Drifting to Distraction

SuperBowl2015Kickoff for Super Bowl XLIX is only 90 minutes away. Our family, like many others, will watch the game. Do we have any dog in this fight? Not so much.

It’s worth asking, “Why even watch?” It’s a great question, and personally, I have no good answer beyond “family tradition.”  Every year we sit down together; pick a side to pull for; enjoy glutenous, fatty, sugary foods; drink soda and beer; and laugh — or more often cringe — at the the commercials and half-time show. We just do.

Artemus suggested that sport may be our last American idol. He may be right — but regardless, there is a case to be made that to succumbing to spectacle and distraction is counter to the virtue of temperance and a danger to our souls. In  The Four Cardinal Virtues, Josef Pieper warns against curiosity, or what Aquinas called “the roaming unrest of the spirit.”

[T]he degeneration into curiositas of the natural wish to see may be much more than a harmless confusion on the surface of the human being. It may be the sign of complete rootlessness. It may mean that man has lost his capacity for living with himself; that, in flight from himself, nauseated and bored by the void of an interior life gutted by despair, he is seeking with selfish anxiety and on a thousand futile paths that which is given only to the noble stillness of a heart held ready for sacrifice and thus in possession of itself, namely, the fullness of being. Because he is not really living from the wellspring of his nature, he seeks, as Heidegger says, in “curiosity, to which nothing remains closed,” the pledge of a supposedly genuine “living Life.”

Not for nothing does Holy Scripture name “concupiscence of the eyes” among the three powers which constitute the world that “lieth in the power of evil” (I John 2, 16; 5, 19).

It reaches the extremes of its destructive and eradicating power when it builds itself a world according to its own image and likeness: when it surrounds itself with the restlessness of a perpetual moving picture of meaningless shows, and with the literally deafening noise of impressions and sensations breathlessly rushing past the windows of the senses. Behind the flimsy pomp of its facade dwells absolute nothingness; it is a world of, at most, ephemeral creations, which often within less than a quarter hour become stale and discarded, like a newspaper or magazine swiftly scanned or merely perused; a world which, to the piercing eye of the healthy mind untouched by its contagion, appears like the amusement quarter of a big city in the hard brightness of a winter morning: desperately bare, disconsolate, and ghostly.

Most of my ongoing struggles in my spiritual life have centered on sins against temperance. As a younger man, the struggle was chastity, but these days it’s what Pieper calls concupiscence of the eye what St.Augustine called concupiscence of the palate. I drift info distraction: I’m not driven, but something catches my eye or tickles a tastebud, and I surf, watch, graze without need or aim. I get comfortable, complacent — and that, too, is a danger. In his chapter on the righteous application of wrath against lustfulness, Pieper asserts:

Only the combination of the intemperateness of lustfulness with the lazy inertia incapable of generating anger is the sign of complete and virtually hopeless degeneration. It appears whenever a caste, a people, or a whole civilization is ripe for its decline and fall.

Perhaps Artemus is right on the money. The food is ready; I will watch the game with my family, but thoughtfully, this year, with Pieper’s warning in mind.

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