Russell and Duenes

The Sloth May Be Very Busy

with one comment

In 1941, Dorothy Sayers wrote of “Sloth”:

[I]t is one of the favourite tricks of this Sin to dissemble itself under cover of a whiffling activity of body.  We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from Sloth.  And besides, violent activity seems to offer an escape from the horrors of Sloth.  So the other sins hasten to provide a cloak for Sloth: Gluttony offers a whirl of dancing, dining, sports, and dashing very fast from place to place to gape at beauty-spots; which when we get to them, we defile with vulgarity and waste.  Covetousness rakes us out of bed at an early hour, in order that we may put pep and hustle into our business: Envy sets us to gossip and scandal, to writing cantankerous letters to the papers, and to the unearthing of secrets and the scavenging of dustbins; Wrath provides (very ingeniously) the argument that the only fitting activity in a world so full of evildoers and evil demons is to curse loudly and incessantly “Whatever brute and blackguard made the world”; while Lust provides that round of dreary promiscuity that passes for bodily vigour.  But these are all disguises for the empty heart and the empty brain and the empty soul of Acedia (i.e., Sloth). 

Some Christian brothers and I have been reading and discussing Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller. When I read this Sayers quote in the book, it went through me like a shot. I had never considered sloth and laziness in this way, particularly my own sloth. Yet I think Sayers is correct. Like other sins, sloth is not always, and likely not typically, identifiable by the observance of outward actions. While there are many who “sit around and do nothing,” there are also many who run around at breakneck speed, doing only that which “disguises the empty heart and empty brain.” I know from my own experience exactly what she means. My inward sloth is masked, or “cloaked” by other sins. To wit, I may not truly want to work and think hard, I may want simply to look better than my co-workers.

Sayers goes on, more pointedly:

Let us take particular notice of the empty brain. Here Sloth is in a conspiracy with Envy to prevent people from thinking.  Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not our sin, but our misfortune: while Envy at the same time persuades us that intelligence is despicable—a dusty, highbrow, and commercially useless thing. 

The “conspiracy . . . to prevent people from thinking” is legion on our college campuses, in our primary public education system, and in our political and cultural discourse (if one may call it that). We Evangelicals suffer from a good bit of it as well. Yet we in the Church may suffer even more painfully from the view that “intelligence is despicable.” Dusty and highbrow, yes, but even more, we consider it unspiritual. arrogant, and perhaps even a “quenching of the Spirit.” If Sayers is right, there is more sloth beneath our failure to think hard and well than we had supposed.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

One Response

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  1. Michael, Thank you for your thoughts on Topeka. Sometimes it is best to see ourselves through the eyes of others, who are “taking a fresh look” There is so much to rally round the flag about in Topeka. Thanks for holding up the positives for us!

    Kirk Nystom

    April 23, 2016 at 11:18 am


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