Faith v. Curiosity | April 2000

FMBR Editorial: April, 2000

Faith v. Curiosity

Marshall Pease

In the February editorial on Faith, I argued that faith was a major factor in almost all creative endeavors. By faith I meant “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” one of the definitions in my dictionary. This definition includes not only the way religious communities use the term but also much more. Clarence A. Mitchell, a retired artist, objected to the editorial saying he is motivated only by curiosity, not faith. He calls himself a “kind of visual researcher” exploring “how perception works” and how the opinions and feelings of other people affect what they see in his paintings. This discussion has led me to consider how, or whether, faith and curiosity are related.

Both faith and curiosity deal with the unknown and its risks. Confronting the unknown always involves some elements of risk. At the very least there is the risk of wasting whatever time or energy is required. The risk can be minimal or substantial, but it is always there to some degree. If the unknown is confronted in faith, the risk is implicitly accepted and then any threat will either prove tractable or will have acceptable personal consequences. If it is confronted with curiosity, much the same assumptions are made but usually with the threats being considered trivial or dismissed as unimportant compared to the rewards that will be found if the endeavor proves successful.

There is a third way to deal with risk – by denial. This depends on a willful or unconscious blindness which asserts the situation is something other than what the evidence indicates. In contrast to both curiosity and faith which seek truth in the relevant areas, denial is a way of avoiding making any effort to resolve the issue. As a result, denial is very unlikely to ever lead to creativity. It is true that, even in a state of denial, one can stumble onto a useful truth, perhaps. However, even if that does happen, it is still necessary to recognize and accept the truth once it appears. Yet the habit of denial is too apt to be continued with a vigorous denial of the new-found truth.

The more serious problem with denial is that risk pervades life. We live in an environment (both physical and social) that contains an almost unlimited number of risks. Most of the news we receive concerns risks other people have suffered. What makes these stories news is that the same thing could happen to each of us. We, too, risk an automobile accident whenever we drive. We also risk a fire whenever we are in our homes. The list of risks we face daily is almost unlimited, even without considering the more remote ones such as getting hit by a meteor. We assume, most of the time, that these risks will not materialize or that, if they do, we or somebody will take care of them. We feel justified, most of us most of the time, in ignoring them. Indeed, we must ignore most of them if we are to live our lives in a reasonable way.

What is important here is that ignoring the risks of life is not the same as denying them. Denying them threatens to deny life itself. At the very least it denies one of the essential qualities of life and living and, quite possibly, an important purpose of life itself. To the extent that a person acknowledges risk and chooses to live his or her life in that knowledge without fear but also without blinking, then life becomes an adventure worthy of both curiosity and faith. Then there is the opportunity to learn and to become. Then the challenge of existence becomes fulfilling, and the inner purpose of life itself is served.

Marshall Pease, April 2000