Neophobes, Neophiles and Neophiliacs: Meeting God in the Midst of the Mundane

I was reading an article recently that was discussing the difference between a neophobe, a neophile and a neophiliac. It was related to the Apple announcement about the “new” iPad 3. In comparing the iPad 2 to the iPad 3, the differences seem to be:

  • Mostly about processing power and internet speeds. The screen also offers a better view of applications gaming.
  • The iPad 3 looks quite similar to last years iPad 2.
  • Its actually a bit thicker and heavier.
  • Price: between $499 - $600.

Nevertheless, it was reported that some people “camped out” to be first in line to purchase the new device. Now, why would you stand in line – outside - in the winter - ALL NIGHT – just to get one of the first ones?

Psychology researchers have shown that each of us has our own level of craving for new things. They call this “novelty-seeking,” or, to use the “newer,” sexier alternative, neophilia.”

The lure of the new applies to consumers with a particular personality style. I read an article by journalist and “cultural critic,” Winifred Gallagher who was commenting on the research done by Dr. Robert Cloninger and other personality researchers. She mentioned that people could be classified as:

  • Neophobes – People who don’t like anything new.
  • Neophiles – People who “kind of“ like new stuff.
  • Neophiliacs – People at the extreme who not only have to have the new stuff but HAVE TO HAVE IT NOW.

Is this good or bad? Well according to some research:

  • People with HIGH degrees of novelty-seeking are drawn to new situations, experiences, and, of course, possessions.
  • They tend to make impulsive decisions, be disorganized, and are highly oriented toward seeking and getting rewards.
  • Some research also shows that more extreme novelty-seeking can be associated to addictive disorders, including substance abuse.

“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery”

Is this novelty seeking possibly a new form of slavery?

On the other hand, during his research, Dr. Cloninger also identified other types of people who seemed to be generally happy and satisfied with their lives and the amount of “their stuff.” What was the secret to their happy temperament and character? A trio of traits emerged. Such people scored high in:

  • Novelty-seeking. They’re generally interested in what is going on around them in the world and what is new.
  • Persistence. Another word could be “discipline.” If they wanted something new, they exhibited a high degree of discipline applied to achieve the latest device, experience, etc….
  • “Self-Transcendence.” These people seemed to understanding themselves as part of a bigger picture - that they were figures in a larger process or part of a bigger life project.

To quote from St. Paul in the Scriptures, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified.” We don’t profess something uplifting and exciting but something mundane and demeaning.

Are these “happier people” on to something? Discipline is not exciting. Admitting that you are only a small part of something MUCH bigger is not exciting. “Measured” sober interest in the latest and greatest is not exciting. Is it possible that happiness and joy is NOT in the excitement, but perhaps meeting God in the midst of the mundane?”

After Benedict XVI was elected Pope, Catholic author George Weigel was asked, “Why kind of Pope will Benedict be? What will be his program?” Weigel answered, “Well look at the name he took…. Benedict. What was St. Benedict known for? Order, education and hospitality”

  • For over 1500 years, what have the Benedictines invited into their houses? Mostly people. Retreatants, travelers, spiritual seekers, aspirants to the religious life. Its all about the Benedictine charism of hospitality.
  • For over 1500 years, what have the Benedictines left outside their doors? Practically everything. Not a lot of “stuff” in there. Their monasteries are clean, orderly, uncluttered, simple but also warm and inviting.

Who or what are we “inviting in” into our lives?

Who or what are we “throwing out” from our lives?

I read a recent scriptural commentary. Before the Exodus age, the Hebrews had been living in the midst of a pagan culture. They were slaves, for YEARS! Once on their own, they didn’t know exactly what to do, what not to do and how to act as “God’s People.” They needed guidelines; they needed the Covenant and the Decalogue.

The author said that before that, during the age of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph) they did not have the 10 Commandments. Yet they knew what to do and what not to do. It was mostly common sense, part of their nomadic lifestyle (You don’t keep a lot of “stuff” if you have to carry it yourself in your back pack over a few hundred miles) and woven into the fabric of their belief system.

