The Problem of Boredom and its Resolution

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Published on: February 12, 2015

Boredom is a major aspect of the human predicament; a major dimension of what we often label “alienation.”  The universal experience of boredom has always been evidence against metaphysical naturalism and materialism.  It is difficult to understand why human beings become bored, and often bored to the point of despair, if they are not transcendent souls in need of much more than the material world the atheists claim is our one and only origin.  Boredom, paradoxically, is transcendence.

Boredom is a symptom of the world’s inadequacy to quench the human soul.  And much if not all of human culture is an attempt to deal with the problem of boredom; to relieve boredom.  The big, empty, western show has been going on since the coliseum.

Sin and guilt are inextricably intertwined with boredom because we sin in response to boredom.  We choose distractions — drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, gluttony, gambling, violence, pornography — which we know are short term solutions to boredom, lead to addiction, and end in even more boredom and alienation from ourselves, other people, and God.

A boring culture is, above all else, a pornographic culture.  And a pornographic culture is the evil process, not of celebrating our senses, but of finally dulling them and then destroying them.  It presents sensuality as salvation, the primary reason for living.  But this is a role which sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll cannot bear.  The pornographic culture finally suggests, at the end of the sensual road — addiction, boredom, and despair — that death is the only true form of salvation.  The suicidal have always made this claim out loud.  Death is the ultimate, ironic satisfaction of the frustrated, unsatisfied sensualist.  Having been used up, the senses must be retired altogether.  Aesthetic satisfaction is death.  Bait and switch.

Boredom is a natural phenomenon in a fallen world which separates us from the direct observation of God’s glory and corrupts the church as the direct experience of transcendent love and community.  A culture is boring to the extent to which it is based on bad faith about the true nature of boredom, or simply ignores the problem altogether.  A boring society is built on a culture which simply does not have an effective solution to the problem of boredom; a culture which does not have a tradition which cultivates sustainable, transferable, growing love.   Modern, western, secular culture has turned into blasphemy of the Holy Spirit — the claim that Christianity is the primary source of boredom and alienation insofar as it constrains Dionysian culture.  Christianity has supposedly lied about the nature of boredom and the consequences of “sin.”  This was Nietzsche’s explicit claim at the turn of the last century.  Now he, himself, is just a boring footnote to western intellectual history.  He was the first example of his own program’s failure. 

Blasphemy is the one and only unforgivable sin.  We should not, cannot, forgive this culture.  We must dismantle it and build anew.  

Christian moral psychology is more relevant to human experience than any other alternative.  And this is especially true when it comes to understanding the nature of boredom and resolving it.  It is all of the non-Christian, and anti-Christian solutions to the problem of boredom which have failed. 

This includes our attempt to build a “scientific” culture.

Anyone who follows me regularly knows that my complaint about modern western ideology and science (as scientism) is that they ironically flee from human experience.  Human beings, with the help of ideologues and philosophically naïve scientists, are wont to reject their painful experience by escaping into an ideal world, a world perceived by pure thought.  Modern science, as metaphysical speculation, is a hopeless attempt to literally describe Reality as a universe beyond human experience; it is trying to construct a whole new consciousness of Reality out of pure mathematics, pure systematic thought.  It is attempting to dig a rabbit hole into which we can descend with the hopes of coming out in a whole different place, a whole new consciousness.  As an end in itself this rationalist thrill is not realizable let alone sustainable.  Most of us cannot relate to it.  And those who can are not actually superior, but ironically inferior, like children who live for childish, illusory things.   

Only liberals still believe that science, beauty and sensuality can save us; can still give us a sustainable reason for living.  Scientific Reality, as Camus noticed quite some time ago, is actually irrelevant to the issues, the choices that human beings face as creatures trapped in the real world of everyday human experience, including its boredom.  It cannot provide a functional, purposive view of human life.  The actual existence or non-existence of the Higgs boson is not a solution to the existential predicament — embodied isolation from the other, radical contingency, guilt, suffering, impending death, the limits of reason; the conflict between human values and a large portion of our experience; the problems of moral and natural evil.  Too much of the time we are either terrified, or bored.  We cannot escape our humanity through ideological and scientific reductions.  There is no new, emerging human consciousness which transcends the existential predicament.  This is pop culture for kids.  It is an attempt to escape from our practical Reality.

In the meantime, and while bereft of any view of Reality which could possibly justify their preachiness, liberals drone on and on, robotically moralizing about all kinds of issues which we cannot actually get excited about; issues which simply do not have the significance of the existential predicament itself.  Income inequality, global warming, vaccinations, mythological racism, social injustice; all of the liberal calling cards, ad nauseum, ad infinitum, cannot captivate normal human beings who are looking for a solution to their personal sin, guilt, lovelessness, concomitant boredom, and death.  Liberalism is an attempt to preoccupy us with inauthentic issues as a distraction from the real human issues for which it has no analysis or resolution.  Liberalism has devolved into the most preachy, moralistic ideology in the history of mankind, and is in large measure the source of a sea of modern boredom as it distracts us from facing ourselves and our inescapable human predicament.   

