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Dominican Father Gregory Pine doesn’t listen to music or watch Netflix anymore, and I think he’s on to something.
I got a desperate note from a former student asking what I thought of Father Pine’s brief discussion on Matt Fradd’s Pints With Aquinas YouTube channel. The title: “I Stopped Listening to Music.”
My former student was very worried about it. And at first, so was I.
It sounded like a form of Christian extremism — beyond the Benedict Option. The Hermit Option, maybe. A decision to cut oneself off from the culture entirely. That can’t be good, right?
But then Father Pine said things in his video that were undeniably true.
“My sense of modern modes of entertainment is that they’re all-consuming. Once you watch Season 1, you’re on board for Seasons 2-9,” he said. Soon, consumers “just spend all of their time watching Netflix or listening to music in the car.”
He was especially worried about the children who follow our example.
“Children are going to have a greater and greater need for pacification because they’re not learning to integrate their emotions. They’re not learning to chill out. They’re not learning to entertain themselves,” he said. They run the risk of becoming “slugs on couches just needing shows in order to make it through the day.”
But the best argument from Father Pine was his argument about where we are headed.
Our entertainment becomes “largely based on the science of advertising,” he said. Experts “trying to get me as a rational animal deeper and deeper into their network, and into their web.”
Instead, “human beings are made to the image and likeness of God and have a contemplative end,” he said.
“We’re made for heaven,” where “God will be all in all but it will be for us to worship right, to know and to love right, and to live in a kind of perpetual liturgy which will draw on all of our stores.”
That made sense to me. It reminded me of stroke victims and wheelchairs. Well, one stroke victim in particular.
When my wife had a stroke, she had to struggle to learn how to walk, but she never wanted to use a wheelchair. It’s a heck of a lot easier to, but using it only makes it harder to learn how to walk and get back on your feet.
She needed a wheelchair to get her from floor to floor in the hospital, but whenever she could she got off of it, to do the hard work of putting one foot in front of the other. She was made to walk, not to sit.
We have lots of wheelchairs in our lives — easy ways to avoid what we were made to do.
Music and entertainment as recreation are good — when they truly “recreate” us to be who God made us to be. But entertainment as “escape” is no good at all, when it means “escape” from other people’s needs, or from difficult duties, or from relationships that need work; “escape” from who we are.
But entertainment isn’t the only bubble we build. Work can be one too; so can drinking, or social-media scrolling, or activism.
They are all like a wheelchair that prevents us from walking on our own two feet in our family life and our walk with God.
Interacting with others is harder. They teach you humility, because they don’t treat you like the king of the world who exists to be entertained, as Netflix does; they teach you about forgiveness and mercy, because they do things that offend you. And they give you a deeper, more lasting joy than you will ever get from a screen.
“I’m totally sympathetic to the desire to have a free moment, you know,” said Father Pines. “But if it’s my responsibility to babysit my nieces and nephews and I urgently want to watch Episode 9 of The Last Dance because what Michael Jordan is going to do in the 1997-98 basketball season is a very pressing issue for me, I’m not going to say ‘Say, let’s build Lincoln Logs.’ I’m going to be like, ‘Let’s just stop talking.’”
And that’s too bad.
Anyway, I shared a version of this argument with my former student, and asked him what he thought.
“I don’t know. I’ll think about it and tell you later,” he said.
That was three weeks ago. Maybe he’s avoiding me. I’ll call him and see.