Waldo Beach - "Curiosity and Reverence" (October 15, 1961)
|Among the many dynamic forces
|that propel us around this campus
|that drag us out of bed to class,
|to the library, to the lab,
|to chapel, is the simple drive of curiosity.
|This motive is obscured under more
|immediate organization man motives
|of the dread of flunking of the push
|for prestige standard seeking,
|the political and economic considerations
|that drive us towards the BA degree.
|But curiosity is there too underneath
|luring us into this or that research project,
|lab experiment, raising a hand in class,
|teasing us into the library,
|why, how come,
|what makes the machine run?
|The leaves turn, the universe tick.
|The same curiosity turned Moses aside
|in the ancient story, our lesson of the morning.
|Strange thing, the bush is burning
|but it is not burnt up.
|Why, while a university lives outwardly on endowments,
|it lives inwardly on curiosity.
|And in this week's university calendar,
|there is something to satisfy every curiosity
|from lectures on visual learning in pigeons
|to serial techniques in non tonal music,
|something for everybody.
|But it becomes an interesting to ponder
|the relation of this curiosity
|to a kind of polar opposite in the university culture,
|another dynamic which seems to pull
|in the opposite direction from curiosity
|and that's reverence.
|How do these two stand together
|in our common life if indeed they do.
|How are we to reconcile outwardly in policy,
|inwardly each of us in the secret place,
|the spirit of reverence with a spirit of curiosity.
|There's one direct answer to this question
|given often by the devout and the pious,
|which says the reverence and curiosity
|are sharply opposed to each other.
|The curiosity is dangerous to faith.
|That reverence is the mind set
|that we should only cultivate.
|As soon as we become curious,
|inquisitive, raise questions according to this view,
|we are starting down a perilous path,
|which leads to skepticism.
|Better than keeps safe in the truth,
|keep the head bowed and the heart faithful,
|lest the minds questions begin to insinuate
|themselves into the safe assurance
|who knows where insatiable curiosity will lead you.
|If you keep asking but why,
|and then ask, but why that, far into the night,
|you'll soon be far into the night of doubt,
|groping through infinite regresses of reasons
|to fall finally into the abyss.
|It's interesting to note that this fear of curiosity
|is strong in medieval culture.
|In the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux
|describing the steps of humility in monasticism
|pointed out that the first way word step of pride
|away from humility is curiosity.
|"If you see a monk," he wrote,
|"whom you formerly trusted confidently
|beginning to roam with his eyes,
|hold his head erect and prick up his ears,
|whenever he's standing or walking or sitting,
|you may know," he says in effect,
|"that this monk has started down the skid roll
|to the perdition of unpaid."
|But this medieval slant which suspects
|curiosity as inimical to reverence
|is not just a medieval period piece.
|It's very contemporary in the mind
|of the earnest back town,
|Bible thumbing, Southern Protestant.
|It was very suspicious of all this
|fancy book learning at Duke,
|all this science stuff and critical study of religion,
|which will come to no good.
|He may write to the Dean's office
|protesting that he didn't send his child to college
|to have his faith tampered with.
|It's not right to ask questions of the Lord,
|just accept his ways and trust.
|All this mindset may be present in one
|or other of you in this congregation.
|A sophomore whose religious faith
|is a precious sacred object to be revealed,
|but excused ahead of time from inquiry
|from curiosity who is judged badly
|by class discussion of miracles in religion 51, 52,
|doesn't square with what he's been taught
|at church in home
|who may come to chapel to have
|his weakening faith showered up.
|But this answer, a reverence prohibiting curiosity
|is wrong hearted as it is wrong headed.
|It's not the appropriate frame of mind
|for any university culture or university student.
|Reverence without curiosity is blind, docile, stupid.
|It bows the head but in fear not understanding
|its faith is closed, all finished and settled
|no more questions to ask.
|And such a reverence is a violation
|of the fact that we are by nature inquisitive animals.
