Searchers vs. Explorers

Poor Searching Souls

Images are important.  We often use images to think about others, to understand them and to interact with them.  But images can be wrong.

Some Christians, when imagining themselves to be generous, have an image of Atheists as “searchers”.   They envision us as fumbling in the dark until we discover their brand of Truth.  Or perhaps they use the image of the proverbial blind men who can only barely perceive the elephant [God].  Thus they see their role as being there to gently fill in our lack of vision.  These Christians get their “seeker” image from one of their favorite Bible verses where Jesus says:

‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; Search, and you will find; Knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
— Luke 11: 9-10 (NRSV)

Blind Unbelievers Searching for God

You see, using this image of us as searching for the truth,  Christians can then feel they are part of God’s mission to help us — they are there to offer our blind eyes a glimpse of Jesus.  To them, it is much more generous to see us as blind seekers rather than to just envision us as doomed blasphemous unbelievers.  For if we are “seekers” or “searchers”, we are not yet full blown dangerous hell-fated heretics.   To rid themselves of that image, they are compelled to sanitize us with the “Seeker Image”.  For if they didn’t, they would have to contend with this haunting Bible verse that commands them to shun us:

Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.
— 2 John 1:9-11 (NRSV)

Thus if they are truly Bible-loving Christians and they want to keep relating with us unbelievers, they must first sanitize us.  They sanitize us by imaging us poor atheists as still “searching”.   They then think of themselves as being in relationship to us so as to gently guide us toward the light — toward truth.   Or perhaps to just be kind to us while God works with us.  Either way, once they have sanitized us as being a “searcher” instead of just a pure outright blasphemer, they feel safe to continue relating to us.  These images help ease their cognitive dissonance.

This sanitization is further needed because of another conscience-haunting Bible verse:

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?
— 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NRSV)

So,  2 John tells them to shun guests or strangers who don’t believe, while 2 Corinthians tells them to not even partner up with deniers of Christ.

So, how can a Bible-loving Christian deal with us hell-bound unbelievers?  They must do something to cure their cognitive dissonance.  Well, one method is to use the imagery in the Luke verse above (also in Matthew 7:7).  They can use Luke and Matthew to help see us as seekers who may someday find Jesus.  Doing this, they sanitize us and then can sweep those other nasty verses under their spiritual carpet and alleviate their mental distress.

But don’t let them sanitize you !   Get the image of a “searcher” out of their heads.  Tell them you are an explorer !

Images are important.  Don’t indulge them by letting them envision you as a blind seeker.   This blind seeker image is fed by this story of Jesus healing a blind man just like you.

He [the former blind man] answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’
— John 9:11 (NRSV)

I am an Explorer !

Instead of letting Christians sanitize you and thus letting them easing their consciences, keep that cognitive dissonance burning in their minds.  Tell them you are not a seeker.  Tell them you don’t need Jesus to rub mud in your eyes.  Tell them you are not searching for either Jesus or God.  Tell them you are not searching for the final truth of the universe so as to comfort your soul.

Let Christians know you are not burdened with spiritual confusion nor seeking the one answer.  You are not a seeker.  Instead, tell them you are an EXPLORER !  Instead of buying into their view that there is some final goal in life, tell them that “The path IS the goal”.   You may appear as a seeker to them because you keep looking into all the various religious thoughts out there.  But let them know you do it more as an anthropologist,  a sociologist, ra psychologist,  a scientist, an artist or a musician — not as a seeker.  Give them the image of yourself as an excited explorer.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

39 responses to “Searchers vs. Explorers

  1. anon

    read in context i think the 2 john passage is more directed against gnostic versions of christianity and the teachers who spread it rather than all who dont beleive….

  2. @ anon (real handles would be nice)

    I would imagine the human writers would have particular folks in mind when they write — we all do.

    But, whether he was thinking about gnostic heretics or worse heretics like me (who have heard the good news and teach otherwise) does it really matter? For the writer tells you how to deal with people with whom he disagrees?

