Ecclesiastes’ Theology of Distraction

Thanks to the Internet, it has become commonplace to say that we now live in an age of distraction. But, Erica Brown writes, distraction might not always be a bad thing. She finds evidence for her case in the book of Ecclesiastes—which will be read in many synagogues this Saturday—and its titular preacher’s investigation of the human condition in all its varied forms:

The preacher who told us there is nothing new under the sun offers something totally novel: a theology of distraction. Its verses of joy typically follow passages on the stabbing assault of mortality or injustice. Take, for example, the articulation of trouble in chapter 5: “Another grave evil is this: He must depart just as he came . . . he can take nothing of his wealth to carry with him. So what is the good of his toiling for the wind?” (5:14–15)

Ecclesiastes then excavates the torment of living: “Besides, all his days he eats in darkness with much vexation and grief and anger” (5:16). And then the sun suddenly comes out: “Only this, I have found, is a real good: that one should eat and drink and get pleasure with all the gains he makes under the sun, during the numbered days of life that God has given him; for that is his portion” (5:17). Human beings can eat in darkness with a side dish of vexation, grief, and anger—or they can eat, drink, and enjoy. This juxtaposition represents more than a sharp turn. It’s spiritual whiplash.

Ecclesiastes is not trivializing our major existential issues by suggesting a good meal, but merely acknowledging that the larger challenges are out of our control. We can either be devastated by uncertainty and unfairness or do what we know how to do well: seek pleasure in what God has given us. Whether or not we want to admit it, distraction works. It’s the interruption that lightens our full attention from utter sadness. It’s the slivers of enjoyment, the fleeting bliss, and the moments of wonder that soften the harshness. They are just as real. They, too, are divinely ordained. They sugar the bitterness and enable us to justify our existence despite it all.

Read more at First Things

More about: Ecclesiastes, Hebrew Bible

Ordinary Gazans Are Turning against Hamas—and Its Western Sympathizers

In the past few days, difficult-to-confirm reports have emerged of unrest in the Gaza Strip, and of civilians throwing stones at Hamas operatives. A recent video from Al Jazeera showed a Gazan declaring that “God will bring Qatar and Turkey to account” for the suffering of Palestinians in the current war. Being an agent of the Qatari government, the journalist turned away, and then pushed the interviewee with his hand to prevent him from getting near the microphone. Yet this brief exchange contributes much to the ongoing debate about Palestinian support for Hamas, and belies the frequent assertion by experts that the Israeli campaign is only “further radicalizing” the population.

For some time, Joseph Braude has worked with a number of journalists and researchers to interview ordinary Gazans under circumstances where they don’t fear reprisals. He notes that the sorts of opinions they share are rarely heard in Western media, let alone on Al Jazeera or Iran-sponsored outlets:

[A] resident of Khan Younis describes how locals in a bakery spontaneously attacked a Hamas member who had come to buy bread. The incident, hardly imaginable before the present war, reflects a widespread feeling of “disgust,” he says, after Gazan aspirations for “a dignified life and to live in peace” were set back by the Hamas atrocities of October 7.

Fears have grown that this misery will needlessly be prolonged by Westerners who strive, in effect, to perpetuate Hamas rule, according to one Gazan woman. Addressing protesters who have taken to the streets to demand a ceasefire on behalf of Palestinians, she calls on them to make a choice: “Either support the Palestinian people or the Hamas regime that oppresses them.” If protesters harbor a humanitarian motive, she asks, “Why don’t we see them demonstrating against Hamas?”

“Hamas is the destruction of the Palestinian people. We’ve had enough. They need to be wiped out—because if they remain, the people will be wiped out.”

You can watch videos of some of the interviews by clicking the link below.

Read more at Free Press

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion