Amusing ourselves to death

“The Merry Family” (1668) by Jan Havicksz Steen

“The Merry Family” (1668) by Jan Havicksz Steen

As a teacher of adolescents, I frequently observe that my students lack the wisdom to discern whether their levity is appropriate. There are at least two reasons why this may be the case: first, parents, ministers, and teachers fail to train young people in the prudential category of fittingness; second, children, aping the adults in their lives, amuse themselves to death; they are absorbed into a culture that reacts allergically to any signs of gravity, whether emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.

Here are some weighty words for rumination:

Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4, RSV).

We must conquer–some of us especially–our tendency to levity. A great distinction exists between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and that general levity, which is a vice. There is a levity which has not enough heart to laugh, but trifles with everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal. A hearty laugh is no more levity than a hearty cry. I speak of that religious veneering which is pretentious, but thin, superficial, and insincere about the weightiest matters. Godliness is no jest, nor is it a mere form. Beware of being actors. Never give earnest men the impression that you do not mean what you say, and are mere professionals. To be burning at the lip and freezing at the soul is a mark of reprobation. God deliver us from being superfine and superficial: may we never be the butterflies of the garden of God (Charles Spurgeon, “The Necessity of Ministerial Progress” in Lectures to My Students).


One thought on “Amusing ourselves to death

  1. This is a very important topic. You can see great thinkers and writers ruminating on this topic. C.S. Lewis focus’ on flippancy and crude jokes in The Screwtape Letters as a way to tempt us humans away from God, turning us into more “hellish creatures.” One may also see this in Dante’s image of those that misused their tongue. These lying human beings are on fire, because the mouth, although seemingly small, can set the entire soul aflame. Thank you for sharing this!

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