    Now, maybe we should remember that this is a letter written to a certain group, facing a certain problem and the writer did not have a chance to fill in all the details. Little did the writer know that believers 2,000 years later would read his words and take them all literally and apply the across the board. But for the large part, that is what the average believer is taught.

  3. societyvs

    I also tend to see those verses by Paul and the author of 2 John as saying something just a tad different than you have it saying – maybe more based on the historical context of their times.

    II Corinthians, if I am not mistaken, is about marriage to an un-believer…in this case a Roman or someone following that system of belief. Which I don’t believe would be comparable to democratic nations but more like dictorial nations.

    One needs to remember in the time of Paul’s writing the Christians would not partake in the Emperor cult or other such deities…which was quite the mainstay in Roman communities. Now although Paul believed there was ‘no God but One’ – he knew very well these people needed to keep some of this kind of the low down…not following the Emperor cult could get you in some serious trouble (and why risk it?).

    As for atheists today – well having a friendship with them does not quite endanger to me to anything per se.

    As for 2 John it is likely as anon said it. By the time of 2 John Christianity is fighting (and in-fighting at that) for it’s identity and credibility. Some people, like the Marcion’s out there, had come along and denied wholesale options (like the OT or Jesus was not a human) as part of their faith. That author had seen this was not true to the history of the faith and needed to be avoided. It’s harsh – but it was a harsh time of introspection for the faith and determination of the ‘look’ of this faith.

    Some of that is relevant today (IMO) as I also search through the miles of church history placed atop the gospel stories and letters. However, since Christianity does have a place in society (or societies) and a unique look already – there is no need for such demands.

    However, I can still see some use to that with more vulnerable people in those faiths. Wouldn’t want them getting sucked into ideas like that of a Fred Phelp for example.

  4. @ Society
    We can go into the exegesis issues and their implications later.

    Meanwhile, to the main point of the post, do you see the difference between seeing someone as a seeker vs. an explorer?

    Do Atheist readers hear Christians appeasing the interfaith tension by labeling Atheists as seekers?

  5. Ian

    I like the explorer metaphor. But I’m not totally unhappy with seeker either. A seeker after the truth seems like a pretty noble thing to be.

    Of course seeker-seekers don’t react well when you tell them you’ve already checked out their particular brand of truth and found it lacking!

    One interesting trend for churches has been to put on more ‘seeker-friendly’ content. Content that is designed not to alienate people who genuinely are interested. That is a neat idea, I think. One I’d support. I wonder what the atheistic version of seeker-friendly would be?

    Incidentally, I disagree somewhat with societyvs and anon on your use of those quotes. I think they can be used to reinforce your point. Whether they are occasional commandments or not, they illustrate that segregation was a valid tool for their writers.

  6. Luke 11 doesn’t seem to be about “seekers” in the sense you are using the term, e.g. unbelievers. It seems to be about the prayers of believers. Again, 2 John doesn’t seem to be about unbelievers in general, but rather so-called “false teachers.” I’m not saying that believers don’t use these verses in the manner you think, in order to justify labeling all unbelievers as “seekers”, I’m just saying these verses don’t really have anything to do with the issue. John 9 is more on point, albeit metaphorically. In what way is 2 Corinthians 6:14 “conscience-haunting”? I’m not seeing how these verses support your argument that believers (Christians specifically, right?) have a cognitive dissonance they are compelled to resolve, especially for believers of the stereotypical conservative evangelical Christian variety.

    You may be right in saying that some believers sugar-coat the harsh realities of the eternal damnation of unbelievers in an attempt to soothe their own consciences, but that’s probably a small percentage. “Seeker” is generally used as an attempt to avoid being offensive. If so, exchanging “seeker” for “explorer” really won’t get you anywhere since the believer actually does think you’re going to Hell, she’s just trying to be “polite”.

    You won’t have this problem with a Calvinist.

  7. @ Laughing Boy
    You made me laugh in your last paragraph. Indeed, getting them to change from Seeker to Explorer would be a joke if inside they are saying, “Whatever, hell-bound blasphemer. I was just trying to be polite.”

