National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Fun and Frivolity in the Blogosphere

Eric Scheske goes looking for Catholic-friendly recreation in St. Blog’s Parish.

BY ERIC SCHESKE

June 10-16, 2007 Issue | Posted 6/5/07 at 9:00 AM

 

Journalist H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, came up with original ideas for America’s problems during the first part of the 20th century.

In 1924, for instance, he suggested that the South institute bullfighting. The reason? To diminish lynching. “Why not combine the necessary slaughter of horned quadrupeds with a show that will give [the savage Southern poor white] a thrill and take his mind from his lowly lot, and turn him from seeking escape in politics, murder and voodoo?”

He had earlier made a similar suggestion, saying the South should establish brass bands in the country towns because the lowbrow entertainment would provide a lynch-reducing distraction.

I think it’s safe to say Mencken held a rather low opinion of average recreational pursuits, both their form and the purposes served. Mencken was something of a snob.

But even the great 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal tended to look down on recreation. Men hunt and women socialize, he said, because such entertainments distract us from our “unhappy condition” as creatures that will someday die.

Who Wrecked Rec?

Jesuit Father James Schall, a professor of political science at Georgetown, has a more positive view about recreation. An avid sports fan, he has compared (not contrasted) sports watching to divine contemplation.

Citing Aristotle, he said: “Watching a good game can be fascinating. It is its own world and time. It absorbs our attention in something that is not ourselves. Aristotle taught that our relation to God was not unlike that experience.”

Father Schall is not the only good Catholic to take a favorable view of recreation. Volumes could be filled, for instance, with the recreational antics of G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and their friends. Pope John Paul II, he of the incredibly rich interior life, loved to hike up mountains and ski down them. Even contemplative nun like St. Therese of Lisieux enjoyed play acting and light-hearted activities.

Bloggers understand recreation. For many, blogging itself is recreation. Sure, some bloggers earn solid advertising revenue and blog every day. But those bloggers are rare. Of the 70 million blogs out there, I estimate that fewer than 2% earn more than $200 a year or get updated daily.

Most bloggers do their digital journaling for fun, which is consistent with their lifestyles. Randomly surf through the Catholic blogosphere. You’ll catch waves of recreational references: Catholics reading, Catholics watching movies, Catholics drinking beer, Catholics rooting for sports teams, Catholics listening to music.

Even the big-time Catholic bloggers. Amy Welborn (amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook) writes about family outings. Danielle Bean (daniellebean.com) chronicles her son’s baseball games. Dawn Eden (dawneden.com) blogs about dating (though, of course, that’s in line with her wonderful book, The Thrill of the Chaste). Gerald Augustinus (closedcafeteria.blogspot.com) occasionally writes about online gaming and outdoor sporting.

In response to my earlier column about manly blogging, Dale Price (dprice.blogspot.com) has devoted an entire category of his blog to “Man Stuff,” which contains posts about hunting, firearms and similarly macho pursuits.

Recreational tastes are more varied than Protestant denominations, so it’s impossible to provide a list of the best bloggers in the area of recreation. I am prepared, however, to recommend a few bloggers in the areas of my recreational pursuits.

For readers, check out Steven McEvoy’s Book Reviews and More (bookreviewsandmore.ca). I consider myself an avid reader, but McEvoy reads more books in a year than I’ve read this millennium. For movies and eating and a mix of other lighthearted stuff, try Thursday Night Gumbo (thursdaynightgumbo.blogspot.com). For beer drinking, no site beats Real Beer (realbeer.com); it’s not Catholic, but nothing there will offend.

Celebrating Life

Although I incline toward Father Schall’s favorable view of recreation, Mencken and Pascal weren’t entirely wrong. Far from it. I especially agree with Pascal: Recreational pursuits can numb us to our approaching death and the final judgment we must all prepare for. Excessive and frenzied recreational activity contains a strong dose of existential idiocy.

But I don’t think recreation and piety are opposed.

In fact, I’ve noticed an odd phenomenon in my life. After attending confession and saying the post-confession prayers and doing my penance, I want to drink beer. Granted, confession at my church is at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoons and few things go together as well as Saturday afternoons and beer. But there is more to it.

After confession, I feel happy, joyful, grateful. I don’t want to work in the yard or toil at the office. I want to have fun. Having just prepared myself for death, I want to celebrate life.

It’s a paradox, but no coincidence. Our everlasting life springs from the death of The Mortal Immortal. It’s an awesome fact to be revered, but also celebrated. Prayer is the reverential part. Recreation is the celebration. They’re both proper and necessary reactions to this existential plight we call life.

Eric Scheske goofs

off at The Daily Eudemon (ericscheske.com/blog).