Ignorance isn’t bliss.
When people use the phrase “ignorance is bliss” there’s an implication that life is simpler or better when we don’t know everything, but the truth is ignorance isn’t bliss. Instead ignorance allows us to justify our prejudice and convince us we are not complicit in the injustice happening around us. Many of us lived under the fiction that we lived in a post-racial society until events last year showed us how far we had to go. Even those of us who knew there were problems were awakened to the reality the situation was worse than we understood. The Black Lives Matter movement did more than open our eyes to what was happening to Black people. It made us examine our prejudice and hatred that had systemically bled into so many different aspects of our lives. Other people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, non-cisgender persons are finally being heard…by some. While many of us are undergoing a spiritual awakening to how deep these problems are part of society, there are those who deny what is staring them in the face. They are ignorant to the world around them, but that ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s dangerous.
The movement against critical race theory is an example of that ignorance.
Critical race theory is the study of the intersection between law and race and while theorists don’t always share the same beliefs about the origins or dynamics of race and society, they basically believe that “racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing and often subtle social and institutional dynamics rather than explicit and intentional prejudices on the part of individuals.” In other words, solving the dilemma of racism isn’t as simple as telling racist people to stop being racist, but racism is ingrained in our society in multi-faceted ways that don’t have an easy solution. Critical race theory is an attempt to delve deeper into these problems and come up with ways to eradicate racism in our society and while it applies to issues of race, these same principles can relate to tons of other issues we are grappling with as well – gender identity, sexual orientation, religious freedom, etc. Yet those who argue against critical race theory claim it is divisive, that it is teaching our children to “hate themselves” (by the way that only refers to white children). Commentator Megyn Kelly even equated the teaching of critical race theory to child abuse. Six states (all Republican led) have passed legislation banning or curtailing the teaching of anything to do with systemic racism. Other states like Florida, Georgia, and Utah have banned CRT-related discussions. And a newly proposed law in Pennsylvania would ban DISCUSSING ANY racist or sexist concept in public schools. What happened to living in the land of the free and the home of the brave? That doesn’t sound either free or brave to me. When did it become against the law to even TALK about racism or sexism in America? Is this coming from the same people who claim to be victims of “cancel culture?”
Here’s the thing: How can we SOLVE the problem when we can’t even ACKNOWLEDGE the problem?
To say there isn’t racism in America is like saying there isn’t fire in a burning building. The death of George Floyd and the response it created in America is only one of many examples of racism rearing its ugly head. The recent attacks against elderly Asians right here in the Bay is another. There have been hate crimes against people of color since the end of the Civil War and it hasn’t ended. If we can’t even recognize the problems that are staring us in the face, how can we end them? We need to stop being ignorant. Willful ignorance is complicity. No matter how uncomfortable of a truth it may be to face, we need to own up to the problems and concentrate on fixing it. Perhaps we should listen to the words of Solomon who wrote this introduction to the book of Proverbs.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—
6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (from Proverbs 1:1-7)
Solomon is big on wisdom.
Some say he was the wisest man in the Bible and certainly God gifted him with it. But listen to these words and really hear what he is saying. “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Solomon wrote these verses to give us wisdom, instruction, and understanding; to help us in doing what is right; to help guide our children; to add to our learning and to help in discernment; to better understand proverbs and parables we may not otherwise understand. But he warns “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” When I read this, I feel like Solomon is warning us about the dangers of ignorance. He’s challenging us to always seek out wisdom, to discern the truth for ourselves, and to not be satisfied with what we know. Wisdom helps us to be fair and just, to be prudent, to be discerning, and understanding. But when we reject the wisdom and instruction of others, we show ourselves to be foolish – sometimes with harmful consequences.
Ignorance is one of our greatest enemies.
Ignorance is one of our greatest enemies. We are so quick to accept what we want to believe instead of searching for what is true. We should never be satisfied with what we know. We should always strive to increase our knowledge. By doing so, we draw closer to God because we have a deeper understanding of the world in which we live and which God created. We find out new things all the time. Just think of the volumes of ideas in your lifetime alone which have changed. Think of the number of things that were said to be impossible but now are commonplace. And when you think of those things, imagine how much we didn’t yet know. When we are challenged with new thoughts and new ideas, it isn’t enough to say “that’s how it’s always been.” For one, it’s probably not true. For another, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Remember our talk the first month I was here? The seven last words of a church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.” We’ve never done it that way before. Before we dismiss something out of hand, we should spend time searching ourselves first to see if our own prejudices and preconceptions are hindering our ability to see things correctly. And then we should pray.
Because the other part of Solomon’s advice has to do with God.
The fear of God is the BEGINNING of wisdom. In this case, “fear” means “reverence.” It doesn’t mean we should be afraid of God. This is the kind of true awe that you might have standing in the presence of someone great. Imagine meeting someone who is the very best in their field, someone you admire. If it was basketball, that might be LeBron James; or music, it might be Beyonce; or cello, Yo-Yo Ma. For me, it might be someone like Paul McCartney. Being able to talk to someone with that level of brilliance in their field would be jaw-dropping. So now multiply that feeling by a thousand and that is the kind of awe you might have standing in the presence of God. That’s what Solomon means when he writes the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” When we realize God is the creator of all things, it changes our perception. It changes how we look at things. And it opens up our eyes to the truth God is constantly trying to reveal to us. But it all starts with God.
Now I know not everyone reading this will believe in God.
Or maybe if you’re reading this you have doubts about God or about your faith in him. That’s okay. That obviously doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does believing in God automatically open your eyes to your own ignorance. There are millions of people out in the world who call themselves Christians who fail to see God in the proper light. As Isaiah said (Isaiah 29:13), “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” But I’ll tell you this. Take the God challenge. If you are having doubts or you don’t believe, but you’re willing to take the chance, put God first. Start trying to look at life as if God WERE in charge, as if there was something greater than ourselves who loves not only you but everyone in the entire world. Think about Jesus as being a person so filled with love for you that he gave his life for you and see if that doesn’t open your world to new ways of thinking. And if you do call yourselves a believer, then spend time in prayer and ask God to show you the parts of yourself that need work, because we all have them.
All of these thoughts came about because of a story I remembered the other day.
At one of the churches I served, an elderly gentleman and I were talking about the Bible and he told me he was too old to learn anything new from it. I was disappointed he ever thought that. This was a man who was truly in tune with God in so many ways. He was wise and he was generous. Perhaps he didn’t mean it the way it came out because he certainly had a Godly spirit, but I hope none of us ever thinks the journey of knowledge is over for whatever reason. We will not be able to solve the problems that are plaguing our society, our church, and ourselves unless we are willing to face them. It’s not about casting blame. As Sean Connery’s character said in the film Rising Sun, “Fix the problem, not the blame.” It’s simply that if we fail to recognize there is a problem we can’t begin to work toward a solution. The insurrection on January 6th DID happen. There IS racism in America. The church IS shrinking in both influence and size. And we as individuals still have things to work on – no matter our age. Challenge yourself everyday. Work to make yourself a better person. And never for a second believe God is done with you in any way. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.