My men went on and presently met the Lotus-Eaters, nor did these Lotus-Eaters have any thought of destroying our companions, but they only gave them lotus to taste of. But any of them who ate the honey-sweet fruit of lotus was unwilling to take any message back, or to go away, but they wanted to stay there with the lotus-eating people, feeding on lotus, and forget the way home.
Homer (The Odyssey IX:91-97)
Back in January, I read a wonderful piece
written by Joseph Pearce over at The Imaginative Conservative
that opens with this quote. In it the author articulates the significance of Odysseus and his men meeting these peaceable Lotus-Eaters, following a theater of war and bloodshed. Certainly this meeting would have been attractive to these men. After war, toil, and hardship, these men desired to rest and forget what they’d seen and experienced.
But what does Homer tell us? That while with the lotus-eaters, eating lotuses, Odysseus’ men “forget the way home.”
Pearce tell us, “The problem is not primarily the drug itself, nor is it the apathy that it induces; the problem is that it distracts us from our ultimate purpose, which is to get home. To reiterate, the problem is not principally the drug, nor the drug-induced torpor; it is the distraction.”
This point is made clear when we realize that we can substitute all manner of other things for the Lotus-plant. Other natural and synthetic drugs will spring to mind but so will drug-free addictive pursuits, such as pornography or the obsessive-compulsive way in which many of us engage in social media. The things with which we choose to distract ourselves are variable and therefore in the philosophical sense accidental; the thing which is common to all these multifarious means of distraction is the distraction itself, which is therefore, literally and philosophically, of the essence.
Pearce’s point is that these distractions, whatever they may be, keep us from getting home (i.e., distracting us from purpose). The idea of getting home will likely seem strange to those who take home to mean nothing more than a place of warmth and comfort; somewhere to put your feet up; that place where the heart is. But to the Christian, home is much more than this. It is not only a place to find warmth and comfort, it is the direction in which we move. It is our purpose. It is, in brief, turning to God (we’ll work through what this looks like in future posts).
In this way, the distractions offered by the Lotus-Eaters, and by many, many other sources (some self-induced by our own persons), are an incredibly serious topic.
I think Pearce makes a truly astounding observation, when he says that the distractions are the problem themselves, not the apathy that they often induce. One could think to refine this idea of a distraction even further, supplementing the term for idolatry. For what else is an idol to the Christian than a mere distraction from the one true God? It keeps the Christian indebted to something, someone else other than God. It may even be less overt than that. Perhaps the idol is nothing more than that which you give your time and affection. Perhaps it is what you love deeply.