How I spent my eSabbath
October 22nd, 2010
02:30 PM ET

How I spent my eSabbath

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I survived!

Over a day (32 hours, actually - not that I’m counting) without cellphone or laptop, unplugged from radio and television even. But why did I agree to do this?

Because I spent a glorious week last year on Cape Cod in a Provincelands dune shack without electricity or running water. Because I sometimes dream about smashing my cellphone with a sledgehammer.

Because much of the “connecting” I do through email and Facebook and Twitter makes me feel disconnected from the things that really matter. And because Tanya Schevitz asked me.

Tanya works for Reboot, which sponsors what it calls the Sabbath Manifesto Unplug Challenge. The inspiration behind this project is the Jewish Sabbath, but in this case the rules are up to you.

Or, in this case, me.

When I decided to unplug last Thursday, I had just finished a few hectic weeks of media appearances on the new Pew Forum religious literacy survey and the new PBS television series “God in America.” So I was ready to slow down, revel in silence and unwind.

I decided to stay away from my computer and my cellphone, and to leave my television to its own devices. I did allow myself a drive to a local farm to pick up some food, though I did not turn on the radio.

I wish I could say that I spent my day walking along the salt marsh near my teeny tiny cottage on Cape Cod, or wandering around Sandy Neck - an outing I’ve been coveting ever since I read Thoreau’s “Cape Cod” a couple years ago.

Instead, I spent most of my day rummaging through old papers and books that had been building up in my place for months, waiting to be shelved or filed or relegated to recycling.

My day's key moment came when I happened across my old Roget’s Thesaurus. I got that paperback as a gift in high school, and over the years, as it browned and brittled and flaked away, I used it for hundreds of papers, dozens of job applications, and a few books.

In recent years, I have found myself gravitating to online resources when I needed a synonym - for “gravitating,” for example.

In memoirs from Hunger of Memory to Days of Obligation to Brown, Richard Rodriguez has reflected elegantly of what he lost when he crossed over from Mexican to American life. I don’t reflect enough on how I have changed since I first plugged my computer into a telephone line connected to the Internet in the early 1990s in Atlanta.

I do know, however, what I lost by taking part in the Unplug Challenge. I lost the book that taught me (on its very first page) the useful distinction between:

Abandon, v.t. relinquish, resign, give up, forego, surrender, discontinue, waive, abdicate; leave, quit, evacuate, withdraw (from); desert, forsake, maroon, discard, drop.


Abandon n. rashness, recklessness, imprudence, impetuosity, impulsiveness, audacity.


Abandoned, adj. dissipated, immoral, shameless, corrupt, unprincipled, depraved; lost incorrigible, reprobate, unbridled.

But to be honest I didn’t really lose it. I abandoned it. I dropped it, coverless and multi-taped, into my recycling bin, though (I must add) not at all impulsively and not without shame.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Judaism • Technology

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Iqbal khan

    Cost of war is going on like a meter in a cab see it for your self

    October 30, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  2. Megatron

    I had eggs for breakfast this morning then took public transit to work.

    I can have a CNN blog now?

    October 26, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  3. Giant Pen1s of Doom


    October 25, 2010 at 6:15 am |
  4. mtngrrll

    You guys are making MY head hurt. I thought it quite obvious what Prothero was saying. He decided to try what jews, seventh-day baptists, seventh-day adventists, and other types of seventh-day christians do every week – opt out of all that is stressful and wearying and enjoy a single day of rest and relaxation. He tried it for a little over 1 day, the others do it weekly. Colin, I do not see that he was 'forcing it' on himself, merely that he was so used to utilizing the technology constantly that it seemed unusual to him to be without. Being in one of the above groups, I do not 'force it' on myself 'due to some preconceived religious notion that it is good for you', but because in this very stressful world, I do need a break from the constant stress of my job, the horrific commute to work each day, not seeing my kids until it is time to tuck them in bed, etc. I look forward to a peaceful, calm day spent with my family, relaxing, socializing with friends at church, lifting my hands and voice to God in communion with him, and receiving in return peace and contentment that will allow me to once again go out and face the next week all over again. Science has proven over and over that our minds and our bodies need to rest and relax periodically, otherwise people turn to alcohol, smoking, drugs, overeating and other harmful things to force themselves to cope with stress, and people wonder why men have heart attacks at the age of 47, or major burnout at 35. Our bodies are not meant to be machines that can be in constant motion, they need down time in order to not overheat as it were, and run efficiently once again after a rest.