    Maybe it is an image that is good for Atheists who just left their faith — maybe it would be a healthier image.

    Yeah, I wonder who was the intended audience of Luke 11. I is often used as directed toward non-believers. Funny thing, that — the meaning of the writer(s) [and redactors] vs the various ways it is used.

    Thanx for your point LB.

    @ Ian — yes, I agree. Thanks.

  8. well don’t atheists sanitize believers? they are just superstitious, in need of comfort, incapable of being rational. i see you doing it in this comment “We can go into the exegesis issues and their implications later.”

    this made me laugh out loud! decry conservative Christians and yet use their biblical interp. methods. c’mon man, exegete that shit!

    that being said, i’ll look into what you were meaning to get at… whether “seeker” is sanitary. it only is if you let it be. this comes from my proud stance as a heretic (one who can choose).

    i’ve been labeled “seeker” more times than i care to imagine. while i initially took it as a pejorative term, i embrace it now. even when someone states “well, when you know Jesus like i know Jesus, you’ll stop seeking.” i then respond “then there would be no ‘personal relationship,’ i’d just have yours.” and i really really enjoy this image to convey my image of a seeker.

    my personal relationship with Jesus demands i keep seeking a better way. one that gets everyone involved in building a better community, a better nation, a better world. i’ll keep seeking until that happens.

  9. Sabio, you’ve always reminded me a bit of Dora the Explorer. 🙂

  10. So how is a Christian “sanitizing” you different than you “generously translating” them?

  11. Steve Wiggins

    I think the problem may be that many religious believers do not critically examine their religion and therefore assume it is right by default. All others, therefore, by definition, are seeking the truth they already know.

  12. Shawn Wamsley


    It turns out that I am doomed to be in trouble with you. I was about to say (halfway through your post) that I thought “seeker” was a term that atheists would use to refer to themselves (perhaps as Ian means it). Additionally, I have often thought of “seekers” as existing within and outside of religious circles. For instance, I see you as a co-seeker of truth. Would I be wrong? I don’t mean to say that I disagree with your ultimate assessment of some Christians that you refer to as believing that they have already found the “truth” and are on a mission to let everyone in on the secret. Though, I would personally only confess that I have found some of the Truth. To say that I have the truth, would seem to indicate that I am some how in control of what Truth is. Consequently, I can honestly say that I have never felt the need to “sanitize” anyone. Just some random thoughts on the topic.

  13. anon

    “whether he was thinking about gnostic heretics or worse heretics like me (who have heard the good news and teach otherwise) does it really matter?”

    Depends on your perspective.

  14. Sabio, in my journey, what you write resonates with me. At one time I would say I had arrived in a place in which I had constructed in my mind, much built by a christian theological framework. Some can live there quite content, it gives them a sense of security and comfort. For me I became closed in by it. The abundant life that was supposed to be there, I could not find. I stretched it till it broke…so I can’t deny, that I have lived there. I do no longer. The Jesus story, his life does shape my living. It is a story that constantly pulls me beyond. For me when lived it is constant mystery, of far more questions…than answers. I would call myself an unsanitized explorer. I think maybe Jesus was an unsanitized explorer of life, in the deepest sense.

  15. @ Luke

    well don’t atheists sanitize believers?

    Well, remember, to me (an atheist) believers aren’t going to hell. Believers aren’t missing something huge in their lives. Believers aren’t dirty ! Believers don’t deserve shunning as demanded in the NT or need killing, as the OT commands. So they don’t need sanitizing. That is how I was illustrating this and choosing the word.
    My philosophy does not demand that I shun you and make my children not marry your types.

    BUT, I agree with you point that it is wrong for atheists to dismiss believers as “just superstitious, in need of comfort, incapable of being rational”. I think it is correct to decide that any given decision may have irrational elements but to judge the whole person as such (which many angry atheists do) is indeed wrong. For we are all irrational, superstitious and needing of comfort.

