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


Using the Power of the Law to Fight Anti-Semitism

Examining carefully the problem of anti-Semitism, and sympathy with jihadists, at American universities, Danielle Pletka addresses the very difficult problem of what can be done about it. Pletka avoids such simplistic answers as calling for more education and turns instead to a more promising tool: law. The complex networks of organizations funding and helping to organize campus protests are often connected to malicious states like Qatar, and to U.S.-designated terrorist groups. Thus, without broaching complex questions of freedom of speech, state and federal governments already have ample justifications to crack down. Pletka also suggests various ways existing legal frameworks can be strengthened.

And that’s not all:

What is Congress’s ultimate leverage? Federal funding. Institutions of higher education in the United States will receive north of $200 billion from the federal government in 2024.

[In addition], it is critical to understand that foreign funders have been allowed, more or less, to turn U.S. institutions of higher education into political fiefdoms, with their leaders and faculty serving as spokesmen for foreign interests. Under U.S. law currently, those who enter into contracts or receive funding to advocate for the interest of a foreign government are required to register with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). This requirement is embedded in a criminal statute, and a violation risks jail time. There is no reason compliance by American educational institutions with disclosure laws should not be subject to similar criminal penalties.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American law, Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus