Atheist theologian Anthony Pinn describes the purpose of religious community as being a community that seeks “more” in its quest for what he calls “complex subjectivity.” In saying this, he’s referencing philosopher William James, and while I don’t want to get into the weeds and unpack the specifics of what Pinn (and James) are talking about (and why they use some big words to do it!), I do find this notion to be evocative of what we aim to do here in UU religious community, and provocative for what we’re exploring with this month’s theme of curiosity.
The complex subjectivity that Pinn writes about is what I think we Unitarian Universalists are after when we describe ourselves as seekers. For Unitarian Universalists, religious and spiritual truth is forever unfolding. Our sources point us not only toward sacred texts, but also insist that our faith claims be tested by reason and be in dialogue with how science helps us understand the world. As our hymn says, “we are seekers of truth.” For me, this seeking is not an idle seeking of facts for the sake of facts but is instead a seeking aimed at deeply engaging the question of what it means to be human. In other words, it is how we seek the complex subjectivity that Pinn describes.
I find these ideas provocative of this month’s theme because they invite us to see curiosity as a bedrock spiritual discipline if we’re to achieve the sort of “complex subjectivity” that I think Pinn is driving at. If complex subjectivity is what we’re after – the ability to live lives in which we are richly and fully ourselves, then curiosity is likely one of the most important disciplines we can engage because it propels us toward more. And, like all spiritual disciplines, what matters is that we approach it with intention and with attention.
To approach curiosity with intention means that we first need to get in touch with why we’re curious. Are we getting curious about each other for acquisitive or voyeuristic reasons? Or do our questions come from a place of genuine interest? Are we playing “devil’s advocate,” feigning interest and curiosity purely to score points in a conversation where we’ve already concluded the right answer? Or is our curiosity motivated by a deep desire to know another human being more fully? Can our curiosity be an expression of our faith seeking understanding through dialogue with others?
Similarly, approaching curiosity with attention means that we’re paying attention to the relationship in which we’re practicing curiosity. We’re staying close to our embodied awareness of self and other, and if we feel we’re entering potentially challenging terrain, we slow down, we check-in, we ask for consent, and proceed with increased care. When we approach curiosity with attention, we remember that our curiosity is not a weapon to wield but is instead a means by which we might together open our hearts and explore where and how we might become more fully who our hearts yearn to be.
May we move slowly. May we be mindful of ourselves. May our curiosity lead us toward more truth in the service of being more fully human.