    Luke — did you forget to put the link to the image?
    I like your idea of embracing the image of seeker, that is one way to take the power away from pejorative terms.

    Good question. I guess the 1st paragraph in my reply to Luke above would be part of that answer. Second, in my little essay on “generous translations” I emphasize that the translation should be something the other person should also be able to agree on. They may demand that they meant even more than the translation, but they would agree with the translation. Hope that makes sense.

    @ Steve
    Agreed, but the believers commenting here do critically examine their religion. Indeed many Atheist do not critical examine many of their presuppositions in other realms too. We all let stuff slide in our lives.

    @ Ron
    Thanks for the images and for stopping by.

  16. bataille9

    Great post! Obviously, I appreciate this one.

    Also, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich is another good example of such an image.

  17. @ bat — thank you ! excellent, I included it.

  18. @ Shawn

    I see you as a co-seeker of truth. Would I be wrong?

    The question comes packed, unfortunately. When I am treating my patients, I seek the best treatment. Well, I doubt this is not what you mean by the abstract idea of “seeker of truth”. But of course, in this way, I am a “seeker of truth”. So I don’t want to get into word play. But the assumption of many religious ways of thinking are that knowing and believing the right propositions guarantees one a better afterlife — this I feel is unrepairably mistaken.
    Or that life has one purpose and it must be sought — I think this is mistaken. Or that each of us has a special role determined for us — I think this is mistaken. I am not sure how you are using “seeker of truth”.
    I can keep it simple for you. I love to discover how thinks work. I enjoy making my life more pleasant. I enjoy the path, the journey. I am not really seeking anything in life, I am exploring the things in front of me. Hope that helps.

    Shawn, as a believer, I hope you see how my post illustrates how some believers take their scripture to mean that non-believers are not only going to hell but should be shun. To get around this and keep talking to them or visiting their houses or letting their kids play, they sanitize the dirty-little-pagan by reclassify them as seekers. I am protesting this sanitization. Many of the believers commenting here do not do this. But pointing it out how loaded the “seeker” image is to believers who do it, can be useful, I think.

  19. Shawn Wamsley


    I don’t want to get into wordplay either. However, when I conceptualize the idea of someone “seeking truth,” it encompasses many of the things you mentioned. So, for me, yes, I mean to say that I think you are seeking out the truth of things.

    However – let me cut to the chase – so to speak.

    You are correct; there are some believers that do this. Nevertheless, I am not convinced that it is a by-product of “believing.” I have had a number of believers “sanitize” me as another believer that does not see things as they do. So, yes, you’re correct in observing the outcome and the situational cause as you have experienced. I just have questions about whether this is the behavior of believers or if it is just the behavior of humans.

  20. Sabio,

    good points. i believe every group has a “hidden transcript” in dealing with outsiders. Believers, because they are in the majority have no use for hiding all the transcripts all that well and just thinly vale it with “i’ll pray for you” and crap like that. Hidden Transcripts is a book by James C. Scott talking about how various groups, specifically in colonial and racially charged settings, have certain ways of talking. great book.

    and the image i love and some how screwed up the posting is The Wander Above the Mists hopefully that works.

    it helps that i am all about apokatastasis and really don’t think you need to convert or believe or anything. your view enhances and informs mine. esp when we disagree… even when we don’t. happy to have ya!

  21. Luke

    The “seeker” thing always irratated me as well. I also hate when they say I have “wandered” from the faith, like I’m a little child lost in a grocery store. The implication is that my choices are haphazard and unconscious, and I just need a resposible adult (Christian) to “show me the way.” It’s extraordinarily condescending, but to believers all people are children.

  22. @Shawn:
    I totally agree that this is a behavior of humans and not limited to theist believers. I am glad you see what I am speaking of. However, many believer do participate in something that sets their bad habit apart from other run-of-the-mill human foibles, and that is the “cloak of sanctification“. That is, they close dialogue possibility by screaming “sacred, holy, stay away !” and they use words and classifications that tap into the taboo part of the brain. This, IMHO, is a very destructive move and dangerous. Thus, in though I want to agree with you, when believers declare that others should be shun and then add, “Because God said so”, we have an extra layer of hatred! Does that make sense?

