Monday, June 15, 2009

On Hobbies and Pursuing Holiness

“Faith comes from what is heard”, says St. Paul (Rom 10:17)…The assertion “faith comes from what is heard” contains an abiding structural truth about what happens here. It illuminates the fundamental differences between faith and mere philosophy, a difference which does not prevent faith, in its core, from setting the philosophical search for truth in motion again…

“In faith the word takes precedence of the thought, a precedence that differentiates it structurally from the architecture of philosophy. In philosophy the thought precedes the word; it is after all a product of reflection that one then tries to put into words…Faith, on the other hand, comes to man from the outside, and this very fact is fundamental to it.” (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, 90-92)

St. Anselm defined theology as “faith seeking understanding,” however, it ceases to be so when one ceases to listen, to receive that word which is the foundation of faith. This essentially turns theology into some sort of philosophy of religion. It makes it dead and private, rather than living and communal.

A danger which I have had to face as a student of theology is the temptation to turn theology into mere thought. Sometimes I find myself thinking about some theological precept, abstracting, attempting to figure it all out, and doing so without turning to prayer, without listening to the Logos. Sometimes I find myself abstracting about how to love in relationship rather than asking for the grace to love.

In this regard, as my wife and I are preparing for significant changes in our lives, we are attempting to re-evaluate some of our habits, choices, hobbies, leisure activities, etc. The questions we are posing to ourselves I now pose to you our readers, all four of you:

If every person is called to be a saint, to strive for holiness, and if I claim to place my faith in Christ as my savior, as the second-person of the Triune God who became man so that I may be divinized, what leisure activities are…permissible, nay, prudent, for a person striving to grow in holiness?

Perhaps specific examples would be helpful: Are video games merely a waste time? What virtue do they cultivate?

In this past I rationalized that when I played video games I was socializing with and occasionally even evangelizing those with whom I was in competition, but I can no longer make that claim. Can I still justify spending time on video games when I could be praying, playing with my son, studying, etc.?

What about television? Certainly some shows have more merit than others, but generally speaking can one make the claim that TV is a neutral media?

As someone who is more educated than most of my family (I do not say this with pride, it’s a mere fact), who is more interested in theology, and who, at the very least, at to appear to be living a life consistent with Catholic social doctrine and morality, I sometimes find it difficult to engage in small talk or other social activities that many of my loved ones engage in. I obviously have little to no interest in beer-pong or going to hooters, activities which in my opinion seem contrary to growth in holiness. However there may be more neutral activities in which I could have an interest in order to aid small talk which could hopefully turn to more meaningful conversations. Therefore, I have reasoned that television shows can offer some common ground about which to converse without my feeling uncomfortable or the other party feeling bored. On the other hand, now that we have a child, to what extent are we willing to expose him to television? How much should we shelter him? If we abstain from television are we not more likely to spend our time cultivating virtue and teaching our child to cultivate virtue? Or, if we are the virtue-cultivating type, we would do so regardless of whether or not we watch television?

What about sporting events as entertainment? Intramurals as hobbies or exercise routines?Etc. Etc.?

What hobbies or leisure activities do you find assist you in your slow journey to holiness? What hobbies have you resisted because you find they hinder your sainthood?


Henry Karlson said...

I don't have a specific answer, but think the best thing is to consider it in a general form. I think that we have need for recreation, just we need to decide for ourselves, are we getting addicted to kinds (and therefore, being overly distracted) or not? If we are, then I think we have a problem. But if not, and the content is not troubling, I think it is fine. After all, Jesus even went to parties!

V said...

I don't think you can demonize TV if you spend so much time on the computer. The issue may not be so much that a specific media is negative, but the time spent away from the family and the self is negative. (Does that make sense?)

The very un-theological: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus talks about "cave time". The time spent staring into the fire when the cavemen would get home from work. This is time to unwind, not think and just relax the brain and body. Nowadays "we" spend the cave time staring into the TV (it flickers and requires little thought). I personally prefer to spend my cave time in the bathtub, it is relaxing, comforting and I usually get to do it by myself.

