Faith in the Age of Distraction
This article was originally published over at The Vital Masculinity Project. It is published here with the author's consent.
We live in an age overshadowed by many great plagues (both literal and figurative). Cracks in society, around for centuries, are widening by the in-pouring of a swirl of demonic violence, hatred and division. Men are told that they are evil if they are men and are herded into a state of arrested development, of perpetual adolescence. Women are told that in order for them to be good women, they must either kill their offspring or, instead, become like men.
I am preaching to the choir when I say that these, along with many other ideologies and practices nowadays, are evil, destructive or just plain stupid.
This is not a post of doom and gloom though. There is a great hope. Many young men and women are rediscovering the Light their ancestors once cherished. The Light that defined Western Civilization, that was bestowed upon the world by Christendom. They are discovering faith in this Son that turned poor men into rich men and adorned the penitent in righteousness. Yes, there is hope.
But for all of the hope in the world, we must not forget that we still live in the world. And not merely any world - this world. We are imprinted with its mark from youth, a sort of “secular original sin.” While we are told that we can be anything we want (should we be though?) we are constricted in many regards by our times. While I could choose to be a farmer, my agricultural craft will more likely than not be dictated by practices of a 21st century Kansan rather than a 3rd century Egyptian. The same is true, in many respects, for ideologies and philosophies that we must either choose to accept as our own or cast off, trying to find Truth on our own terms.
Our interface with the world nowadays is likewise dictated less by the library or academia and more via the lens of our smartphone screens. Our constant companions, these glimmering devices have opened up a world of possibility to many. We can access apps teaching us how to exercise, do physics, even pray. We can livestream church services during this time where COVID-19 casts a dark shadow over us. We have access to more information than many Socrates, Aristotle and Plato combined.
But here is a point to ponder: are our ages more or less likely to form the next Plato, the next Chrysostom, or Aquinas than the so-called “dark ages?”
No, and a fervent no at that. I think it’s without question that 21st century America and this glistening tech is more likely to produce obese, porn-addicted young men who pay to watch women who have been told that a job as an internet stripper that is “liberating.” Sin and depravity has abounded in all ages, yet there has never been a time before now where pleasure can so easily be obtained. This has led to a great deal of pain and suffering in the lives of young men, women, their families and all of their communities.
As Christians, we must realize first and foremost that our smartphones, the internet and social media are tools that can be wielded for good or for great, mortal evil. Yet we also must realize that doing the bare minimum - i.e. abstaining from porn, not consuming content that harms the soul - is not the end goal of what we should strive for.
When we read the lives of the great saints, the men and women that best exemplified faith in Christ, we see a pattern emerge - total devotion to God. This, of course, does not come across only in a monastic sense, as there are numerous examples of saintly members of the laity.
Realizing this, we must then examine our relationship with our phones and other technology by using our relationship with Christ as the guide post. How many of you mindlessly browse social media or attempt to justify excessive use by saying you only browse “educational” things? It is possible to lust after knowledge to the detriment of your salvation, after all. Would your time on YouTube not be better spent in prayer or meditation? Does the rabbit-hole of wikipedia lead to salvation better than the study of scripture?
Christianity is a faith of decisive action, not a faith for couch potatoes. I believe that the devil, having failed to get us to turn to mortal evil, will have us instead be stuck in a sort of moral limbo. Not actively doing good, not actively doing bad - just scrolling and scrolling…
I know this because I have been an image of this man. There is great temptation to be a mediocre person nowadays. But just as there are no lukewarm Christians, there are no grandchildren of God. We must choose each and every day to live according to our baptisms. Take my word as someone who fell away from Christ in his teens that sometimes a rosary a day by your devout Hungarian grandmother can not save you from that fall.
Self-deception is an ever-lurking sin in our digital age because our brains have been literally overwhelmed by dopamine and an all-around pleasant cocktail of neurochemicals. One more page on Reddit may not kill you - will it? How many times do you tell yourself something like that before it’s habituation and it may actually kill your soul? We convince ourselves that we are in control, but demons can always be around the next corner.
We are called to greatness in Christ each and every day. This greatness that leads to eternity, just like the pursuit of greatness in sports, takes targeted and directed discipline. If you do not live according to a plan of technological use, you will more likely than not fall into these slums of milquetoast-ness which I mentioned above.
Permit me to have one last word. It is easy to go overboard with research once a problem has been realized. You can go out and buy a dozen books on self-improvement, discipline, willpower, and the like - just like I did - in an attempt to overcome ill use of your smartphone. But I think it is apt to take to heart the words of one of the great Pagan philosophers, Marcus Aurelius:
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
If you want to break the chain of technology dependence or of any type of moral mediocrity, you already know what to do. Pray. Fast. Read Scripture. Read the Church Fathers. Engage in fellowship with other believers. Instead of trying to pull a St. Christopher, with the gargantuan task of bearing Christ across the waters in one great leap, emulate the little way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Commit to little acts of greatness that you may be adorned in glory by Our Lord, His Mother and all the angels and saints when you are called into His bosom.
About The Vital Masculinity Project
Our goal is to restore classical masculinity by encouraging men to pursue virtue and brotherhood. While there are many competing voices on manliness today, most have forgotten this foundation of character while instead focusing on externals. We strive to provide practical steps for all men to begin their journey to becoming virtuous. Visit our Journal for reflections virtue, noble living and manliness or check out our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any of your other favorite podcast providers to listen to rich conversations about these topics.