Today, we’re people of the “new covenant.” What do we need or no longer need? Who or what are we “inviting in” into our lives? Who or what are we “leaving out” (or throwing out) from our lives?

I close with two questions related to the Scripture readings from the 3rd Week of Lent:

  • What does it take for you to cleanse your “temple?”
  • How do you know that - what you’re doing in this case - is right?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sam says:

    I think I am a combination of all three of these categories, neophobes, neophiles and neophiliacs, it depends on the situation I’m in, the subject at hand and the people that are affected by the outcome. Maybe if St. Benedict was chosen for the name of this new regional school we wouldn’t be having so many problems—- Order, Education and Hospitality. It certainly makes more sense than the name that was chosen.
    I remember a few years back the Catholic grade school teachers tried to join a union. They were told they could not because each parish school came under the direction of each individual pastor, unlike the high schools which are under the Archdiocese. So why can’t Fr. Devlin keep his school open since his parishioners now are so willing to step up and take control and start supporting financially their beloved school? I read in NewWOrks on line that the “Save St. Bridget School” people feel that since our Superintended of Catholic Schools is stepping down, they have a good chance to save their school. My thoughts? I feel like the Hebrews in the midst of a pagan culture.
    Who and what are we willing to throw out of our lives? Great Question. Let them keep their school open and let us keep Holy Child the way it is, a wonderful gift from God. You asked, “how do you know what you’re doing is right?” How do you know Father what you are doing is right?

    1. Fr. Charles Zlock says:


      You offer interesting insights and thoughts. Let me offer some comments

      The Name “St. Blaise” was chosen after surveying ALL of the students from both St. Bridget and Holy Family as well as their respective parents/guardians. We asked for possible names AND a rationale concerning the name. We received a significant number of nominations (close to 20) which the Implementation Committee whittled down to 9. These were, once again, submitted to the school communities which picked St.Blaisé hoping that a “New Fire of the Holy Spirit would come down and inflame the hearts of everyone in the new school.” Now, you said, “It certainly makes more sense than the name that was chosen.” Nevertheless, as you can see, a significant amount of time, thought, discussion, work and discernment went in the selection of that name. The entire school community was engaged and involved. Sensitivity and being fair to both school communities was a paramount concern to the Implementation Committee. All of this and that was concerning THE SCHOOL NAME! Hopefully you see that the name was chosen with great care, perhaps, more than you are giving the Committee and people of the school communities credit for. Similar discussions and work has been placed in every aspect of the establishment of the new school.

      In terms of your concern on why St. Bridget school could not remain open, I would recommend personally taking that up with Fr. Devlin. I will say that a significant aspect was that their school faced the same down-ward demographic trends as elsewhere in the Archdiocese causing a substantial, and untenable, financial strain on the financial viability of the parish. This was acknowledged by parishioners of St. Bridget at a meeting that I attended with them with The Office of Catholic Education. THEY admitted that the situation was unsustainable and that a merger was necessary so that quality “Catholic Education” would be available in the East Falls/Manayunk/Roxborough area.

      Personally, my parish Finance Councils also see, and have expressed their concern about, the reality of the current situation concerning Catholic education in our area. Passing on the faith to adults, young adults as well as our children is one aspect of our parish mission. Catholic schools are an instrument that helps us do that. Unfortunately the reality is that 75% of our registered parishioners do not worship with us on weekends nor do they contribute to the parish mission of spreading the Gospel in our area. AS expenses of the school continue to climb, parishes simply do not have the same financial resources - that they used to have - to underwrite the schools to a significant degree over the long run without placing the parish in financial risk.

      1. Sam says:

        Thank you Father for your gracious response, I suppose on some issues we can agree to disagree. I admire you for letting people voice their opinions and I enjoy reading your blog. I will pray even harder during this Holy Week to try and understand some of these changes that are going on and the reasons behind them. God bless you.
        ps is it true that when you use all capital letters you are yelling in your email?

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