King David, King Solomon, and a variety of others wrote songs. Most were related to God or His people.
Then there is the Song of Songs.
We know Jesus told stories. Those all had a point that related to what He was teaching.
Still, He attended the wedding feast in Cana.
The most extensive Bible passages about pleasure are in Ecclesiastes. Solomon, though the wisest man ever, went through a period of deep doubt and despair. And it appears to have started with what I call his pleasure phase.
Earlier he’d set his mind to know wisdom, decided that only brought grief and pain, so he switched gears.
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” … All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.
– Ecc 2:1-2, 10-11
Apparently his discovery that his pursuit of pleasure was vanity, ushered in his nihilistic phase. He decided that Mankind was no different than the beast of the field, that the sum of all things was zero. And he concluded
I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot.
– Ecc 3:22a
Even though he says later that “the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure,” (Ecc 7:4b) he still says living for happiness is all there is because the righteous and the wicked alike die (Ecc 9:2-3). Live it up, he says, for this is your reward (Ecc 9:7-9).
Thankfully, at the end of his life Solomon reversed much of this, but I find his foray into hedonism instructive (as I’m sure God intended). Solomon admitted that he didn’t deny himself any pleasure and yet he found it vanity.
Was that because of the excess? I don’t think so. If there had been a level of pleasure that was satisfying, why would he not return to it and sing its praises? Ultimately, during this phase, the best he could come up with was that pleasure was better than being dead.
So what does all this have to do with today and speculative literature and the entertainment we embrace? I’ll look at that next week.