Boredom has long been attributed as the cause of evil since most people have heard that the

devil makes work for idle hands. It is true that oftentimes boredom plays a role in evil but to say that boredom is the root of all evil is simply not true. In order to understand this we will first explore the often ambiguous concept of evil. Following this we will determine what we mean by boredom and distinguish it from idleness. Next, we will see that boredom can certainly be a factor contributing to evil but is surely not the sole cause. Finally, we will see that boredom often contributes to good, rendering Kierkegaard’s theory hypocritical. In order to understand that boredom is not the root of all evil, it is necessary to understand just what we mean by evil. Evil can be defined under two categories: morally wrong and harmful (“Evil”). To be morally wrong is really a question of what you believe is morally right. In the western world many people adopt moral principles from Christianity. All moral principles found in Christianity stem from the Ten Commandments, which are believed to have been given by God. Some of these commandments include: “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20: 13-15). Christians, as well as Jews, believe that the moral principles presented in the Bible are morally right. Any infringement of these commandments is what believers define as evil or sinful. Similarly, other religions, such as Islam, also classify evil as anything going against God’s commandments. In today’s society there are also a large number of people who do not practice any religion. For these people, what is morally right is based on a combination of their country’s laws as well as their own principles developed through experience. The Ten Commandments no doubt had a profound influence on society throughout history. Consequently, many of today’s laws in the western world are derivations of the Ten Commandments. Though many people may not believe in God they are still influenced by religion, similarly believing that the actions of things such as murder and theft are morally wrong or evil. Over the centuries the laws of society have also shifted away from their roots in religion. For example, in the western world it is not against the law to commit adultery. Remember that what is morally wrong depends on what a person believes is morally


right. For many people, adultery is not considered evil because it is not an infringement of their moral principles. The problem with moral principles is that they vary between individuals, making the concept of evil just a variable. Since religion is no longer the only standard for moral principles accepted by society, defining evil is often controversial. Apart from issues of morality, people can more commonly see eye to eye on harmfulness, the second category of evil. The difference between what is morally wrong and harmful is experience. Being morally wrong requires the instilment of a moral principle whereas harmfulness only requires the experience of a harmful event. If we turn back to the example of adultery we can see that on one hand, Christians believe adultery is evil because God told them so. On the other hand, an atheist may not believe it to be evil because his belief says that there is no God to tell him otherwise. An atheist and a Christian cannot agree that adultery is evil on the basis of morality because what is morally wrong for one is not morally wrong for another. Fortunately, through the experience of harmfulness, it is possible for them to agree. For example, an atheist is married and discovers that his partner is having an affair and is also divorcing him in order to marry the other person. The atheist will deem adultery evil not on the basis of morality but on the basis of harmfulness. The atheist will be hurt by the actions of his partner, leaving the experience of that rejection as his basis for deeming adultery evil. It may not be against his moral principles, nor may it be against his country’s law, yet he deems it evil because of the harmfulness of the experience. It is through moral wrongdoing and harmfulness that each person develops his own concept of evil. In order to understand how evil applies to boredom, it is necessary to grasp what exactly boredom is. To describe the literary definition of boredom is frankly boring, but Kierkegaard’s account of boredom generally refers to being weary—mentally weary (Gale). This definition is easily verified in his saying that “The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings”


(Kierkegaard 31). The gods were mentally weary of the world, so they decided to spice it up by creating men. Many people associate boredom with idleness. This is a critical error, according to Kierkegaard, if we are to understand boredom. To say that to be idle is to be bored is a misconception since it is possible to be both idle and entertained. For example, “A female beauty who neither sews nor spins nor irons nor reads nor plays an instrument is happy in idleness, for she is not bored” (34). To cure idleness “work is recommended” (33), but boredom is not merely cured through work. Work may quell boredom for a short while, but working most often turns into boredom. Reading a book for a university course may seem interesting, but few people finish the book in one sitting because of boredom. Surely any task can turn into boredom after an extended period of time, even the most enjoyable. Playing a video game or playing a sport can eventually become boring not because you do not enjoy it but because you grow mentally weary of it. How many times can you jump on a trampoline without growing weary of it? How many television episodes can you watch before you cannot force yourself to bear anymore? “Idleness is not the [root of all] evil” (34), as idleness can exist without boredom. If boredom truly is the root of all evil then it should clearly be the origin of all moral wrongdoing and harmfulness. The problem is that boredom is not the clear root of evil in every situation. Boredom can be clearly demonstrated to be an ingredient of evil but is never the sole contributing factor. Kierkegaard references the biblical story of the tower of Babel as an example of boredom’s root in all evil: “To amuse themselves, they hit upon the notion of building a tower so high that it would reach the sky” (31). Kierkegaard overlooks an important part of the story in the pursuit of his idea. The Bible indeed says that the people wanted to build a tower to reach the heavens but Kierkegaard neglects the other part of the verse which says, “let us make a namefor ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:4). The people may have been bored, but boredom alone is not clearly the root of this evil. They were proud of


their abilities to the point that they believed themselves up to the task of challenging God. Pride was a major factor in this evil. Kierkegaard’s argument is compelling, but he no doubt neglects other catalysts of evil. If boredom was truly the root of all evil then many accounts of evil would be unexplainable. Many people regard the Holocaust as one of the most evil acts in history. I wonder, would Kierkegaard agree that over six million innocent people were murdered solely because Hitler was bored? The fact that we can uncover other factors, besides just boredom, is significant proof that boredom alone is not the root of all evil. Boredom is not the root of all evil because boredom can also lead to good things. People who are bored will most certainly do things to alleviate that boredom, both evil and good. If boredom is the root of all evil, then how are good results related to boredom explained? Some of the greatest things in history have had boredom as an attributing factor, rendering the idea of boredom as the root of all evil highly hypocritical. Boredom can lead individuals to try new things or challenge ways of thinking in positive ways as well. The quest to be entertained could partly cause a college student to get ahead on his coursework over the spring break in order to put in more hours at work to pay next year’s tuition. Boredom could help push an aspiring athlete to practice more, a scientist to try a new method or maybe even a philosopher to write about boredom. This is not to say that boredom is the root of all good, but rather good actions, like those of evil actions, have more than boredom as their motivation. The root of all evil is not an easy concept to determine. The Bible suggests that greed is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) while others, such as Richard Dawkins, acclaimed atheist and advocate of science, suggest that religion is the root of all evil. These are in constant debate. To remove boredom from the world would most certainly not remove evil from the world, but it would no doubt help. Boredom cannot be the root of all evil because evil depends on moral principles or harmful experience to be determined. Boredom itself cannot determine these things,


though it can play an important role along with other attributing factors. Boredom also has the capacity to play an important role in the development of good. Boredom is neither black or white nor good or evil. The effects of boredom, like that of evil, lie within the individual. Boredom does not cause a person to do evil things, boredom simply helps push an existing evil along. The root of all evil may be debatable, but it is certainly not boredom.

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