Our Choices Matter

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Following from yesterday's note that there is purpose to everything, a corollary is that our choices matter. Most orthodox Christians seem to understand this intuitively in the big issues--to sin or refrain from occasion of sin, to support life or to oppose it.

However, where we seem to let it go is in the smaller choices that matter every bit as much. For example, in our choice of entertainment. There is nothing wrong with leisure time, however, it seems that if everything has a purpose, then our choices should also be purposeful. If we choose to entertain ourselves with things that are not worthy of us, we are not doing ourselves any favors. There is nothing wrong with reading the occasional Grisham or Wodehouse as a sort of intellectual palate-cleansing; however, a complete diet of either must be detrimental because we are filling time otherwise better occupied in more edifying pursuits.

Moreover, and this is where it gets sticky, we need to make choices that reduce recreation time. Recreation is supposed to be a break, not the majority of time that we are not at work. Many parents have no problem with this--modern schedules of carting kids to activities, maintaining house and home, participating even minimally in various parish activities--all tend to fill up our time. And yet the average family finds times for 4-6 hours of television a day. There is something wrong with this.

We need to choose as often as possible things that will help us lead Christian lives. So our entertainment, our recreation, and our leisure hours should be spent training ourselves to be better Christians. The things we choose to take in during these hours should strengthen our resolve as well as our minds and bodies.

Everything has a purpose, every choice matters. Every choice has consequences that echo perpetually. So, it would seem, Dostoievski might be preferable to say Agatha Christie, even if I happen to prefer the latter most times. Chesterton might be better than Grisham, and so forth. We simply need to learn to pray before and about everything and let the Holy Spirit be our guide in all the ways we will go.

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Again I say Amen! This one is hard to keep in mind, especially when tired.

Keep on preaching!

This post confuses me, not least because a careless reading might give the impression you're saying there are mode edifying things to do than read Wodehouse.

You mention, but don't really distinguish between, "our entertainment, our recreation, and our leisure hours." Do you mean for there to be a distinction?

I suppose I have a minor and a major objection to what you've written. The minor is the implication that Dostoyevsky is objectively more edifying than Christie, and so is subjectively preferable. Christie may be the wrong choice here, since few 20th Century writers had more to say about good and evil, but that makes my point that the point about what ought to be subjectively preferable is inherently debatable.

The major is that, in trying to express an important truth, this post comes down (I think) too far down on the ... maybe "self-improvement" side, rather than "living in grace" side? You need discipline to be a disciple, to be sure, but the post may be underselling the virtue of eutrapalia. But then, I may have read too much Wodehouse to believe anyone is really improved by reading improving books.

Dear Tom,

I hear your objections and offer the lives of the Saints as a mirror of our activities. St. Teresa of Avila specifically indicts the romance novels she read when young. I don't see St.. John of the Cross running for the chronological equivalent of John Grisham. St. Teresa emphasized the importance of recreation for the body and for health, playing tambourine and dancing--but she specifically abjured idle conversation.

Perhaps I am saying the reading certain things is the equivalent of "idle conversation." It neither edifies nor does it prepare one for one's Christian mission, and often the material may amount to scandalous.

So my reply to you is that I think we need to consider very, very carefully what we indulge in as entertainment. Most of us would have no trouble thinking of a million justifications for what we decide to do; however, does that make it right? As to eutrapalia--isn't it possible that we are to find this in things other than Agatha Christie?

Mind you, I am conflicted about what I am saying, but I am convinced that no choice is too small for careful consideration--this includes what we choose to do to take our rest. (And I do make subtle disctinctions between recreation, entertainment, and rest, but these are personal divisions, probably not denotative.)



I completely agree that more care regarding choice of entertainment seems to be called for in our society. We are what we consume, in more than a metaphorical sense.

I don't think the example of two saints, from the same country and century, can be generalized to the whole Church. If you're proposing rules of life to form oneself in the Carmelite way, that's one thing. If you're proposing universal and categorical imperatives, that's another.

I think mostly I'm balking at the idea of "edifying rest." It seems like an oxymoron.

As for whether it's possible we are to find eutrapalia in things other than Agatha Christie, sure, it's possible. It's also possible we are to find it in Agatha Christie. What I think can be more reliably held, though, is that cultivating eutrapalia is a prudential decision the specific means of which are best left to the individual.

All this, I suspect, is related to the differences between Truth and Beauty, and the different ways we relate to each.

Dear Tom,

You are correct--but I challenge one to show a Saint who spent their leisure hours reading romance novels or even what would amount to light fiction. I chose these two because I know most about them, but I've never read a life of a Saint who spent a lot of time indulging in popular fiction. The mirror I hold up is the one I am familiar with, and I am certainly willing to consider the example of Saints who spent whatever passes for leisure time in the Saintly world devouring Golden Age Mysteries. (In fact, I would find it quite heartening--given my proclivities.)

Also, I understand the concern about edifying rest. My choice of words is incorrect--it may not be edifying but it makes the remainder of our work possible. It is the proper combination of physical exertion (work and play), study, and rest that is together necessary for our "edification."

In sum, I think we are concerned about the same issues. I know I am speaking more from personal conviction than from objective proof. My admittedly poor intuition in the matter is that to while away time with trifles hardly becomes a saint, and that there are good and reliable standards as to what constitutes a trifle and what is worthy of the kingdom of God. I should think that reading Agatha Christie or P.G. Wodehouse between bouts of the Catechism, Thomas Aquinas, and other perhaps more objectively substantial works, would constitute a kind of recuperative and ruminative rest that may allow for better assimilation and organization of ideas that come from the real mental work.

So I'm not saying these are or should be forbidden to anyone. However, I fall back on the position of praying about everything, including those things we choose to participate in away from our edifying pursuits. One cannot constantly be edifying. Rest and relaxation are necessary. But it strikes me that it is possible to have rest and relaxation as easily in Eucharistic Adoration (assuming such is available to one) as it is in Agatha Christie and it would likely be a better choice.

It's similar to eating. One should have an overall balanced diet with only the occasional indulgence of sweets and fats in order to maintain health. So too with the recreations and entertainments of the mind--overall it should have a healthier cast to it. Perhaps 10-20% of our time devoted to lighter material rather than the likely average of 50-60%, (Guess and ancedotal--I have no evidence to support this other than my own habits--how's that for a confessional aside).



I think mostly I'm balking at the idea of "edifying rest." It seems like an oxymoron.

Perhaps we should remember the original metaphor. "Edifying" is "that which builds up."

There may not be many saints in the calendar who read light fiction; otoh, many of the saints in the calendar were illiterate.

You mentioned Chesterton. In one of his essays, Chesteron talks about why he prefered detective stories to the serious fiction of his day. (To summarize, because the light fiction would conclude the story, and the serious fiction would just kind of stop.)

I personally make it a point to avoid sordid fiction, to try to skip the sex scenes, etc.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 22, 2003 7:32 AM.

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