|The only animals that can ask why
|and proof of this is seen in the fact
|that as soon as one prohibits inquiry
|and puts a fence around a sacred object
|saying no trespassing,
|such a sign is very invitation to heightened curiosity
|`So it was with Adam in the garden,
|so has it always been in history
|wherever church or sectors are tempted by up fences
|to keep out the curious in defense of the faith.
|Second answer to the question of how reverence
|is related to curiosity is much more typical of our day
|and this community than the first.
|This opposite answer calls for curiosity without reverence.
|If curiosity was the first vice of medieval man
|leading him away from truth,
|it was the first virtue of Renaissance man
|leading him toward it.
|The university is in a sense
|the length and shadow of Renaissance man,
|who was infinitely curious about why
|and builds his realms of knowledge
|on this insatiable search.
|No domains of truth are close to debate an investigation,
|whether it's the question of the theologian
|about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin
|or the nuclear physicist about how many atoms
|condense on the head of a pin.
|Angels and Adams, stars and souls all are equally subject
|to the master question why.
|And according to the faith of Renaissance man,
|curiosity avidly pursued prying into the matter
|supposedly sacred and holy
|shows them up often to be pious, spoofs,
|gigantic, dreary, opiates and delusions
|to keep the people quiet.
|Yeah this answer, curiosity without reverence
|has too its dangers.
|For a curiosity that has lost all mystery,
|all sense of humility in the presence of the inscrutable,
|all sense of hush in the presence of transcendent grandeur.
|He says, "Perilous as a blind reverence
|which asks no questions."
|Curiosity without reverence can become jaunty,
|brittle, reckless, morally insensitive,
|and at the last morally destructive.
|There's a curious kind of arrogance that can develop
|in a mind which is inquisitive with no respect
|for the holy and the awesome mysterium tremendum
|that surrounds our little life, the great power,
|the great wisdom that lie before
|and after our petty powers and wisdoms,
|the overwhelming beauty that lurks in the open fifths
|of a chest and a cough anthem.
|Such a jaunty curiosity is really a little pathetic.
|A student wrote a letter to the Chronicle last year,
|suggesting that since the main library
|was so badly overcrowded with books
|and since this chapel isn't used very much
|except by tourists,
|it should be converted into storage space for books.
|His proposal amounted to suggesting that the campus
|realm devoted to curiosity should take over
|the campus realm devoted to reverence.
|Well he was proposing a very profound educational issue
|but his answer was not very wise.
|He represented renaissance man called Beatnich.
|He had missed out on a deeper dimension of his education
|failed to catch what this university attempts to be about
|in its total philosophy of education.
|If medieval man catholic or protestant
|is in distrusting curiosity
|and Renaissance man of the 15th or 20th century
|in rejecting reverence,
|perhaps one could say that biblical man has a better grasp
|of the relation of these two great factors.
|Moses could stand here for biblical man
|and the strange folk story of the burning bush
|dramatizes the connection.
|Moses had something
|apparently what we call scientific spirit.
|He was curious to figure out why the bush was not consumed.
|He was led into an encounter with truth
|by an oddity that just piqued his curiosity.
|But the outcome of the encounter
|was not the dispelling of mystery
|but the reverence which accompanies mystery.
|Put off your shoes from your feet
|for the place on which you are standing
|is holy ground.
|Led by curiosity into an encounter with ultimate reality,
|he discovers that the desert place
|is the dwelling place of the Most High.
|That the immediate question of curiosity's why
|leads him to the ultimate question of existence
|which is who and to the answer,
|the God of his fathers.
|The original query of the mind leads
|to a final acknowledgement of awe and about it
|or when thinks of another biblical man
|in whom also has represented a more profound joining
|of reverence with curiosity
|than either a docile part by a tear
|or an arrogant secularism could possibly see.
|It's significant that one of the first glimpses we have
|of the boy Jesus, is when He is found
|by His distraught parents in the temple
|sitting among the teachers.