The answer may come down to a little line in a little song I once heard, "I want to be in the world, not of it."
You live in a world with hooters, football, video games and computers but you also live in a world that can lead you to holiness. Some of these activities can entertain you and give you a break from thinking and always being engaged (staring at the fire). It is when you always choose to stare into the fire that your son/family will suffer. Everyone deserves a break from themselves from time to time.

I'm also questioning the statement that TV is always a negative media. As a child I hardly watched TV, we didn't have cable and I missed out on socializing with other people about Pinwheels or whatever else people watched. I didn't watch 90210 as a teen because my parents didn't let me. I did, however, watch a bunch of Jeopardy and Nova. These programs cultivated a love and appreciation for knowledge and the natural world. A cooking show inspires me to cook different foods and use different techniques of cooking. I once worked in kitchens and cooked a bunch then, watching cooking shows now encourages me to pick up that trade again.

There is another term,"everything in moderation," I don't think that term includes beating your family or doing heroin, does TV/video games/worldly things fall into that category?
Connecting with others is important, can you play video games out of love for your brother, to spend time with your brother? At one point, will you think, I don't want to spend time with my brother because all he wants to do is eat at hooters and watch football. Then do you lose your relationship with your brother?
What else do you spend your time on? Are there other areas of your life in which you disregard the tabernacle of your body which may need to be examined more than leisure time?
How else could you leisure for the Lord?

V said...

What does Ratzinger mean when he says that "Faith comes from the outside?"

JB said...

Henry and V, thanks for the thoughts. Good stuff!

Veronica, I am going to try to unpack and respond to your comment in the order in which you wrote:
The issue may not be so much that a specific media is negative, but the time spent away from the family and the self is negative.
Yes, it makes sense, and I think for a majority of Americans, my self-included (referencing the net) that is the bulk of the problem, but I am not convinced TV in moderation is therefore neutral. I'll try to get Craig or Stina to comment on that more.

I understand that idea of cave-time, and at various times in my life, have relied on it heavily. I'm especially thinking of my first year teaching. It was incredibly humbling and difficult. If I were a more emotional person I probably would have cried regularly. When I got home from work I would fix myself a snack, play a video game or two before going over to Tulane to hang with Ash. I felt I needed that time. Sometimes I still feel that way, I think my question is this: should TV/video games/internet etc. be our focus during cave time or would it be better, more prudent, the actions of a saint, to unwind in front of the blessed sacrament or bit of scripture or something of the sort. In what do I place my hope?

Everything in moderation is a popular saying, and I think there is truth to it. I think it may be better to say everything in its proper place, all goods ordered under the Good (God). Still thinking things out...I'm not sure. I'll stop here for now.

JB said...


When Ratzinger says faith comes from the outside he means that on my own I cannot discover faith. I cannot philosophize so well as to think out the Truth of all that we believe in.
Faith is always a response to something which is received from the outside, normally from a word spoken (or written) by a Christian echoing the WORD spoken by the Father in the incarnation of the Son.

Consider our faith in the Triune God. People had thought of a plurality of God. Plato had thought of the One divine being, the ground of all things. The faith of OT saw Yahweh as the one God over all other gods, but who was personal, unlike that god of Plato. However, in the NT the early Christians received from outside of themselves the truth of the Trinity in their experience of Christ and the Spirit.

The Trinity is not something we could have thought up on our own. It can only come from the outside.

V said...

V said...

Ok, I get the faith comes from the outside thing. Meaning, "We can't make this stuff up. God told us." right?
Is Touched by an Angel a negative TV show?

V said...

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia vol. 10 (Thomson Gale, 2003) it is Claire of Assisi. She was declared the patron saint of television on Feb. 14, 1958. Another source,, lists her as well as Gabriel the Archaengel and Martin de Porres. reports that when Claire was nearing the end of her life and was too ill to attend Mass, that images of the Mass appeared on the wall of her cell.

August 11th is her feast day.

Holy Spirit, Saint Clare lived a very mystical and spiritually powerful life. In her dying days, when she was unable to attend Mass, You brought the Mass to her by displaying it like a movie on her wall. Thus she is now the patron saint of television. I ask her to intercede for all people involved in this industry. Teach them to use this medium for the improvement of society by promoting good values, respect for life, and reverence for Judeo-Christian religions and their members. O Lord, let my conscious convict me of watching TV shows that promote anything that is not of You. Saint Clare, pray for us. Amen.

