Last Christmas, tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear the Pope give the Christmas Speech. Then in April, approximately 13 million LDS gathered around their televisions and computers to watch the General Conference. And just three days ago, I watched as people all around me, grown men and women, followed the minute-by-minute announcements of Apple executives... hanging on every word. Clearly, a considerable amount of our advanced computer processing power (the technology that allows us architecture nerds to model every bolt in a 4 story building) was dedicated to streaming video of the well-dressed executives, while tracking instant stock prices, following critical commentary by cultural luminaries like Mark “the Soldier” and frantic Google searches to fact check every claim. But, computers weren't the only sedentary objects rapidly processing and communicating this crucial information. My co-workers, eyes aglow with gleeful anticipation (or is that just the 3 million pixels gently tanning their faces), would only occasionally break their devoted trance to solicit important inquires of other Apple followers, such as, “Did you hear that?” and “250 million sales?” To which, other devotees promptly responded with salient answers like, “Wow.” Unlike that generation currently traversing their teenage years, these adults were able to focus their attention on an important task and filter out less important distractions, like work.
Now, of course, in American culture we train for this kind of thoughtful devotion. Looking across our great nation, we find that most Americans consistently set aside a considerable amount of their free time to carefully observe the struggles of mankind (or at least the struggles of 11 men in brightly colored Spandex pants against 11 more men in brightly colored Spandex pants). I’m referring to football, for those of you who may be visiting from the planet Vulcan. And at only 3 hours per game, most Americans can afford the time away from their families to string two or three games together on a Sunday afternoon. Many who are further devoted to this meaningful pursuit chose to research the record of various players, coaches and the nearly infinite history of past games. Yet, these savvy Sunday sofa students face a dilemma at the dawn of each new calendar year: how does one satisfy this hunger for great personal growth during the other 7 months of the year?
Fortunately for our society, great cultural visionaries have developed other noble endeavors like baseball, basketball, hockey, NASCAR, professional wrestling, fantasy football, and curling. Those who aren't gifted with the athletic aptitudes necessary to sit on a couch and watch sports, instead often choose to sit on a couch and bask in the intellectual bounty of “Modern Family,” “Two and a Half Men,” “American Idolatry,” “Dancing With the Attention-Hungry Stars,” “The Real Housewives of Gila Bend” and “Who Wants to Marry a Bank Account.”
By now I’m sure you’ve noticed a touch of sarcasm in my comments. In fact, anyone with more comprehension than a lobotomized gerbil should have realized by now that I have little respect for the amount of time that most Americans devote to unimportant or (in the case of following the “State of the Apple Address”) low-importance activities. So, does that mean I am some pompous, egotistical jerk? Maybe, but I’ll gladly admit that I’m guilty of occasionally squandering my time with equally trivial activities like playing video games that essentially boil down to running around a giant rat maze wielding more firepower than all 4 “Rambo” movies combined, while obliterating anything that moves (This accounts for approximately 75% of all video games currently on the market). But, the real travesty is not so much how most Americans waste their time; rather, it is that this wasted time is not balanced with deeply meaningful and transcendently substantive endeavors.
How much time have most of us spent researching, discussing, or even thinking about the fundamental questions of life. For most Americans, as far as I can tell, it equates to less time than they’ve spent picking lint out of their navel (though it is difficult to determine how much time most Americans spend picking lint out of their navel). As I’ve asked a variety of people in my life questions like, “Is there any lasting purpose to our lives (teleology)?” “Is right and wrong anything more than personal preferences (axiology)?” “Does God exist?” “Is any religion true?” “Is there an eternal life?” and “Are we more than just our chemical make up?” I’ve been flabbergasted by the utter inability of most people to even engage the questions and yet impressed with the agility with which they transition right into a discussion of Charlie Sheen’s replacement on Two and a Half Men. And when most people attempt thoughtful discourse on these fundamental questions, it’s not long before their words throw a noose around their own neck and commit suicide. For example, people will say, “It’s wrong to judge others” without so much as a clue that this statement is a judgment. They will say, “We can’t know anything about God” without realizing that they are thereby claiming to know quite a bit about God. I often hear, “ All religions are true,” from people who never realized that there cannot be only one god, and many gods, and no gods, and the universe is god all at the same time. They will say, “You shouldn’t believe anything unless it can be proven scientifically” oblivious to the fact that THAT statement can’t be proven scientifically. Some remark, “The latest scientific evidence tells us that our thoughts are determined by chemical reactions” unaware that this would mean that THAT thought was determined by chemical reactions and not the latest scientific evidence. And I’ve even heard individuals (quite well-educated individuals) say, “The purpose of life is to discover why we are here” (no comment).
This is just sad. Do we not realize that if God exists, the consequences are staggering and if God doesn’t exist, the consequences are equally staggering? Can we not understand that if Islam is true, there is a level of submission and devotional deeds that Allah expects from us, without which we face eternal suffering in Hell? Or that if Christianity is true, God requires that we repent from our wrong doing, otherwise we again face eternal suffering in Hell? Or that if modern Judaism is true, God requires us to follow certain laws and tenets or else we, yet again, face the same grim consequence? Now, in this diverse world there are a plethora of religions making a plethora of claims, but the exclusive nature of these three common religions, I think, should draw our attention. Should we not study the claims of at least these three religions and investigate the evidence for and against their veracity? Should we not research the historical and scientific accuracy of their source texts? Can’t we at least crack the cover of the Qur'an, the Bible and the Talmud? This may not be as much fun as watching stock prices plummet because an Apple executive sneezed or watching grown men in spandex smack each other on the butt as they “huddle” for the 27th time, but if you actually invest a small amount of your sofa time to researching these claims, I think you’ll be surprised by how much can be know about these seemingly unknowable matters. And if you’re still reading this, you probably just missed another huddle. And for that I am truly sorry.