When I first started reading Christopher Hitchens, many people raised their eyebrows. I had recently become a Christian, and reading someone who wrote books like god Is Not Great and The Missionary Position, a polemic on Saint Theresa, was not always well received.
Reading six of his books and watching dozens of interviews, speeches, and debates, however, unfolded new ways of understanding faith. I wanted to know the holes of religion. I wanted to dismantle the system. I was like a curious child pushing the microwave door button just to see how that thing magically swung open.
And that’s the thing. It was curiosity.
Have you ever just wondered about random stuff? I mean it. What is the largest star in the universe? Whom did Karl Marx marry? Why is the word whom dying from modern English? It’s such a pretty word. It distinguishes subjects from objects, a very important nuance in our grammar.
The more meaningful stuff demands curiosity too. Why do democrats and republicans disagree so much? Is it better to be happy or high-achieving? Is social media actually ruining our lives, or is it a good and necessary thing in which we humans should participate?
Fathom is a place to discuss both of these, the menial and the meaningful. We hope it will pique your curiosity. We hope you’ll be interested in hearing that the word pique is not spelled p-e-a-k, like climbing an intellectual mountain, as I used to think, but is rather a seventeenth-century derivation from the French word piquer, meaning “to prick.” We hope you’ll also be interested in hearing about racism and ethics and theology.
Listening for Curiosity
A modern pope of curiosity, if I can call her that, is Krista Tippett. She hosts a podcast called On Being. She’s also a National Humanities Medal recipient, a Peabody Award–winning broadcaster, and a New York Times best-selling author, most recently writing Becoming Wise.
In a recent interview, she talked about her idea of generous listening. At times it’s difficult to listen to someone we disagree with, to hear something that’s hard to understand or confusing. It’s taxing for me to listen to someone drawl on about home equity or deductible income, but maybe that bespeaks my white privilege. It’s taxing to listen to people talk about white privilege, but maybe I should be more generous.
Tippett explained that in the unknown places there is the very marrow of life, and generous listening gets under the skin to the blood and bones. She said,
If we take on a hard issue, we’re used to debating or taking a stand. If that’s the only thing we know how to do, then we’re not creating spaces where we’re just getting curious about people who make us uncomfortable and things that scare us.
At Fathom, we want to listen. We want to listen to you who agrees, to you who disagrees, and to you who are “very different from us, who say things we don’t get and believe things we don’t understand,” because this is a trustworthy space “for us to get curious in an attempt to understand.” This is a place of conversation, of both listening and responding.
Tippett goes on to say we’ve come to think that the point of conversation is to reach an outcome. “We have to let that go because we don’t understand enough and we don’t have enough information, which we can only get by being in a relationship and having a real conversation with others.”
Passionate for Curiosity
In a podcast for On Being, author Elizabeth Gilbert talked about choosing curiosity over passion and fear as the road to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
I think if you don’t happen to have a passion that’s very clear, or if you have lost your passion, or if you’re in a change of life where your passions are shifting or you’re not certain, and somebody says, “Well, it’s easy to solve your life, just follow your passion,” I do think that they have harmed you because it just makes people feel more excluded, and more exiled, and sometimes like a failure.
When meeting someone new I always ask, “What do you love?” I’m looking for a reason they’re alive, perhaps because I’m looking for this same reason myself. Maybe when I ask this question all I’m really doing is looking in a mirror. But there is a healthy sense of passion, a reason to really examine what we believe and why we’re alive. We have to be fully alive, or as Hitchens used to say, “The unlived life is not worth examining.”
It takes a certain amount of passion, mixed with curiosity, in order to achieve something lasting, in order to make some mark on the world.
We want to be passionate at Fathom, passionate for curiosity, for wondering and exploring ideas and having something to say. There are a thousand things to be passionately curious about, and because we all have graduate degrees in theology—the queen of the sciences—we take a theological stance on things. But that’s not the only stance. Sometimes there’s an electrician’s stance on things, or maybe you’re a diver or a designer or a microbiologist. We want to hear these too.
Come swim with us.
If you’re someone who stays up way too late reading comment threads on Reddit, or you flip through the channels hoping to find something interesting, or you love a good documentary, come read with us. Learn with us. Ask questions and wonder why. And write us about what you’ve discovered.
If you haven’t read a book in a decade, or if you don’t have time to grab a coffee for a Sunday longform, called De Profundis, or if you think Christianity is for the intellectually inferior and socially awkward, linger with us a little longer. Read a drift or get swept in the currents.
We want to be a place where we can get lost in the cave together, but not forever. An open mind is the same as an open mouth—it’s meant to close on some things.
We want to ask questions and find answers. Though we may not find much—many questions don’t have answers—the swimming is as important as the finding.
 Those who know me know I mention Hitchens a lot, so here he is again.
 G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1936), chapter x.
Cover photo by 贝莉儿 NG.