In an interview with Mars Hill Review producer Ken Myers, historian John Lukacs spoke of what surprised him most when he first arrived in America to teach at the university. He noticed in the students he taught a total lack of curiosity—and he claims it has only gotten worse. Anything we learn, says Lukacs, is compelled by the curiosity which first caused us to pursue it, to follow a topic where it leads, and in so doing, find out how very little we know.(1) This principle is highlighted in the French 16th century term for an intellectual historian. Such a scholar was called a “curieux,” notes Lukacs. That is, one who is curious.
Sometimes I wonder if curiosity has been replaced by a fascination with the current scandal, gossip, or mystery plastered about the media. Television ratings remind us that there is always something fantastic about a new revelation, a long-lost document, or some controversial new evidence. We are quickly pulled in by the promise of a scandal. We are easily taken with a good mystery. And we are compelled to be up on the latest public frenzy. But I’m afraid such fascination shows not an attitude of curiosity towards knowledge, but an attitude of passivity that is always waiting to be shown the next new thing.
It is not surprising then to watch whatever latest media revelation become a public fascination. Such was the case with James Cameron’s documentary called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” as he claimed there was new evidence that a tomb in Jerusalem held the remains of Jesus, his wife, and their son. “It doesn’t get bigger than this,” Cameron said at the press release. “We’ve done our homework; we’ve made the case; and now it’s time for the debate to begin.”(2) The foundations of Christianity were hardly devastated, as some of the headlines promised. But the heads of the masses were indeed turned, if only for a moment. Before the premiere of the documentary, the film’s companion book jumped to the top five best selling books online. The coming and going of May 21, 2011 and Harold Camping’s failed prediction of the end of the world presently holds a similar attention. Searches related to his false predictions have been top trends on both Google and Twitter since Saturday. Not surprising, many are using the story as further reason to laugh off religion in general.(3)
When it comes to faith, the novelty of “evidence” that promises to hold our curiosity seems to capture the minds of many. But it is almost always a fleeting fascination based on fantastic speculation, intellectual biases, and poor scholarship. In this sense, neither Cameron nor Camping have produced anything new at all. The end of the world has had no shortage of predictors, despite the fact that even Jesus himself claimed not to know the hour. And of new evidence against belief, there is always a new story. New Testament professor Ben Witherington articulates the state of our culture as it pertains to the latest “findings” that promise to undermine Christianity: “We are a Jesus-haunted culture that is so historically illiterate that anything can now pass for knowledge of Jesus.”(4) And as such, we are easily excited. But curiosity is bigger than the latest scandal. The claims of Christ will continue to be buried in new doubt and evidence, and Christ will continue to rise above the tombs that claim to hold him. Whether or not you believe this, it is admirable to want an honest investigation, a curious pursuit of history, knowledge, and truth.
The shadows of mystery and suspense are indeed captivating, and the latest findings and failings offer a ready labyrinth to explore. But here we are not meant to reside. The mysteries of Christ and the decisive events of history are best explored not with a love of the newest speculation but with a mind and heart for true mystery. Christ has come into the world; we need not look to the latest scandal to find ourselves standing in awe.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Mars Hill Audio Journal, Issue 75.
(2) “Jesus Tomb Found, says Film-maker,” BBC News, February 26, 2007.
(3) Darrell Dawsey, “The Atheist Perspective: Laughing off the ‘Rapture’ when we should be laughing off religion,” MLive.com, May 23, 2011.
(4) Ben Witherington, “Tomb of the (Still) Unknown Ancients,” Opinion Journal, March 2, 2007.