We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and our country will be marking the date with a variety of special observances. We will all have occasion to remember the horror of that day and what life was like in the United States in the immediate aftermath.
One of the things I remember is how hardly anyone had an appetite for the usual amusements. After the attacks, our entertainment culture appeared in full view for what it really was—a vacuous and banal distraction from the most important things of life. Nobody wanted to watch Leno’s patter on “The Tonight Show” or the blathering sitcoms. There was a collective turning away from entertainment. People wanted and needed to hear something weighty in that moment, so they turned elsewhere. On September 16, churches across the country overflowed.
The shock and grief rested heavily on everyone. And many of the normal late night comedians simply stopped recording new shows. For some of them, it was weeks before they returned to regular programming, and nobody missed them. It was a peculiar moment in American life. It was an ethos I had not experience before 9-11, and one I haven’t experienced since.
I was reminded of this singular moment again today when Elizabeth Tenety linked to a video of Jon Stewart’s first show after the September 11 attacks. Stewart gives a lengthy opening monologue which is interrupted at numerous points by his attempts to choke back tears. He swears-off making jokes about President Bush for the foreseeable future. And he makes an apology for the fact that his show must go on.
Given everything that has happened in our national life since the attacks, this moment seems less like ten years ago and more like a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, there is a clear lesson here that we would all do well to remember. We are prone to amusing ourselves to death. Our attention is too often focused on the ephemeral and the fleeting, and not on the weighty and the eternal. Our usual diversions can smother sustained focus on God, His word, eternity, Heaven and Hell.
Is the human condition really so desperate that it takes a 9-11 to break the stranglehold that our entertainment culture has on us? I think that it is. The human condition really is that bad, but the gospel really is much better. Even in the morass of our daily distractions, it still has the power to break through (Romans 1:16-17). And this gives me hope, even as the rest of the world is back to business as usual.
Psalm 101:2-3 “I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.”
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”