Questioning curiosity

Here’s an interesting one.  Jemar Tisby wrote:

Now, perhaps ironically, that in itself raises a whole load of questions that his approving audience don’t seem to be asking. The first one is this.”  How would people have reacted if we replaced the words ‘white’, ‘evangelical’ and questions’ in that sentence?”

A second question would be, “what exactly do you mean by the term ‘white evangelicals’?” Is that a sociological term, or a theological term? Are you referring to white Christians everywhere with a specific theology of the Cross, conversion and Scripture? Or are you talking about a specific sociological grouping within one geographical context?

Thirdly, “What do you mean by “don’t have any questions?” I mean, as Jemar may well have begun to pick up, some of us who would be identified as white evangelicals have lots of question.  Let me say a little bit more about that. 

First, I think it is true that evangelicalism itself has a particular approach to doubt and to questioning the core beliefs of our faith. Evangelicals believe that God’s Word, Scripture is true and trustworthy and many would use the words “inerrant” and “infallible to describe it.”  This means that if asked about whether there is a God, the human condition, whether Jesus was a real human-being, why he died and if he rose again, then Evangelicals are likely to answer those questions with certainty. Doubt is perceived in a particular way.  This doesn’t mean that evangelicals don’t have questions or even doubts at times but where and how those doubts are handled matters. This can create its own problems if it stops people from speaking honestly but is it altogether a bad thing?  If some of us are at risk of making an idol out of certainty, others can make it out of uncertainty. Indeed, what we tend to find is that we are all certain about some things and restrict discussion on them whilst being uncertain and questioning about others. The question is whether or not we are certain or uncertain about the right things. I’m personally dogmatic in my certainty that Christ rose from the dead, I’m not quite so certain about a whole load of things from the best way to structure inter church relationships, whether the monarchy will survive more than two further generations and what exactly is the best solution to the winter fuel crisis. 

Secondly, others in the discussion suggested that Jemar’s point is more to do with intellectual curiosity than asking questions. It is impossible to have intellectual curiosity without some form of questioning but it is very much possible to ask questions without intellectual curiosity.  Now, it is worth saying that if you ask questions that lack curiosity then that will be a problem in academic/intellectual type contexts. Indeed, I would argue that the best academic tutors are good at helping people learn how to ask good, curious questions.  Sadly, I’ve seen a lot of literature coming out of academic type contexts that doesn’t seem good at encouraging questioning. Indeed, there seems to be a particular academic culture that doesn’t welcome, challenge or questioning if those questions are focused on the claims of specific writers and speakers.

However, intellectual curiosity isn’t the only reason for asking questions.  I ask “what are we having for dinner tonight” not out of intellectual curiosity but out of practical curiosity.  I need to know what to get out of the freezer. There are lots of intellectually curious questions that someone may want to ask about food in other contexts of course. 

It’s worth saying at this point that intellectual curiosity and indeed curiosity itself is a specific character temperament.  Not everyone has it. In fact, the majority of people I have met from all cultures don’t tend to have that type of approach to life.  That’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Well, in fact it would be a bad thing if nobody had the curiosity that asked big questions and delved into analysis.  It would also be a bad thing if everyone was asking it.  Circumstances can also temper intellectual curiosity. This means that both those who are content and comfortable and those who are struggling to survive might have less intellectual curiosity – it is a particular type of luxury.

So, whilst I know a lot of people who don’t ask intellectual questions or struggle with a certain kind of doubt, I also know people asking plenty of questions about whether certain things work, how to apply truth, how to face this or that crisis, how to handle emotions etc.

My final question for now is “How helpful is the generalism here?” You see, generalisms do have their place but they can be unhelpful as well as helpful.  We need to be careful too that we have got the generalism right.  Several people responded to the original poster to tell their own stories of questioning and curiosity.  The response from others was to argue that this was a generalise and exceptions don’t disprove the rule. One person wrote:

That’s a fascinating choice of example because the sky in fact is not blue!  Indeed, if I were to tell you that it is grey this morning (genuinely the case), then my exception would tell me something very important. It would introduce the possibility that when we say that the sky is blue, what we are really describing is how we perceive it due to a whole host of other factors.  My observation about its apparent greyness today pushes us to ask questions about why we perceive it that way. The generalism in fact tells us more about the person making it than about the people or object they are observing. That is of course the issue with stereotypes -especially when they encourage prejudice.

I’m sure that very subtly Jemar was encouraging us to ask those very questions.

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