Blog

Thoreau on News, Spiritual Life

Last week I read “Life Without Principle” by Henry David Thoreau on the YouTube channel. It’s a fairly short essay (text here) and, from what I could tell, gives a good overview of his outlook on the world if you haven’t read Walden in entirety yet (*cough* guilty).

He has a lot of good thoughts and hot takes, but the main idea that’s lingered with me is the need to keep your inner self as pure as possible from news and other negativity. He’s not saying to go live under a rock—or is he? ๐Ÿ˜† —but rather emphasizing how useless it can be to obsess over current events. He even extends this warning to personal correspondence!

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.

I can’t imagine what he would say about the “poor fellow” addicted to social media…

Thoreau goes on to speak of preserving “the mind’s chastity” as an antidote to “intellectual and moral suicide.” Similar to Sherlock Holmes’s cautions about filling your brain-attic with junk (although of a different context), Thoreau warns against filling your head with sordid contemplations, even if they are of the real world.

This is similar to what James writes in the first chapter of his letter:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
(James 1:27, emphasis added)

I have been feeling pretty convicted about this already, and reading Thoreau’s essay amplified the message. I want to make some positive changes in my life towards this end, but I am not sure what form they will take yet.

Standard

11 thoughts on “Thoreau on News, Spiritual Life

  1. “Read not The Times, but the Eternities.” One of my favorite Thoreau aphorisms, and one dwelt upon further by your post. I don’t know if I’ve read “Life Without Principle” over the years, but I plan on remedying that! I started unplugging from distractions in college. Thoreau knew the value of simplifying one’s life….not just physical clutter, but mental as well. He didn’t have all the answers, but he’s been a guiding light to me for years.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s