Do you remember as a child, that feeling of separateness between what we ought to do and what we enjoy doing? We would be bribed with cartoons, movies, and video games in exchange for doing our homework, cleaning our rooms, or doing the dishes.
There was not only a distinction between what ought to be done, pertaining to reality and responsibility, and that which we desired to do, wrapped up in fictional stories and imagined realities. We were bribed with entertainment.
This distinction was simple. Our parental overlords enforced it, not us. They kept the balance in check. We reasoned as children when it came to entertainment, and our parents countered our childish logic of desiring more cartoons, more video games, more movies.
What appears most apparent in society, is that many of us (including myself) have failed to realise we are still thinking as children when it comes to entertainment.
Scripture speaks of putting aside childish thinking, Paul most simply in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, verse 11, where he says,“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
Yet, what appears to have occurred is we, as a society, have failed to put aside childish ways in the realm of entertainment. Consider simply, how often we binge-watch our favourite TV shows or how we joke about how it takes longer to find a movie on Netflix than actually watching a movie.
The irony of the above quoted Scripture is that Paul isn’t even speaking about entertainment, but speaks rather of the fullness of time and the second coming of Christ. Yet, how often would we rather watch Netflix than actually take the time to wrestle with Paul’s words?
We not only yearn to be entertained, we have allowed it to define the way we spend our time and relate to each other.
Nothing is new under the sun
Ironically, this is not a new concern to the church. Blaise Pascal, most notably a French mathematician and theologian, coined such a term for this phenomenon: divertissement.
Commenting on Pascal, Leugtko (2016) notes this,
“The modern sense of entertainment increasingly resembles what Pascal long ago called divertissement: that is, an activity – as he wrote in his Thoughts – that separates us from the seriousness of existence and fills this existence with false content” (Legutko, 2016, p. 36).
Solomon in Scripture is often facetiously quoted from the book of Ecclesiastes for his lament, “Nothing is new under the sun”. The point being that no struggle experienced today is new to the human experience. The divertissement Pascal wrote about in the 17th century is the same phenomenon we see today.
Netflix and Disney+ are not the reason we opt for entertainment each week-night or define our time around entertainment. Netflix and Disney+ have only enhanced our childish consumerism of entertainment.
Entertainment: the way, the truth, the life.
Consider again, how we may view church as entertainment.
Jesus famously declared in John chapter 14, verse 6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I think there are some televangelists out there who would, tragically, beg to differ with Jesus’ words (if only you opened your wallet).
The tragedy is that entertainment now not only permeates our time, but also our ways of living, thinking, relating, and even worshipping.
Returning to Legutko (2016) on divertissement, he comments,
“Divertissement is thus not only being entertained in the ordinary sense of the word, but living and acting within artificial rules that organize our lives, setting conventional and mostly trivial goals which we pursue, getting involved in disputes and competitions, aspiring to honors – making careers, and doing everything that would turn our thoughts away from fundamental existence matters.
By escaping the questions of the ultimate meaning of our own lives, or of human life in general, our minds slowly get used to that fictitious reality, which we take for the real one, and are lured by its attractions.” (Legutko, 2016, p. 36)
Legutko makes the poignant claim that entertainment so easily defines our reality, down to the ways in which we may experience religion. Consider again, only for a moment, how easily Hollywood is defined as the cultural mouthpiece of so many cultural changes of our time.
Are you not entertained?
In Ridley Scott’s 2000 film, Gladiator, an iconic scene tends to make the rounds of YouTube like no other.
In it, the protagonist, Maximus, the once-esteemed Roman soldier sold into slavery confined to fight in gladiator battles, has just won a violent arena fight. In an outburst of emotion at the stolid, emotionless faces of the spectators, Maximus grabs a sword and throws it towards the crowd, knocking over a table.
Surprised, the audience watches as Maximus yells, “Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you’re here?” A moment of silence permeates the crowd followed by an eruption of cheers.
Many of you would have seen Gladiator. You know the scene I speak of, and there are many movies just like it, seeking to draw in our interest and consume our time.
In an age of entertainment, we may speak of limiting our time on Netflix in a bid to spend our time more wisely, but in doing so, we miss the point. Rather, let us ask each ask ourselves when it comes to how we spend our time: are you not entertained?
Blake Gardiner is from Auckland, sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time.