Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Real Sins: 2. Ignorance

My second article in the series entitled "The Real Sins" is something on ignorance. The subject itself is much more profound and complex than one may think at first but I will try to make your experience of reading this a fruitful one. We all know what ignorance is because we are human and there are things we don't know, so how can you no longer be an ignorant? In my case, I first accepted my limits and then I started to expand those limits more and more, there is no shame in acknowledging you don't know something if what you do next is research the thing you didn't know about, evidently, without making an obsession out of it. Another important element is never, and I repeat, never believe things 'just because'. You all remember of learning of a time when some ignorant people believed the world was flat because, obviously, if it was round you would just fall off by walking too far, yes, some people did not know about gravity. This type of thinking was actually not that widespread, scientists, or more exactly, learned men, of the time knew Earth was round, and so were the other planets, but the vast majority of the people did not have this knowledge. Apparently this knowledge was of no use for them.

People sacrificed themselves for breaking veils of ignorance of various types, these veils are not given to us by God or some other higher power, we ourselves impose these boundaries, mostly because of fear and ignorance. Simply research the status of 'scientists' during the Middle Ages and what the Church thought about them. If you are (even slightly) a spiritual person, read the following.

"2. Rise, wake up and look to the sky with the Eyes of your heart, and if not all of you can do this, let there be as many of you who can.
3. For the wickedness of ignorance envelopes the entire Earth and corrupts the Soul, it chains it in the Body and so its rise to the Heavens of Salvation is not permitted." - Corpus Hermeticum
This is from a chapter/book entitled "The Greatest Harm for Man is Not Knowing God" from the Corpus Hermeticum by Hermes Trismegistus (I wrote a small article some time ago about this). It's important to point out the fact that not all can escape ignorance, sad but true, there are people condemned to stagnation or even destruction. This integrates perfectly to what we observe in our reality where some people are incredibly evil and take decisions contrary to logic and goodness (or what we understand through the concept of goodness). I digressed a little by entering a subject in itself too important to be discussed here.

In the Quran and the Bible ignorance is an important issue, even if the words are not the same as in the above fragment from Corpus Hermeticum, the idea is basically the same.

"(17) Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (18) They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. " 
- Ephesians 4:17-18 (New Testament)

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."
- James 1:5 (New Testament)

"/(61). It is those (illustrious ones) who hasten to do all kinds of virtuous deeds, and they are in a virtuous competition with one another in doing them. [62 ...] /(63). The fact is that the hearts of those unbelievers are utterly ignorant and heedless of all this, and apart from this, they have some evil deeds that they habitually commit (which prevent them from seeing and accepting the truth), /(64). Until the time when We seize (them) with the punishment – those of them who have been lost in the pursuit of pleasures. They will then begin to groan for help. /(65). “Stop groaning for help today; you are not to receive any help from Us! /(66). “You know that My Revelations used to be recited to you, but you used to turn on your heels in aversion,[...]"
- Surah 23, The Believers: 61-66

Obviously I didn't even scratch the surface of the concept of ignorance in the Abrahamic religions, at least a couple of hundred pages should be dedicated to this alone in order to comprehend the beauty, so we have to stop here and make a short comment of the three fragments presented above. Accepting God, is in itself a decision against ignorance, but this devotion must be sincere because you must also do it with your heart, not only with your mind, you must do it because you need to, because you know that whatever will be, you want to. Pay attention to verse 66 of Surah 23 and also pay attention to the world around you, soon you will observe that people consciously move away from God and truth.

Not all of my readers are religious or spiritual, I know that, some may see a contradiction in quoting from two holy books in an article attacking ignorance but the truth is that if you put some time into studying these wonderful texts, and if you have the heart to understand them, your mind will be opened.

Sadly, due to my limited knowledge of Oriental philosophy, mainly Hindu and Chinese I am forced to leave this chapter of our discussion for a later time. The following is a short discussion of ignorance as a philosophical and psychological concept.

"There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action"
- Goethe, from Proverbs in Prose, 1819


Ignorance is by definition the lack of knowledge and knowledge as we all know is ever increasing. Either we are talking about the incredible paradox of the 'richest' country on Earth having a shocking illiteracy rate (1) or about some Christians believing that Muslims are aggressive and suicidal, ignorance is maybe the most dangerous of our sins, being rooted in those people's reluctance to search for information and to form a sound (firm) knowledge base of their own.

The eugenic ideas so popular in the last years of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century are so naive that one is surprised that such stupidity can come out of people with a scientific education. Incomplete research led people to believe that two intelligent individuals will undoubtedly give birth to a child at least as intelligent (this lead to inbreeding in some wealthy families and soon to a massive degeneration of their genes). We now know that genes are much more complex and that these can actually change during our lifetime, either because of natural events  (1, 2) or more recently because or gene therapy. This ignorance led to hundreds of thousands of people being killed and sterilized in the name of a better human race (at origin, not a Nazi idea).

"The fundamental cause of trouble in the world is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubts."
- Bertrand Russell - Mortals and Others: 
American Essays 1931-1935, page 28


Simply put, the one who knows, knows he does not know and the one who does not know, knows he knows... maybe not that simple. Why are the intelligent full of doubts? Well, maybe because as you learn, more and more questions tend to come up, knowledge being like a tree that is perpetually branching out. In antiquity philosophers had an answer for everything, even now this attitude is mainly reserved for philosophers, the idea is that you may have an opinion, but you should always remain open to the possibility that your opinion is wrong because if you are not opened to this possibility you can call yourself stupid without too much difficulty. In science things are not that different (although stating a theory is much more difficult and less subjective), physics relies heavily on theories which have to be proved wrong or right. People can perceive Iran as a threat while in fact being just stupid. As a sidenote, I recommend reading Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche for his excellent, objective (maybe) opinions on the less impartial thoughts of philosophers, who in their search for truth don't know what truth is. I also wrote an article about truth here.
Formalized religion is the strongest where sin, slavery, tyranny and ignorance abound. Where men are free, enlightened and at work, they find all the gratification in their work that their souls demand—they cease to hunt outside themselves for something to give them rest. They are at peace with themselves, at peace with man and with God.
- Elbert Hubbard, 'Love, life and work'

What Hubbard says does not contradict what I said about religion in the first segment because one thing is to know religion with your heart and mind and another one is to know religion for the eyes of others. If you are free (and you are created to be free), enlightened (something desired also in the Bible and Quran) and at work (even Jesus and Muhammad at least started with some form of work), then you are at peace with yourself and with God, because then you do what is right to be done. These are nonetheless the opinions of one man and such a fragment can not encompass all his conception on ignorance and religion.

"There is no shame in not knowing. The problem arises when irrational thoughts and attendant behavior fill the vacuum left by ignorance."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson, 'The Sky is not the limit: 
Adventures of an urban astrophysicist'

I greatly admire Neil, the funny part is that he wants to be an example of the atheist, scientific modern man, without knowing that he is maybe closer to God than most priests. I like this quote because he makes a distinction between not knowing as being ignorant; and having irrational thoughts, something different than what ignorance is. In my opinion ignorance is also when one has irrational thoughts.

In conclusion I hope your journey of reading this article was at least as interesting as my work of writing it. If you have not read the first essay (about arrogance) in the series, pleas click here. So, we either understand through ignorance, not knowing God, not knowing 'things' or both, but in the end it's all about the same thing, people who do not open their minds and hearts to the beauty around them and to the truth (understood more as a state of mind and soul).

All the best to you and may God protect you. 

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

welcome, my dear! such a great article!