RAnn said...

I'm RAnn and I'd like to invite you to join us for Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. It is an opportunity for Catholic bloggers to share their best with others. See this week's entry at

JB said...


Touche on the video haha!

Just to be clear. I am not here intending to advocate or condemn anything in particular. I'm just kind of thinking out loud.

I am not prepared to condemn TV, but I think the questions need to be asked (both in regard to TV and the internet and other things as well).

I certainly recognize that fun and recreation are an important part of Christian life, but I "think" that maybe many of the things we rationalize as acceptable uses of our time, even if they are not things that corrupt, retard our cultivation of virtue.

In regard to TV, I am not so much asking questions about specific content of various shows as I am questioning the medium itself (similar questions can be asked about the internet as well).

When there is a glowing screen in front of me, whether it is internet or television, I am distracted. Even if I am uninterested by what is on that screen, even if the volume is muted and its...I don't know, a power ranger commercial, I am distracted by it. I may be in a splendid conversation with an old friend, but I find myself averting my eyes from them to the screen for no apparent reason. I do not believe this is a good thing.

Furthermore, if we want to talk about content, even if I carefully screen what shows I watch or allow my children to watch, the content of the commercials is often more damaging than the content of the shows.

Anyway...JP needs my attention. I might write more later. What do you think?

V said...

JP needs your attention.

I know what you mean about being distracted by a TV in the back ground.
If you are hanging with a friend, turn the TV off. If you are praying, turn the TV off.
I think that the question may depend more on the person and their behavior.
I love reading, but I read less now that I am married. If I start a book, I drop everything else in my life until the book is finished. Yeah. I take a 3 hour bath, I ignore Tom, I don't do my chores, I don't call my mom. Therefore, I read less because I don't want to completely ignore them.
One thing I like about TV is that it starts and is over at a predesignated time. I watch 1 hour of Smallville, 30 min of The office, 30 min of 30 Rock, then its over. Nothing else worth watching is on, so we move on.
The internet, however, never ends. We have wasted so many hours playing on Facebook, playing poker, scrabble, reading websites, blogs, commenting on blogs. TV for me is pretty harmless, there are 3 hours of tv per week that I want to watch and thats it, sometimes we add the news and Jeopardy.
The internet is harmful and wasteful for me, and sometimes so is reading. I could be exercising right now, but I am so compelled by this conversation that I continue to check back to see if you posted. We ARE communicating and thats good, but I could be doing other things.
I'm much better at multitasking while the TV is on.

What is so bad about commercials? Do they make you want the things in them? Red Lobster commericals work for me, but the other ones just slide on by.

V said...

I love the "glowing rectangle" article, by the way, its quite accurate.

V said...
This article is good. Its from the Et Tu? blog on your site (which is now defunct and is now It is about how you spend your time, which may be helpful.
peace friend,

Christina said...

Not sure if I can do all this justice off the top of my head, but here goes. Here is my experience. Our TV (until recently) was living in our closet. (Craig brought it out to show Lucy Mario Kart. Not sure if that was a good idea - it has led to more fights than fun.) It had been in the closet for months. I asked Craig to put it there (I can't move the darn thing) because we had been keeping it on a low table, and every time Lucy walked by, she turned in on. It was always set to PBS, but they rerun kids shows after about two weeks I think, and I was going crazy. Then, when she turned it on in the evening and the kids shows weren't on, she would get upset. Meanwhile, we didn't watch any more adult TV, because there was very little on that we wanted Lucy to witness. When it was on during the day, she sat and stared, for hours if I let her. She would rather watch than eat, play, go out side, pretty much anything. So while I could get a lot done while she watched TV, I prefered to sacrifice a little efficicency so that I didn't have to see my daughter look like a zombie every day.