    @ Luke 1 :
    (1) This “hidden transcript” you spoke of, I called “goyology” in a very early post. Scott’s Book looks interesting. Thanx — I will try to look at it.

    (2) Bat, an atheist (see my Friend tab), a few comments before you recommended the exact same image — why is that not surprizing !!

    (3) For readers, “apokatastasis” is “universalism” minus pseudo Greek sanctification ;-), correct? Which means we all get saved — no worry of hell. Yes, I think we have learned that about each other.

    @ Luke 2
    (1) May I suggest you guys make your handles a little more unique to avoid this confusion. Thanx.
    (2) I can’t agree with you more. Thank you.

  23. Shawn Wamsley


    “However, many believer do participate in something that sets their bad habit apart from other run-of-the-mill human foibles, and that is the “cloak of sanctification“.”

    I do agree with you. You have accurately identified an obnoxious Christian behavior. I just want to be clear on the fact that we can identify the same kinds of behavior in other groups.

    I guess my concern is that you would use such an observation about obnoxious Christians as a way to disprove religious experience generally or Christianity specifically (if that isn’t your attempt, then I apologize, but I hope it is obvious why I would draw this conclusion about your posts).

    As a human foible, I have often been fascinated and horrified in equal measures by this kind of behavior. I cannot figure out why it is so important that we divide the relationships we experience into “us” and “them.” So, I definitely find this conversation important and interesting. I am just perplexed as to how it “proves” that Christianity is wrong, yet again.

    And, just for the record, I do think you are right about the behavior. It is destructive.

  24. I realize this thread is a touch stale at this point, but it did remind me of a website/blog I came across a few months ago. There was a poll on the side asking “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” or some such thing. What floored me though were the possible answers you could choose from.

    Just three, if I remember correctly:

    – I have found Jesus and he is my savior.

    – I go to church but I just don’t feel I am doing right by the Lord

    – I still have questions

    (1 and 2 might now be exaggerations due to poor memory, but I’m sure of the 3rd.)

    It struck me as so dangerous because of the choices. Even if respondents answered as accurately as they could, the information would only fit with the prearranged conclusions.

    I really like the phrase “cognitive dissonance” and keep seeing it blossoming in so many places, so many faces…

    The sanitation engineers of the church do have this dangerous mindset though. It’s not just destructive but addictive. Heck, this now even reminds me of the ‘viral memetic infection’ discussed in a TED talk a while back.

    No cure but education… oh wait, that breeds a whole other set of issues (homeschooling)…

  25. @ Andrew
    Well said !

  26. Earnest

    …even staler when I finally got here!

    @ Laughing Boy:

    Hey, how about this. Christians realize heretics like Sabio are going to Hell, but “as you do to the least you do unto me” (probably misquoted). So Christians need to be kind to all, even the most damnable and dangerous. Maybe the kindness is a sort of hospice care for the dying in faith. They have lost all hope in your salvation, but out of kindness they will do their part to make your life easier rather than continue to fight.

    When I wrote that I initially used “we” instead of “they”, but it creeped me out how it sounded. I guess I’m less of a Christian than I thought I was!

  27. @ Earnest
    It is creepy either way — because it is obviously sickly and perversely wrong. But that is just the opinion of the damned.

    But keeping to the Post, Earnest, as you exit Christianity do you view yourself as a seeker or an explorer?
    (Note to readers: Earnest is a personal friend)

  28. Earnest

    @ Sabio

    I see myself as an explorer and/or a seeker. It seems to take more effort to learn these days, but I must move forward.

    I think the “seeker” word has a taint for some who write here because of prior run-ins with those that are tactless and less than open-minded. I think of it as almost an honorific.

    If “seeking” means trying to find something that makes more sense to me than the morals of Joshua then call me a seeker!

