Why Are We So Addicted to Entertainment?

We are a culture glued to screens.  I am no exception.  I work at a computer, I have one of those flashy hand-held devices that does just about everything from playing music to preparing my dinner for me (okay, maybe it doesn’t do everything). However, my wife and I did decide to forgo ordering cable TV when we recently moved into our new house, and I have to say, I don’t really miss it.

These sources of entertainment are not inherently bad. In fact, they can be very resourceful.  And by divulging my abstaining from television, I am not trying to say that I am in any way better than anyone else.  It is curious, however, that the entertainment industry takes in more revenue than just about anything – even in these hard times.  When the stock market plummets, Apple Inc. remains unaffected, indicating that consumers struggling through hard times still manage to scrounge up the resources necessary to make the latest iPhone a financial priority.

So bear with me as I attempt a philosophical explanation that could fill an entire novel, but will be attempted in a few paragraphs:

In short, our addiction stems from the reality that, of the many needs common to every human being, the need for entertainment is the only one that hasn’t let us down.  The appeal to our emotions is the last thing that seems real… or so we think.

The Renaissance, and later the enlightenment, which introduced to us the age of reason, brought about a great many things, including the scientific method, and the idea of progress.  Progress says that through the miracle of science and technology, mankind will chart an evolutionary course towards Utopia.  Through advances in medicine, politics, philosophy, education, and technological innovation, we will eventually create a world in which humanity is finally perfected, and there will be peace and harmony, etc.

In an age that could scientifically explain God away, humans were trained to instead place their hopes in progress.  With enough education and hard work, we will make a better world.

And so, many of us have heard politicians echo “in the name of progress,” as they spout their plans to improve our current situations.  The problem is, over the last century, the world has watched as the myth of progress stumbles and stutters over the problem of evil.  How can we hope in progress after Auschwitz?  How can we hope in a bright future through progress in the face of Nine Eleven, drug epidemics, child prostitution, etc.?

And so we are left with a shattered world characterized by distrust.  Still, our politicians attempt to sell us their own versions of progress… “if you vote for me, things will get better!”  But they know that their appeals to progress won’t go far with a hopeless generation, so they appeal to our emotions.  As one commentator put it, “our politicians are making themselves out to be rock stars, while our rock stars are making themselves out to be politicians.”

A world that is left with no hope in the face of its problems has nothing left to gravitate towards but entertainment… or perhaps something that is not of this world – that is, the spiritual world.  To answer our lack of faith in humanity and progress, the last few decades have seen a renewal of openness to spiritual reality.  The question is, which spiritual reality?  To answer that question we have encouraged people to seek out their truth, and have insisted that all truths are equally valid as they are relevant to the individual.  But once again, the trouble we run up against is, if all truth is equally valid, doesn’t that ultimately mean that no truth is valid?  If I can define what is true and real, doesn’t that mean there really is no source of truth outside of myself?

And that leads us back to square one, where humanity finds itself tossed about in a river of chaos with no anchor upon which to be grounded, no one to rescue us, and nothing to hope in.  So, to drown out our fears and our problems, we lean into entertainment.

But there is one source of truth.  History is in fact moving towards an ultimate direction or goal that involves healing, restoration, and in fact, resurrection.  And fortunately for us, that truth, direction, and goal are not defined by us, but by the source of all truth, God, Himself.  I’ll end this post with a quote from N.T. Wright:

The myth of progress fails because it doesn’t in fact work; because it would never solve evil retrospectively; and because it underestimates the nature and power of evil itself and thus fails to see the vital importance of the cross, God’s no to evil, which then opens the door to his yes to creation.  Only in the Christian story itself – certainly not in the secular stories of modernity – do we find any sense that the problems of the world are solved not by a straightforward upward movement into the light but by the creator God going down into the dark to rescue humankind and the world from its plight.    – N.T. Wright, quoted from his book Surprised By Hope.

So my question is: Would a culture characterized by a renewed and revived hope in God – His story, and His world – find themselves engaging in that world much more proactively, and find themselves less dependent on entertainment?  What does that look like?  – Food for thought.

– Mike Rauwolf