Sloth. Not exactly a word we hear in everyday conversation. And we don’t really think about having a sloth lifestyle!
How would you feel if I told you I think our culture is the prime motivator (now that’s an oxymoron) of sloth?
Sloth is the reluctance to work or make a difference; laziness. It’s also a tropical American mammal that hangs upside down from trees, but we’re not talking the non-human species today.
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck is best know for his widely popular book The Road Less Traveled. He wrote several other books, including The People of the Lie and More Along the Road Less Traveled. He wrote how laziness is the main reason Americans fail in their human relationships. He pointed out how laziness prevents people from being loving, and that we all know that failure to be loving has horrendous consequences in our world. Love requires commitment and work, and those who are lazy are seldom willing to expend that kind of work.
I confess I’m a total celebrity curmudgeon. I don’t watch TV (in fact, we don’t even have a TV) or go to many movies.. I find little redeeming enhancement of the human condition or true community in reality programs or the deification of high-paid athletes (wonder what I really think?).
My point? There is more passion and concern about the characters we see on the screen than the people we associate with in real life. We know more about celebrities and professional athletes than we do about our neighbors. Too often we take the easy road and allow ourselves to be entertained by human inventions rather than create, build, and invest in human relationships.
Then there’s how we language ourselves. Take it easy. Don’t work too hard. Slow down. Take care. It isn’t worth it.
Now I’m not negating the need for life-work balance or ceasing all activities for recreation, entertainment, and refreshment. I’m talking about the the other side of the message:
- Take it easy. Translation: play it safe; don’t step out of your comfort zone.
- Slow down. Translation: don’t worry about the goal or running through the finish line because what’s it going to do for you anyway?
- Don’t work too hard. Translation: why work so hard for someone else when it’s not going to make any difference to you in the long run.
It isn’t worth it is the biggest lie of them all. The slothful person rationalizes their behavior of not committing or caring because it isn’t worth it. It’s the I don’t care attitude.
Dorothy Sayers, writer of detective stories and Christian humanist, chillingly describes sloth:
In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.
Indifference denies the validity of human existence. Sloth is a deadly sin because it is indifference personified.
The primary need for human fulfillment and wholeness, for realizing the potential of a person, is love. Love is the essence of the Gospel and the crown jewel of character in many faiths. We commonly think that hate is the opposite of love. But when we think more deeply, we discover that the opposite of love is not hate but apathy. With hate, there is emotion and feeling, an active response to and affirmation of the other person.
With apathy or indifference, there is no emotion, no feeling for the other person. It doesn’t even account for the other person’s existence. This attitude can fester to the degree that it becomes the destructive sin of indifference.
How do we account for such indifference? Sometimes it’s not as obvious as we think: smashing of a dream, choking of an idea, crushing of enthusiasm, the putting down of a person that made him or her less alive and whole. It starts out dismissing someone’s thoughts and feelings and, before long, dismisses the person altogether.
Sloth: the reluctance to work or make a difference. When we neglect to care, encourage, and affirm, we are guilty of sloth. When we look past our sisters and brothers who are suffering or down-and-out, we are guilty of sloth. When we don’t vote because it isn’t worth it, we’re succumbing to the sin of sloth.
We’re called to take a risk. Isn’t that love? We take a risk each time we care about, invest in, or commit to any relationship. Love calls us to be involved.
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).