The epistemologies of intrigue and belief are starkly opposed to one another, even when they appear similar and, in some cases, nearly identical. Intrigue involves fascination, an almost-sensuous thrill when one considers the object or the Other. But this fascination is distant — it prevents the object/Other from laying any kind of claim upon the fascinated person. The thrill of the intrigue, the admiration, is enough; one cannot, or does not, go beyond that thrill. Indeed, the longer one persists in fascination, the more one becomes convinced that the fascination is a kind of devotion, a commitment to the object/Other.

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John 3.1-2: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Nicodemus is seen here as an admirer, a fascinated person. He recognizes the divine mission of Jesus, sees the miracles performed by God the Son. The anticipation he experiences upon witnessing these miracles leads him to definite conclusions about the carpenter from Nazareth. “We know. There is no doubt that you have come from Above, and I am fascinated by that fact; I greatly admire you for it, and I will even show you with the praise of my words — no one could do what you do unless God is with him.”

-///-

Fascination grows with knowledge. The more one learns about the object/Other of admiration, the starker that admiration grows, until it reaches, in some cases, a nearly feverish pitch. The desires of a person are stirred up within, thoughts of deep affection cloud the mind and block out other considerations, and the admirer grows in his fascination until, by sheer emotional display, he proclaims himself the most devoted to the object/Other. And those around him without knowledge of the distinction between intrigue and belief agree — that man, he is the most devoted, and he is the one we should strive to be like: for see how fascinated he is!

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John 3.3: Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus knows what is in man, so He cuts through Nicodemus’ admiration and exposes the necessity of the new birth, the first sign of which is not admiration, fascination, intrigue — but belief. Faith is the lynchpin upon which hangs all the thoughts and actions of the new creation, formed and sustained by God. For belief, true belief, does what fascination cannot, what it does not — it reposes its confidence upon the object/Other in the same moment that it recognizes the claim that the Other has upon it — indeed, this reposing of confidence is surrendering to that claim.

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How is it that fascination creates distance between the admirer and the object/Other? When I am fascinated with something, with someone, I must step back to engage in admiration. I must disengage from any form of solicitude, from relating with intentionality towards whatever is at hand. If I display my fascination while relating to the object/Other, there will be in inevitable reaction, and that reaction demands a response, which in turn will provoke another reaction, etc. But when I create distance, I can stand afar off and look on without needing to bother with such exchanges. This is also how I manage to persuade myself that my devotion for the object/Other is real, for I experience it, actually experience it, even if it is never directed towards that which I so greatly admire. But how can one be devoted to something or someone unless this devotion is actually displayed?

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“Passion and reflection,” says Kierkegaard, “are generally exclusive of one another.” And what is intrigue but a kind of reflection — since reflection is self-referential and cyclical, never expressed outwardly towards that upon which I reflect. Thus reflection produces a kind of objectivity, whereby all are made into objects, even the Other — for there is no real, subjective engagement between me and the Other when all I do is admire with a loving but distant gaze.

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And what is faith but passion? For passion is always projected out from the soul; it must find a home elsewhere or it dies, it must hit its mark or it evaporates. When I truly believe in something, or someone, I will repose upon that object/Other, and state with the same certainty as Nicodemus: “I know.” But I will be more certain than he, for I have tested the theory, so to speak, tested it through actually following my devotion to the point of crisis, to the point of surrendering to the Other’s claim. Thus will I dwell in true solicitude with the Other, and thus will I gain true knowledge, beyond the theoretical, for my admiration will be embedded in my experience of surrender.

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