The 8th deadly sin
The adversary doesn’t have to persuade us to commit grievous sin to keep us from reaching our ultimate destination.
We need not be dirty to feel guilty and ashamed.
The Seven Deadly Sins, as classified since antiquity, are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.
But there is an eight sin that flies under the radar yet has perhaps the greatest impact on our lives: distraction.
Our greatest enemy doesn’t have to wrestle us down into the mud to prevent us from achieving our full potential — all he has to do is keep us distracted from the prize.
If he can’t make us unworthy to enter the gates, he will simply distract us from the path.
Distraction in the Information Age
It’s a much harder task for him to seduce good people to compromise their morals than it is to captivate them with petty distractions.
The forms of distraction are limitless — and they’re multiplying with technology.
Technology, we tell ourselves, saves us time. So what has happened to all the time we’ve supposedly saved with microwaves, dishwashers, computers, the Internet, and apps?
Science fiction warns us of the dangers of artificial intelligence. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has even gone so far as to declare AI “the most serious threat to the survival of the human race.”
I say the notion is silly — we’re already doing a fantastic job of becoming volunteer slaves to technology without AI wresting control. By the time AI gets advanced enough to become a serious threat, we likely won’t pose a threat to the machines because they will already rule us.
Distraction by busyness and clutter
But you know what the greatest, most seductive, most deceitful form of distraction is by far — even more so than technology?
It’s busyness. It’s sacrificing the truly important to the merely urgent.
It’s being efficient at performing relatively meaningless tasks. It’s cluttering up our schedules so much that we never have time to sit and ponder the meaning of it all, the trajectory of our lives.
It’s scrambling up ladders all day every day without ever stopping to question whether or not the ladder is leaning against the right wall.
And you know what causes us to climb those misplaced ladders? Social scripts.
Education is job training. Got to school and get good grades so you can get a good, secure job with benefits. Keep up with the Joneses. Finance it now, pay for it later. Consumer spending drives the economy — be a good little consumer to help your country. Watch three hours of TV a day. Be more concerned with the drama of celebrities than with the quality of your own life. Never question the media. Reading is for college, chumps, and nerds.
Forget passion. Forget purpose. Forget learning for its own sake and for the sake of virtue and wisdom. Forget who you are, where you came from, and why you’re here.
Let your life pass you by in a media-numbed fog of working hard for someone else, paying bills, placating your inner hunger with debt-driven comfort and materialism, following the herd.
How to counteract distraction
A fish never questions the water in which he swims. But what if the water is poisonous? Or at the least, what if the water is murky and prevents the fish from seeing a bigger picture?
There IS a bigger picture.
We are not protozoa squirming in the mud of a meaningless existence. We are not drone workers and mindless consumers built to serve the demands of corporations.
We are children of God doing our best to return Home, and to help as many of our brothers and sisters to do the same.
To counteract distraction, there is one virtue yet to add to the list of Seven Cardinal Virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, humility).
We could call it focus, purpose, or intention. But the best word for it is “remembrance.”
Remembering who we are at any given moment is the most effective way to counteract the effects of any sin — and especially any distraction.
Remembering who we are and what we were born for is how to fight the inexorable entropy that is hard-wired into our existence.
Remembering who we are is how we ignite our passion and kill the distractions of boredom and apathy.
Remembering who we are is how we find our God-given mission, our noble purpose, the great cause for which we will suffer.
Remembering who we are is how we persistently strive for freedom, meaning, virtue, and excellence.
One of my favorite paintings, which hangs in my office, is entitled “The Ascent” by artist David Linn:
The symbolism is a constant reminder to me to always keep the bigger picture in mind — to remember who I am and why I’m here.
Distraction is the tool the adversary uses to achieve the ultimate purpose of making us forget.
We need not be wretched sinners to stray from the path that leads us Home — we need only be forgetful and distracted.