“Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” “Ignorance is no defense of the law.” If we look at the weight of teachings, regardless of their sources, we will find that the strong weight of what we read will encourage us to seek truth and eschew ignorance. Admittedly, much of this information might be said to be biased. The desire to present oneself to be an authority in any subject depends on making and defending truth claims, and the claim to be telling the truth about any subject is making a claim to be an authority in that the ability to tell the truth about something is precisely what it means to be an authority or to speak authoritatively. That is to say, this bias is not merely a bias for one field over another, but is a bias in a desire to possess authority, a desire that appears to be nearly universal.
Even so, despite the fact that the entire weight of authority seeks to defend and encourage the search for truth, we live in an age of widespread willful ignorance. It is not merely that we live in an age of widespread ignorance. Such a state is common enough. Indeed, we lampoon and pillory certain ages of humanity for being particularly full of darkness where the majority of people were not literate and where sources of religious or intellectual knowledge were limited to multilingual elites and prestige languages that were not accessible to the commonfolk. Such ignorance, though, was not willful. It was not the fault of the peddler or the ploughman that they lacked the knowledge that was limited to those who understood Latin or Greek. No such excuse exists in our times. Those who want to become learned have every means of doing so, so long as they have the desire and the curiosity.
If we seek to be ignorant, there must be a reason for it. One of the common elements that I hear in stories told by friends of mine when it comes to their efforts to convince others of religious truth is that there is a widespread tendency on the part of people who are listening to the truth to try to hold back and persist in ignorance so as to avoid having to make a decision. This is by no means a new problem. Ancient Israel hung back at Mount Sinai, wishing to preserve distance between themselves and God by having Moses as a middleman. Agrippa deflected Paul’s desire to convince him to become a Christian. And it is no different for many people who think that if they hold back before they know enough that they do not have to make the difficult choices to follow God and abandon what is familiar and comfortable. But to know enough to need to hold back is to know enough to be held accountable.
It is not only in religious truth where we find this to be the case. In nearly every aspect of contemporary life, we find a striking incuriosity among most people. From what we put into our bodies, to what we put into our minds, to what laws and regulations are made, there is a lot that we could know about these things, but to know is to feel responsible for doing something about it. It is easier to remain ignorant than it is to ponder how it is that our world is as screwed up as it is, and to wonder who is to blame for it, and what can be done to counteract it. Knowledge carries with it some sort of responsibility to act on it. It is deeply uncomfortable to know but not to act on it, it creates within us a lot of tension and frustration that is hard to deal with. It is easier sometimes not to know, even if we know enough that our ignorance is in fact willful in nature, because we deliberately avoid knowing what we vaguely suspect and wish not to deal with.
I learned when taking the Myers-Briggs personality profile that 12 of the 16 main types do not tend to question what they are told. The four that do comprise, in total, about ten percent of the population. This is part of the problem. Most people are comfortable with what they already know, read, or are told and simply shut out what is vaguely unsettling to them.
Indeed, as someone who does question what is told, albeit I hope in not an unfriendly fashion, I find this rather troubling.