Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ignorance as Idol

I always find it interesting, if not slightly amusing, when the people who most consider themselves to be open-minded choose to remain ignorant in certain strains of life. Often, the more they feed themselves information based on their presuppositions, the more open minded they believe they are becoming. Yet they often do not have any tangible learning, exposure to or experience in the things that go against their presuppositions. To avoid the discomfort that going against un-checked presuppositions instills, they often stay on their “open-minded” side of the tracks, discounting--without a reasoned consideration--what lies on the other side.

Take, for example, one of the most contentious topics: Darwin’s theory of evolution. I was "taught" it. You were probably "taught" it too. But have I ever read his On the Origin of Species? Have you? Yet many people, myself included at one time, without equivocation stand on evolution, not having ever read Darwin's book or other books by scientists offering additional or opposing views. I’m not going to get into a debate on evolution. I chose that topic because it is such a beautiful and clear illustration of how we idolize, at times, our own ignorance.

Open-minded people usually claim their minds are open to all ideas, perspectives, philosophies and ways of life. But what this open-mindedness often amounts to is a veiled closed-mindedness. I once asked a friend, a person I know very well and have a relationship with, if I, a born again Christian, would be welcome at his “open to all” Unitarian church. To his credit, he answered honestly, “No, you would not.” Yet he is the most “open-minded” person I know, in the “not-checking-your presuppositions-at-the-door” sort of way.

Yet I understand it, because for many years I walked in pride of my open-mindedness, while in actuality my mind was closed tight around me: my ideas, my experience, my high regard for myself and my posing as an expert on that which I knew nothing about. In utter and complete ignorance, my faith was in, and my worldview emanated from, me. I determined everything!

The other arena in which ignorance is common but which those who operate in it would vehemently deny it is politics. People will profess with their mouths that they love everyone, yet spend much of their time and energy on Facebook and at the water cooler character-assassinating either Obama or Romney or “all liberals” or “all conservatives.” They have never met Obama or Romney: never sat down with either of their wives or mothers or children and never gotten to know these fellows who are exposing themselves to excruciating examination and expected to be perfect. Many voters don’t take the time to look up the political record and accomplishments of the candidates or to research their positive accomplishments. It’s easy to lambast what we remain ignorant about and, from a distance, to treat people as inanimate objects.

Another area where ignorance reigns as idol is gossip. Like cancer does gossip flow, person-to-person, cutting off oxygen to truth and understanding only to feed a sinister delight for the death and destruction of another’s character. We feed ignorance with our insatiable appetite to possess and disseminate information, even if it’s not-quite-right. 

So we see that ignorance is certainly not bliss (another presupposition we can throw out the window). Rather, ignorance is that inexplicable discomfort we feel when we think we’re right but not wholly sure, but go forward in certain uncertainty because pride demands it. We attempt to boost the self-esteem that other’s presuppositions have told us we need by demanding our right to be right, albeit mis or uninformed. In other instances, ignorance is bred by our thirst for having an enemy. We love to be the knight in shining armor against something.  And if we can’t find anything real to be ignorantly against, we just go along believing that what we’ve been told is our enemy, is our enemy.

Television talk show host Dick Cavett said, 

“It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn’t want to hear.”

I would add that it is a rare person who wants to hear what he thinks he doesn’t want to hear. The idol of ignorance is fed by unchecked presuppositions. Checking presuppositions means checking what we think we think first, and then checking what it is we want to think, and why. Only then can we begin to figure out and take thoughtful steps towards what it is we really think. Real understanding (note I didn’t say agreement) begins where presuppositions end. We may not agree, but then again, we may agree, and surprise ourselves at that!

“The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” Proverbs 15:14

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 18: 2

“He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26

“…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6

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