Tuesday, September 13, 2005

When Curiosity Becomes Sin

A few years ago I heard a devotional speaker mention a person on a "reality-based” TV show, whom he compared to the Apostle Paul—because Paul, you see, was also a “survivor.” He then asked if we had seen the photographs of this person posing nearly naked for a magazine. “No!” I loudly—and maybe rudely—exclaimed. I had heard much about “Survivor,” but never watched it. Although I was a bit curious about this very popular program, this curiosity was vain. However “interesting,” the show might be, it was tasteless and pointless—a waste of time. I read a few articles about it (there is that column on culture to write), but avoided visual images.

I read that another such television program, “Temptation Island,” put attractive men and women on a romantic island in situations where each one’s current “relationship” (none are married) is challenged by the shameless seduction of members of the other sex. Scripture tells us to flee temptation, but even our curiosity concerning what these pathetic souls may do on camera should be mortified. Even though we may never expose ourselves to such foolish enticements, the very act of watching the temptation of others is debasing. The Psalmist said, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3).

Yet far too many Christians know too much about worldly things and too little about matters pertaining to eternity. Although Paul admonishes us to reflect on what is objectively good and true (Philippians 4:8), many Christians drink in huge amounts of popular culture because they think they must satisfy their curiosity. But curiosity in a sinful world may be sinful. There are many things we should not see or hear, read or think about. In exhorting Christians “to live as children of light,” Paul says that “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12). By walking in the light, our lives expose darkness by way of comparison. When he writes of “exposing” the “deeds of darkness” (v. 11), Paul does not mean seeking these things out—or televising them! The NIV Study Bible note reads: “Christians should not dwell on the evils that their lives are exposing in others.” But this is exactly what our culture does. It exposes everything indiscriminately for the sake of satisfying sinful curiosity.

The media coverage of the 1999 Columbine massacre—which occurred in my hometown of Littleton, Colorado—also catered to sinful curiosity. Painful scenes of hysterical and grieving teens and parents were televised repeatedly and recklessly. News helicopters buzzed the scene and inhibited the rescue. Worse yet, a scene of a blood-soaked boy falling out of a window into the arms of policemen was aired over and over. No one asked that young man or his family or his friends if they wanted this scene televised to appease the curiosity of a television- and violence-addicted culture. Although my wife and I desired to know what had happened at Columbine, we quickly stopped watching television coverage and instead focused on praying and coming to terms with the tragedy. The curiosity to see such evil was itself a lesser evil we needed to resist. The media never even tried to resist the temptation. They would have photographed the dead bodies if the police had not barricaded the area.

Sometimes a graphic image will teach an important lesson, such as the prize-winning photograph of the burned and naked young Vietnamese girl running from the bombing of her village. But this rarity hardly justifies all that we are exposed to in the name of being “informed.”

In his autobiography, The Confessions, Saint Augustine warned of “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16, KJV), which he understood to involve sinful curiosity. His autobiography, unlike so many today, never panders to curiosity. It is a sober reflection on his life. When he recounts his sinful past before conversion, he does so to confess it before God, and also to teach his reader how to avoid sin and follow Jesus Christ.

The old phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat,” carries a current lesson. Curiosity can hurt us, too, polluting our souls and interrupting our fellowship with One who is, above all, holy. “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).


Susan said...

I would want to offer that perhaps it is not curiosity that becomes a sin but rather the sin is the unwillingn ess to discern what is best left a curiosity.

Andrew said...

I think I understand your arguments, but could you say more about what makes this particular photograph a "graphic image [that teaches] an important lesson" instead of one that is unjustified and a curiosity? At what point is there a shift between satisfying curiosity and teaching a lesson?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Dr. Groothuis,

Great point.

This reminds me of "Schindler's List". It has been quite some time since I viewed it.

A great story and powerful images. The nudity of the Jews in one scene, while distressing, graphically and powerfully portrays the deep and degrading humiliation they went through (this reminds me also of "Amistad").

However an element put in "Schindler's List" was morally degrading, I think both for the picture itself as well as for the viewers.

I wonder what kind of impact this has on viewers. Probably depends on where they are moving spiritually. For me, overall, it seemed to resonate with God's metanarrative in Christ, being a small yet having the true ring with that. While still eschewing the unnecessary corruption added to the film.

Ted M. Gossard said...

in a hurry, but i think you get the gist of what i was saying at the end.

John Schroeder said...

Well Said! I have added some thughts here.

FX Turk said...

I can't believe your bad mood is only 10 years long.

Unknown said...

thank you. i have been debating whether curiosity can be a sin. this helped me see that it obviously can be. again, thank you. God Bless!