    October 24, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  5. Iqbal khan

    Cost of War in Iraq & Afghanistan

    October 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  6. Colin

    Seems like a veritable waste of time. Why not do something productive instead of wasting your time doing nothing? Yes I can understand why some people might "need" to get away, aka vacation or the like, but forcing it on yourself due to some preconceived religious notion that it is good for you is a joke. It makes no logical sense.

    October 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  7. Sum Dude

    Still laughin'
    ....okay, I'm slowing down enough now..
    If I was this author's writing teacher, I would give him a D-.
    He mixes his metaphors, ruins his alliterative efforts by mixing them, and, as his intent seems clearly allegorical, the sum total is lost thanks to his disjointed expressions....
    With that said, the possible interpretations could be one of half a dozen possilbilities, all of them v-aguely allegorical.

    Plus, it's a quote from some movie or something. I forget where it's from.
    I was making more of a joke than in pointing out any actual clarity on the part of the author, since it did not exist in the article....
    He should not be allowed to walk along that beach before writing an article for CNN, as it seems to have disturbed him in his intellects... 8)

    There. Now stop hitting your head against that poor defenseless wall. lol

    October 22, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Did you knock yourself out? Or did I overdo my explanation?
      Sorry. Got a bit wordy there.
      I remembered where I got that quote – Doonesbury – not a movie. But it was by way of making fun, so enjoy! 😀

      October 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      LOL..!!! "BOTH"... 🙂

      October 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  8. Peace2All

    @Stephen Prothero

    I typically very much like your posts.. and definitely your books. But, I gotta' say... these seems to me to be just your telling of what you did... "You unplugged." Which a lot of people that i know of are starting to do these days do to all of the technology, and wanting to step away for awhile from their normal routines.

    I understand self-promotion. However, that is mostly what I got from your article was mainly about your pew research poll, and now, your PBS show.

    As a fan of yours, if you can take time to 'plug' back in, between your busy schedule and respond and make any comments regarding something a bit 'deeper' that would be appreciated.

    Or.. maybe I am just missing some 'fine distinction' or salient point you are making here...?


    October 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      It's an allegory, man! An allegory! 😀

      October 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      As I was reading this, I was thinking "And your point is?"

      And Sum Dude's use of the word "allegory" caused me to look the word up and I still don't get his (the author's) point!

      If he concluded with something like "I discarded my religous beliefs (into my physcological "dustbin" with thought and embarassment) just as I discarded my theosaurus that I use to rely on so much.", it would have been an article worth reading.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Reality

      Then there is the "plug" for Reboot, a non-profit group that promotes Jewish reconnecting via literature and music to include publishing the Guilt and Pleasure Magazine. Hmmm?

      Reboot gets a little over a million dollars a year from contributions and grants. About half of this goes towards salaries. Tanya's salary was not listed nor was she listed as part of the management team. Hmmm!!!!

      ref: guidestar.org

      October 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Peace2All


      You said...."As I was reading this, I was thinking 'And your point is' ?" We are in agreement... My attempt at beating around the bush and being polite, was probably not needed, as I should have just asked the 'get to the point' question that you asked. I typically do enjoy Stephen's blog post's and definitely his books, so still not sure where he is coming from.

      I, as well, tried on my pal 'Sum Dude's' headset of 'allegory' and i still didn't get the memo. Maybe 'Sum Dude' is getting something that we are not.

      October 22, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Arrrrrrrrrrgh.... !!!!!!!!! An allegory.... Really...? Made my 'head' hurt when you said that. Which as you know, already hurts. 🙂

      So, the 'frame' of viewing his story as 'allegory' didn't work for me.

      Hey pal.... Were you just messin' with me...? Or are you serious...? As me and my other pal Ace... seemed to not be gettin' your drift....!! Hmmmmmm. 🙂

      October 22, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Dude! It is hard to type this since I keep laughing...but....oh, man, I keep laughing.....!!!

      October 22, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Sum Dude

      Fine.... You just keep laughin' it up, while I go on beating my head against the wall. 🙂

      Just bangin'

      October 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
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