I have not missed it. We did drag it out for the Super Bowl, but I think that was the last time it was used. I used to watch football religiously, but haven't missed it. I grew up with the TV on all the time (as did Craig), and we haven't missed the noise and the distraction. What do we do instead? We read, pray (at least sometimes), play with the girls, go outside, I sew, and Craig does some computery things. I'm also concerned with what flashing screens do to the brain, critical thinking skills, etc., but that is a waaaay longer story. (Four Arguments for the Elemination of Television by Gerry Mander goes into detail on this stuff.)

We have not, clearly, put the computer in the closet. Craig uses it for work, and we do watch movies (even with Lucy sometimes) on NetFlix. But when either of us is using it with the others around, there is a big difference in our communication and relationships. I try to use it only when the girls are asleep or very occupied on their own, but that is hard to do. Writing something this long has required nap time, Samantha playtime, Craig cooking dinner, and coming back to it after dinner and dishes. I like writing, and I like using blogging to share ideas and faith and as a record of the growth of my girls, but I have to be careful that I'm not sacrificing seeing their growth to writing about it.

So, to answer your original question, Josh, (or at least one or two of them!)...TV, video games, and movies rarely seem to bring us toward holiness, so they get little use. The computer is used for some useful things, like this, but even in its good use is a challenge to our relationships at times. I find gardening good, and then the girls get to play outside more, but that might be hard to do in DC. I like sewing, but like anything else, it has to come after my family's needs are well met. We take the girls to play tennis, and Lucy runs around the court and Samantha sits in the stroller, which usualy only lasts half an hour or so, but is good for all of us. I think the point, at the risk of sounding relativistic, is that as a family it is important to logically and prayerfully and honestly ask whether our hobbies and entertainments are helping us become saints. The answer won't be the same for everyone, like V's example with books, but I think for anyone the true answers will probably require growth and change. I think it is a good sign that the two of you are taking the time to ask these questions at all! I hope your searching bears good fruit.

JB said...


Thanks for the link. Ash pointed it out to me earlier today. She frequently has very insightful thoughts and does an excellent job of explaining them in interesting, funny, and helpful ways.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. (You can thank Craig for cooking too, if you wish). I appreciate and, in large part, agree with your perspective and concerns.

I think that presently the internet is a bigger problem for us than is television, and V., I understand your thoughts that TV is easier to turn off and has set times, etc. On the other hand, for persons with self-discipline, the internet can be forced to follow your schedule, whereas TV (minus a DVR) cannot.

I hope we can be more disciplined, follow some of Jen's advice from the link V provided, and order our lives around growing closer to God, bringing others closer to God, fulfilling some of our personal desires, etc.

I think God is calling our family to re-evaluate things. I don't necessarily think TV or the internet are the devil but I do they are highly distracting and addicting media with which it is difficult to practice moderation (at least for me).

Christina said...

I had just one more quick thought. During morning prayer this morning, there was a great reading (1 Peter 4:8-11a) which I really appreciated, and it set me thinking about the quote you started this post with, Josh. "Faith comes from what is heard." I have noticed a huge difference in myself in just a couple of weeks since I have focused a little more effort on my vocation to care for my family, and I keep finding encouragement because I have been reading scripture and Merton and other things that are designed to build up rather than tear down. I also, however, haven't be exposed to the grumbly moms I used to work with, or to magazine articles complaining how hard motherhood is, or to TV commercials that tell me I can't have a clean home without XYZ deadly chemical cleaner. So I think being careful about what I "hear" had helped me change my attitude, and I know myself well enough to realize that if I change what I "hear" my attitude may well follow suit. Anyway, just a thought.

V said...

I really love Christina's first post (her second was good too though!). If Clark was turning into a zombie, and if he DOES turn into a TV watching zombie, that's the end of TV for him.
I think it also depends on the family and the individual's self control. the Greenwell household has far more self control with TV then we do with the internet/reading and other hobbies. I did not watch a ton of TV as a kid, so maybe this is one contributing factor.
I think the point of this whole thing is, "how are you spending your time" not "tv is the devil" certainly there are better ways to spend our time than always staring at a glowing rectangle. however, it is nice to do so from time to time.
I am glad you posted about this, Tom and I are trying to spend less time on the computer ourselves, especially when Clark is awake. We dont want to teach him to ignore us because we are ignoring him now!!! DANGER alert!!!