Sloth


There are a lot of things I wish I would have done, instead of just sitting around and complaining about having a boring life.
KURT COBAIN

Sloth is equated with laziness, but laziness is not the thing itself but merely the symptom. Sloth is more akin to depression. Sloth is a loss of hope in life which gives itself to a loss of energy. This loss of energy lends itself to sleeping all day and feeling sorry for itself. Sloth can also communicate itself as boredom, ennui, torpor, and just plain grouchiness. The indulgence of sloth ends ultimately in the attempt of self-annihilation that we know as suicide.

The other day I was reflecting on the music of the Strokes. The Strokes come from New York City, and their music has a certain nervous energy to it. Other bands from New York have a similar sound and energy whether it is the Ramones or Television. I like to contrast these bands with the Seattle grunge bands of the 1990's like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana. The New York bands sound happy while the Seattle bands sound gloomy. The takeaway is that people in New York are too busy to be depressed.

The easiest cure for sloth is to get busy and stay busy. But this quick cure treats the symptom instead of the disease. The disease of sloth is fundamentally a loss of hope. Life under the sun is really not worth living. As Shakespeare put it in Macbeth, "It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,. Signifying nothing." Life is like a cruel joke. Once life is reduced to futility and repetition, sloth becomes the default setting. Suicide becomes a temptation because it ends the endless monotonous soul sucking boredom.

I do not recommend suicide to anyone. Suicide merely makes the gloom a permanent condition of being. It is an escape into a worse fate. Hell for the slothful is this life without the hope of escape. The suicidal person is ultimately an atheist hoping that nothing exists beyond this world. Sleep is just the dress rehearsal for this final escape.

The ultimate antidote to sloth is the hope found in Jesus Christ. When I was an atheist, I spent years in hopelessness. I was able to counteract sloth by a heavy dose of work and ceaseless activity. One of the reasons this blog came into being was to keep me busy when I could not find work to do because I had maxed out my hours on the job. I replaced sloth with workaholism which is actually a form of gluttony. Since becoming Catholic, I have been "blessed" with more work than I could ever want. This is because the needs of the Church and the poor are unceasing. I now divide my days into paid work and free work. But I find a certain joy in all of it because I know that even a bad day at work can be offered up to the Lord.

Protestantism and the doctrine of justification by faith alone lend themselves to sloth because your works and sufferings now become meaningless under sola fide. Futility becomes the handmaiden to sloth, and I remember being just as depressed as a Calvinist as I was as an atheist. God does not work in this way. He has no need for our works, but He invites us all to share in the labor for our sake. As a Protestant, I lived in sloth. As a Catholic, I live each day in activity for my Lord. My work really counts for something, and this something is not just a paycheck. As St. Paul put it in Philippians 2:12, ". . .work out your salvation. . ." This is how treasure is built in Heaven. It is done by our activities in this life. Between prayer, Church attendance, work, and works of mercy, there is no lack for things to do towards the working out of your salvation.

Christians are not immune from sloth. Those given to sloth are long on excuses and short on actual work. They would rather complain instead of doing something. Even in the most hopeless of situations, you can still work at your prayers. This is because what may be hopeless for us is never hopeless for God. The slothful actually work really hard at being hopeless. Where you may offer solutions, they can always tell you why those solutions will never work. The primary reason most solutions don't work is because they are left untried by those who cling to hopelessness.

I learned an important lesson from survivalist Bear Grylls. If you ever find yourself lost in the wilderness, the temptation is to stay put and wait for a rescue. But this is almost always a mistake. He says you should keep moving even if you make mistakes along the way. The advice seems to indicate that movement will improve the odds of getting back to civilization, but I think it is primarily to boost flagging spirits and keep hope alive. I remember reading about Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild who starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness. The irony was that he was 22 miles from a road where he could have gotten help from a passing motorist. This was a day's hike. I suspect that McCandless died as much from sloth as starvation. The lesson is to keep moving if you want to live. The problem is when you have stopped wanting to live.

True hope leads to work. When you believe in God and in His goodness, you get busy. Even if you can't always see what you are hoping for, you should keep moving in that direction even if you make mistakes. Work in itself cures a lot of ills, but even the most hopeful Christian will give in to despair when they sit idle. Idleness leads to boredom, and boredom leads to depression. Depression leads to death. The cure is to pray and work. Ora et labora!