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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Holiness and Adventure

Neophilia, the desire to experience new things or the love of novelty, is an interesting trait we find concentrated in progressives, youths, and those we might stereotype as “hipster.” Bringing the new into one’s life should have clear and obvious benefits.

There is, of course, personal fulfillment to be found in novelty. When we are constantly experiencing something new and fresh, probability is on our side: we are more likely to find something that fits our personalitysomething that truly brings us joy. This can happen in college majors, career choices, or hobbies, in TV shows, restaurants, or even making friends.

Another clear advantage is growth. If we are introducing ourselves to the new, the new can’t surprise us—and it is less likely to hurt us. If we long for novelty, we will more readily experience the world and grow from that knowledge. The benefits of neophilia are so evident that I considered writing this entire post on fostering it. Yet, there is another trait that I think would be worthwhile to pull into our conversation—the biblical concept of holiness.

Holiness, it must be explained, is not simply a descriptor for righteousness, for something that is good. Rather, holiness, sacredness, and sanctity are biblical concepts rooted in being different. Holiness, to borrow the Sunday-school definition, is to be set apart.

The concept of holiness is most fully developed in the ancient book of Leviticus. Verse after verse in Leviticus charges the Israelites to be a holy and ritually clean people for their god dwells among them. Their perfect and cosmically different God is in their midst. In this way, holiness becomes to the Israelites, according to Rudolf Otto, a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Holiness is a mystery, both drawing them in for it allows an intimate audience with the divine and simultaneously terrifying them in the presence of complete otherworldliness.

These traits, for the holy and the neophile, are not inherently opposed, but they can often collide. The problem generally manifests when we view novel things as mature or as if when we try new things we are “growing up.” When this is true, we are, in essence, choosing maturity at the expense of holiness. (To give yourself an example, think of any time when you adopted a habit that you previously knew as profane but willed yourself into it, anyway.)

But maturity has never been the aim. There are pieces of religion that have a byproduct of adulthood, but the goal has always been the creation of a holy people. That aim was set outright when St. John bid us, “Come!” and he invited us into that Holy City to live with our Holy God. 

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Little Rock, AR

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