What is escapism?

escapism
Question: "What is escapism?"

Answer:
Escapism is the attempt to set aside negative thoughts or feelings by pursuing a diversion from reality. This often takes the form of fantasy, where one imagines or dreams of a different world. Escapism can also be expressed in material ways. This might include the use of food, sex, drugs, or sports. The term escapism is frequently used in a negative sense, suggesting that people who seek diversions are irresponsibly avoiding “real life.” Yet any activity intended to take one’s mind off of some aspect of daily life is a form of escapism. As such, not all escapism is bad. Of course, too much—or the wrong kind—can be extremely harmful.

In a broad sense, virtually all forms of entertainment could be considered types of escapism. People naturally tire of focusing directly on the heavy burdens of life, such as a job, health concerns, chores, taxes, family obligations, to-do lists, and so forth. Recreation, in general, helps a person temporarily “escape” from the mental and spiritual weight of those issues. When someone reads a book, watches a movie, participates in sports, listens to favorite music, daydreams, or indulges in a hobby, he or she is taking a break from less-pleasant aspects of “reality.”

For the most part, however, the term escapism specifically refers to activities that directly remove our minds and thoughts from the real world. Fantasies, including books or movies about other worlds, are just one expression of this. In this sense, true escapism is a way of breaking out of the “real” world. It means seeking something different or something better or something more according to our tastes. In particular, an intent to avoid is the key feature of classic escapism; it’s a deliberate attempt to shun reality at least for a while.

The Bible describes things like work and effort in positive terms (Colossians 3:23; Proverbs 12:11; 18:9). At the same time, the concept of “rest” is fundamental to God’s relationship to mankind (Genesis 2:1–3; Exodus 20:11; Mark 2:27). There is nothing unbiblical about “taking a break,” whether physically or mentally. Some of what could be called “escapism” fits into this category: an acceptable way to rest from the everyday pressures of life. C. S. Lewis frequently defended the value of fantasy literature and imagination for this very reason. Diversions are not wrong simply because they involve imagining a different world or changes to this one.

While the Bible encourages appropriate recreation and refreshment, it also warns against excess. Wasting our time, failing to meet our obligations, damaging our bodies, or toying with addiction are all signs that we’ve crossed a line from reasonable rest into excessive escapism. God encourages us to recharge (Matthew 11:28) and to look forward to a new and better world (Hebrews 11:14–16). Still, He does not want us to foolishly ignore what is actual and real (1 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Peter 3:17).

Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer

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