I’ve got a confession to make.
I’m deeply addicted to Candy Crush. And I never got into Flappy Bird. But there’s a whole lot of hullabaloo going on nowadays about this apparently annoying yet addictive game.
These sorts of games seem so trivial, silly, and downright a waste of time. Why are we so addicted to them? Perhaps, these games, however, are but one permutation of a basic cultural epidemic – an epidemic that reveals to us the conundrum that human finitude seems to bring to us.
As some of you know – I wrote a reflection a few months ago about the relevance of Pascal’s insights to our culture. The recent hype and controversies about Flappy Bird (including an apparent auction for anIphone containing the game since it is now apparently taken down) seem to reconfirm these thoughts. So here it is again, with some added material.
One of the reasons why I am thankful to have come to Westminster is getting to know Carl Trueman, who is also the Pastor of the church of which I regularly attend here. He seems to have an amazing ability to give piercing insights on our culture that are penetrating and at times painfully true of myself. In the last week of class he had a lecture on Pascal where he comments on our culture’s tendency to idolize “busy-ness” – we have an uncanny desire to be distracted, entertained, and amused. Upon introducing Pascal’s Pensees, he says this about the famous mathematician (what I offer here is a paraphrase from my notes):
“Pascal was a fundamentally pessimistic philosopher – ultimately there is hope because of the resurrection, but until then we should all be pessimistic – he found himself to be in a societythat is obsessed with pleasure and busyness, and naive optimism – the monarchy is reaching a zenith of power that have been unparalleled before – and all around Pascal people were crazy busy and obsessed – and he wants to know why this is the case – two things seem to mark our culture: obsession with entertainment and pleasure, and making lifeas complicated as possible – he would be critical of all this..”
Yet men remain miserable. And, paraphrasing Pascal now:
“Man’s unhappiness is attributed to one thing alone: his incapacity to stay quietly in one room…Even when a king is left alone, he will think about war and the possibilities oftragedy – he will then seek for distractions and gaming. This is the reason why we prefer the hunt over the kill. This is why the pleasure of being alone is incomprehensible. The king is surrounded by all sorts of people who would entertain him – if man were to find himself on his own, then it is unbearable for him, for he would find nothing else to do but worry…”
Pascal asks the probing question: we know why the homeless man would want to be entertained by a dance or a jester – but why would a king spend all of his treasures on making sure that he is surrounded by people to entertain him when he has all the riches in the world?
The answer, Trueman thinks, is found in Pascal’s Augustinian theological anthropology. What was Augustine’s basic anthropological insight?
“The fundamental insight: human beings made in God’s image is designed to love… and
§ To find fulfillment therefore one must find an appropriate object of love: though we are finite creatures, it is only in the infinite Godthat we can find true satisfaction for our desire for love
§ The fall’s tragedy is that the desire for love is now misdirected and inward to ourselves. But to love ourselves is an insufficient answer: nothing in the finite realm can satisfy our longing for love
§ “the heart is restless above all things til it is found in You”
The upshot is: human beings need an immortal love to find security and peace. Human beings crave for that eternally secure place where he is loved and loving – where his love is directed to that which will truly satisfy: the Divine Triune God of love.
So why do we hate to be alone? Because every moment of silence is a reminder of our mortality, and therefore a reminder of the meaninglessness of human existence without God, and the fact that all of our finite objects of love will only fail to satisfy our souls.
Trueman then asks the penetrating cultural questions:
“Why are baseball players being paid more than presidents, and we don’t complain when they jack up the ticket prices? If someone suggests that we raise the President’s wages by a hundred grand, we would all argue that that is a waste of tax-payer’s money! But the president makes nothing compared to a bunch of men playing a playground game. Yet we never complain when we see the celebrities and the baseball players receive millions. And we pay thousands of dollars just to watch them every time. Why? Because entertainment plays a more important role in our lives: it stops us from being alone and thinking…
When was the last time you were on a plane and people preferred to look out the window over watching the movies? Or the last time their Ipods were off when they are on a bus or a train? You see. The psychological issue is at hand, and Pascal calls our attention to it: we want to be busy, distracted, and entertained, because we cannot stand to be alone.”
Might I also add then, perhaps this is why we play these games. We would rather be distracted by something extraordinarily trivial, in order to distract ourselves from that which is ultimately significant. We run away from the very thing that actually matters. We suppress the very thing God has implanted into our hearts – and instead of stopping to think seriously about Him, meaning, and life, we’d rather blot all of these questions out with a game.
We cannot stand to be reminded of our mortality, finitude, and that perpetual human longing for eternity.
These moments still come back to me today, even as I am in Christ. And I know for a fact, as I was an atheist, these were the exact reasons I needed to be out on a Friday night and asleep til Sunday afternoon. I hated to be alone, so I needed to go out, because I knew that the thoughts would come back.
But thankfully, my destiny is eternal now, and God had placed that longing in the human heart, to cause us to seek Him.