A Bored Generation?

Ours is the first generation of Christians that has seriously asked the question, how much time can I spend on entertaining myself? In all the reading I have done in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, I have never once come across this question in any serious fashion. It is not that these centuries, or the Christians who lived in them, were anti-leisure -- killjoys each one! They were not. No one has done more to dispel that caricature of the puritans, especially, than Leland Ryken in his justly praised book, Worldly Saints.

Nevertheless, ours is a generation in which leisure time has been built into the week's structure as a right. We have times ear-marked for entertaining - Friday evenings, the weekend, including (alas!) Sunday afternoons, despite strong Scripture texts warning us of the consequence of the latter (see, if you are willing, Isa. 58:13-14). Somehow, it never occurs to us to ask why it is that we never read of Jesus or the disciples simply "having fun." There is no word of Paul "hanging out" with the lads in Ephesus or Corinth. What does the Bible have to say about leisure and the way we should use it?

Here's a principle, tricky to be sure and likely to be misused, but a Bible one nevertheless: God has given to us a pattern, a rhythm if you will, of one day followed by six. One day of 'rest' followed by six days of 'labor.' Leaving aside for a minute whether its appropriate to use up the Lord's Day for entertainment, the principle that seems to be about right is that there's nothing inappropriate in spending about 15% of the week, one or two hours a day, in entertaining ourselves.

But here's the thing: it's far too easy to become a couch potato and slump in front of the TV for 3, 4, or even 6 hours at a stretch. That's letting entertainment get out of hand. It's not that a few hours are bad for us (though, of course, it depends on what it is we are watching!); it's just that, as Paul might say, it's not expedient.

Truth is, for all the entertainment on offer, ours is perhaps a bored generation. We have movies, malls and MP3 players and yet, the whine "There's nothing to do" can still be heard, loud and clear. A recent survey revealed that 71% of us want more "novelty" in our lives. Boredom is on the rise. Dr. Richard Winter, a psychologist at Covenant Theological Seminary suggests that Americans are being entertained to death. "Boredom can come from over stimulation. There is a sense in which you need more and more excitement, more stimulation to keep you interested," he writes. In fact, television shows today reveal that people are willing to do grosser and more disgusting things in order to find the requisite entertainment zing.

In his book, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, Dr. Winter examines how boredom has increased as more leisure time has become available. In fact, he says the average person today has about 33,000 more leisure hours than a person in the mid-1800's.

Winter said, "These are addictive pursuits, so that people spend hours and hours, and that becomes their reality...they live in a virtual reality, rather than the real reality of God's world, the physical universe that we are set in."

Here's an idea guaranteed to revolutionize our assessment of the worth of entertainment: start reading books again! Never was there a time when the best of books were more available than the present. A few hours a day reading good literature would repay us handsomely.

Have you read any good books lately? 

*This post was originally published at Reformation21 in July of 2007.