|It says, "Listening to them and asking them questions
|in a kind of pickup seminar on the Torah."
|The significance of this glimpse is that for Jesus,
|the temple is the place where curiosity is proper,
|where questions are not forbidden but raised.
|If Moses found the desert place to be after all
|the kind of temple, Jesus found the temple
|to be a kind of classroom where the searching spirit
|could give and take in the exciting directive with mind
|and recall too that in the rephrasing of the law,
|Jesus reminds his hearers that we are to love God
|with all our minds,
|which certainly includes the exercise of curiosity,
|the critical faculties.
|Curiosity and reverence
|should be our normative stands of faith
|in the whole life of this university,
|if we are to abide by the aims of its original trust
|and acquire wisdom.
|This means it seems to me that in curricular policy,
|the critical analysis of the religious tradition
|of Western culture is indispensable to humane education.
|It means that the kind of class brittle secularism,
|which in class delights to scorn all reverence
|and obliterate all holiness is inappropriate.
|It means that all the way across from medical school
|to the athletic fields,
|the ground on which we stand and walk
|and work is holy ground.
|The persons with whom we deal are infinitely
|precious and sacred because sacred to the infinite person.
|And the truth is about which we contend
|are facets of an eternal truth.
|What either way, a reverence curiosity
|or curious reverence, it is the whole mark
|of a liberally educated person.
|Note that the relation of curiosity
|and reverence does not mean
|a division of territory of two concentric circles.
|The inner circle of curiosity and investigation
|earning an empirical knowledge
|which gradually moves out over the outer circle
|of mystery and the unknown.
|So that eventually in time, reverence is the fear
|of the unknown will be dispelled by knowledge.
|This was sort of the 19th century way
|of reconciling science and religion or so it was thought.
|But a biblical outlook is different from this
|in Genesis and Job, in the Psalms
|and in the mind of Christ.
|It is not knowledge bounded by mystery
|but knowledge infused with mystery.
|The sense of wonder does not begin at that point
|beyond which curiosity cannot reach.
|It permeates all that we know.
|Philosophy begins in wonder, ends in wonder,
|is sustained throughout by wonder.
|The immediate whys of 'cause of connection
|in the economic text or in the lab
|always point beyond themselves to the ultimate questions
|of the source, the goal, the who,
|who gives the rhyme or reason to it all.
|In whom do all these little bits of data cohere.
|These religious questions haunt all technical question.
|The moral answer to the problem,
|how am I to use all the technical answers for good
|or for ill?
|This arises from the sense of reverence.
|The sense that the ground on which I am standing
|is Holy ground.
|The moral problems about the uses of knowledge
|are answered from the side of reverence
|not curiosity in a universe
|which gives us a dreadful freedom
|to choose between life and death.
|To be sure, curiosity and reverence never fit
|quite neatly together.
|There's always some pull and haul between them,
|which makes for the exciting collision of ideas
|and the outer forums of debate
|and the inner agony of making up your mind.
|And you can be sure that the faculty of this institution
|are not of a single persuasion
|as to whether a reverent mind,
|as well as a curious mind should here be fostered.
|But the norm of a reverent curiosity holds good.
|And if sought commonly,
|it would preserve our motto or UTDO at religio.
|From being a statement only of an uneasy truce
|between two warring champs of the reverence
|and the curious for a wind held somehow together,
|curiosity protects reverence from a crowd,
|an abject fear without removing the wonder.
|Reverends keeps curiosity from arrogance
|without removing the quest and the question mark.
|This spirit would constitute our integrity and health
|and sustain us as we go our rounds of seeking
|and finding and losing and seeking again,
|which is education.
|Amen, let us pray.
|All Mighty God, always hidden, always revealed.
|The unseen source and goal of our searching,
|the answer to our last question,
|the questioner of our last answer,
|grant us by thy grace,
|such open curious and reverent minds
|as they come to wisdom in obedience before Thee,
|in knowledge of whom standeth are eternal life.
|Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
|the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
|be with you all.
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