Boredom, like terror, has reached crisis levels in modern western culture.  The modern world is an absurd seesaw with boredom sitting on one side and terror on the other.  There is little in between.  As a solution to boredom, all the liberal bell-tollers can offer us is terror. 

This may have politically revolutionary consequences.  We may be on the brink of a whole new age in which political revolution is not motivated by its traditional causes, like poverty and inequality, or gross injustice and overt tyranny, but sheer boredom compounding as a result of exhaustion from terror.  We are so bored we crave the terror supplied by fanatics and the media.  A huge portion of modern entertainment is based on terror.  The terror exhausts us.  We then find ourselves even more bored and in need of even more terror. 

The revolution rooted in this moral(e) morass would be based on a new understanding of government as enforcing boredom through its monopoly on the means of cultural production and education in particular.  The enforcement of a secular understanding of Reality, the modern liberal tradition, by the government’s educational monopoly, sews the seeds of boredom en masse.  The Islamic fundamentalists have been taking tactical advantage of this.  Orthodox Christians should do the same.

The whole point of organizing ourselves is to redeem the human experience, to make it worth living.  And if our way of organizing ourselves is not succeeding at this then everything is on the table, especially the notion that government and its cirriculum can save us if only given enough power.

A boring culture is a culture without a functional view of human life and its concomitant virtues.  It is a culture bereft of tradition.  In our case it is a culture in which liberalism encourages people to divest themselves of religious tradition and survive as rationalists, living in between and outside of all competing traditions.  Liberalism is radical secularism.  But secularism, this phony attempt to organize life around pure reason (an illusion in itself), is boring.  It cannot offer any view of Reality which is authentically interesting to human beings.  In the meantime, its own view of Reality and reason is just another competing view of these things, another competing tradition the chief lie of which is that it is independent of all tradition, of all faith. 

The net effect of liberalism has not been to make people, en masse, rationally autonomous, but to turn them into the uncritical, unthinking tools of a particular, historically contingent secular culture; a culture which does not represent inevitable progress.  It is, instead, morally regressive — a devolution.  And this culture, without a realistic understanding of the nature of salvation, is boring everyone to death.  Our epoch has been disastrous for the human spirit.  The Enlightenment has ironically depressed the human spirit, not liberated it.  Those who disagree are simply confusing technology with spiritual liberation.  This is a stupid confusion.  You may be confused by your affluence into wondering why and how you could feel so oppressed, unsatisfied, and bored.  But this is in fact a terribly oppressive, boring age.  It paradoxically combines massive amounts of pornographic violence (consider the latest public executions by ISIS or the Hollywood watch list) with massive amounts of boredom.  Mass boredom leads to escalating violence on a mass scale.  It is the world committing suicide.  This is our historical predicament, founded by our immutable nature; a nature which demands the Christian tradition, the Christian community.  

So why is your immersion in tradition, and the Christian tradition in particular, the route to salvation, the resolution of boredom?  It is because this tradition leads to sustainable love.

It is a psychological truism that the true love of something is at least a temporary solution to boredom — the love of our lover, the love of drugs, the love of alcohol, the love of sport, of cars, of anything which your particular inclinations might find at least temporarily exciting.   Love is salvation from boredom.  That much everyone can agree on. 

The only question then is: Which object of love makes love sustainable, so it does not collapse all over again into despair and boredom?  In other words, what is true love? 

True love is the love which is not blind, which is not simply the projection of our ideal onto a human frame which cannot bear it.  True love starts with the love of Jesus, who is the real thing.  Given His love for us, we can afford to be gracious.  Grace is consistent love for people who are not consistently lovable.  Do not ask me to explain the transferability and growth of love — from Christ to us and then to others.  Only Scripture and poetry can describe it. 

The Christian tradition gives us everything we need to overcome boredom.  It provides a functional, goal-directed view of human life in which we serve a great and loving God.  Our love for Jesus does not rely on the temporary projection of an ideal.  He is the ideal.  And this love makes it possible to love others without such a projection, including our spouse.  Our love survives the loss of the romantic love which was based on this doomed projection.  We move onto real love under the instruction of Christ.  Christian love does not rely on this projection of the ideal onto any aesthetic aspect of life which always disappoints us in the end by revealing its imperfection, by becoming real, by violating the ideal too blatantly to make the projection sustainable.  Christianity is a combination of hard-headed realism, grace, and sustainable love (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit). 

Our lives in our epoch are spiritually very difficult.  But we need not be consistently bored.  To communicate just one or two sentences of Christian truth to just one person, fills our hearts.

It is our own love which keeps us from being boring people.  But we cannot be sustainably interesting people, attractive people, without loving God and therefore loving others with the love He has transferred to us and cultivated.  Love is the ground of all of the other virtues.  And so virtue in general is mysteriously transferable.  When your own love and virtue is transferred to others because of your courage, your stand, your witness, life becomes rich.  All the great literature is finally based on the human scene where love and its courage transfers love and courage to others.

Supported by my Christian tradition I am still sinful, still troubled, still threatened and even terrified by the world, and still an imperfect lover of God and man.  But I am not bored.

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