  29. I did read this back in the day! I believe I was Luke2, but could have been either one.. Actually the term is “seekers” in the Evangelical lingo (aka Christianese). And I would much rather be a seeker or explorer than one whose mind is already made up! I would much rather have my eyes opened than to think that my perspective on things is 20/20. I know this because 1. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer 2. A few commands about staying humble both in the bible and by respected secular philosophers as well and most of all 3. and 3. due to science.

  30. Hi, you know me as Sam Carleton from the Naked Pastor blog. I am wondering two things:

    You said: “But let them know you do it more as an anthropologist, a sociologist, ra psychologist, a scientist, an artist or a musician — not as a seeker.”

    What is your opinion on what make the anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist, and scientist explore their fields of focus? Do you think they do it just to walk down that path or could they, maybe, be ‘seeking’ something, maybe to better society in some way.

    Same is asked of an artist/musician, might they be seeking to make a statement about something, seeking to bring something into this world that wasn’t there before?

    As I think about this, we could ask a blogger, what makes them tic? Might it be that they are seeking to get their views out into the world?

    The other question is based on your statement “The path IS the goal”. I take that to mean the path you create as you explorer. What happens when you Are tired, worn out, burned out on exploring? You are no longer paving your path, thus you are no longer fulling your goal. Where do you get your fulfillment then?

  31. @ Sam:
    It is very bad style to use different names across blogs– what is the deal? And your handle here is awkwardly unmanageable so I will simply call you Sam Carleton — I suggest switching to that handle.

  32. @ Sam,
    We won’t get far if you ask baiting question.

    What do YOU think makes scientists explore their fields? People are complicated dude. I know people in medicine that do it for all types of reasons. And the reasons people state are not really the reason that causes it. We deceive ourselves. Our choices are multi-factoral and we are blind to most of the factors. To understand that, you have to read a lot more cognitive science. What I said is common sense in the field of cognitive science.

    Ah concerning blogging, check out my post here. Reasons Sabio Blogs

    Now with that info, your first question should be answered.

    If you are deluded to think that your primary motivation in all things is to please Jesus /God, that is great. Am I close?

  33. @ Sam,
    As for your second question, Sam.
    When I am tired, worn out, burned out on exploring I change paths — unless it puts at risk my livelihood, the happiness or well-being of others. It is a difficult choice at times. That is the burden of being human.

    As for blogging, if I get burned out, I may stop or take a break. Here I change topic I write on. I get burned out talking to Christians at times and I switch to Buddhism or Hinduism. I get burned out of religion talk or talking to atheists and I switch to Poetry or some Linguistics or science stuff.

    But I am sure you want to ask something else. Because you want the conversation to get us to a point where you can witness to us that:
    With Jesus as your path, there is never boredom or burn out. God is the only true lasting path.


  34. Sabio, on the question of motivation:

    I think EXACTLY what I stated, I think what motivates EVERYONE is to better something. They want to better themselves, something in this world, or both.

    Yea, folks will ie to themselves and say they want to better the world when they really want to better themselves, be richer, more famous, etc, but I think it is always to better something. Why else do it?

    P.S. In the other blog you asked me to stop with the God talk, why do you continue with it?

  35. Sabio, the tired of exploring question:

    You did not land on my point, I didn’t have a point, fore I am not seeking anything, just exploring:) What I have learned is that the best way to make sure I understand someone is to restate what they said in my own words:

    So when you are tired, worn out, burned out on exploring, you go explore another path. So you are ALWAYS exploring, the only question is which path you are currently exploring. Is this correct?

  36. About this handle, Doug’s blog wasn’t hooked to Twitter so I used my real name, which you can find if you follow this to my twitter account. Please feel free to use Sam, I am cool with that.

  37. Sam,

    I am just living my life like the other godless people wandering blind without meaning. Oh poor us.

    Sorry, mate, you’ve tired me.

  38. Terry Kostiuk

    I have always been an explorer! Namaste

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