Intentional Ignorance

August 2005


Unquestioning belief is a close cousin to ignorance. It is dangerous and it is a sad, sad shame.

Every once in a while, I meet someone who makes me despair for the future of human kind. Usually this reaction is prompted by someone acting intentionally more stupid than they are.

Ok, so I sit next to someone on the bus who is reading a tiny copy of the New Testament. Nothing wrong with that. I'd heard an interview with Jane Fonda on the BBC, wherein she talked about reading the gospel of St. Thomas. I looked it up and thought it was interesting. So, here, next to me on the bus, is someone who obviously has some interest in Christianity, so, innocently, I ask, "Have you ever read the gospel of St. Thomas?"

"Who?" she inquired.

"St. Thomas, one of the disciples," I replied.

"If it's not in the Bible," she replied curtly, "I'm not interested."

"But," I protested, "he was a disciple of Christ and present, according to the Bible, at events like the Assumption. Aren't you the least bit interested in what he had to say?"

"God put into the Bible all I need to read," she concluded.

"OK," said I, "what if this gospel was in some jar in the Middle East and God saw fit to have us find it last Tuesday, would it be any less worthy of our reading it, than if it was discovered 1700 years ago?"

"All I know is that if God wanted it in the Bible, it would be in the Bible."

Not wishing to beat a dead horse, I let this person be and she returned to finish Mark without further interruption. As she put her bookmark in ahead of Luke, I asked her, "What about the Apocrypha? These were books in the Bible for 1300 years, until Martin Luther and his friends decided they were too Jewish."

"If God put it in the Bible, then I will read it. If it isn't in the Bible, then God doesn't want me to read it." Sounds a lot to me like the far sighted philosophy that got the library at Alexandria burned to the ground.

"Why do you think God's stopped writing the Bible?" I asked.

"I don't know what God does, I just know what's in my Bible," she replied.

"You agree, I'm sure, that the Bible is the revealed Word of God," I began. She nodded. "What makes you think that only that which is in the Bible is the revealed Word of God -- surely God can speak to us in other ways?"

"God speaks to us in the Bible and that is enough. If it isn't in the Bible, it isn't from God. If it is in the Bible, then it is from God."

My family, like many others has been reading the newest Harry Potter book, and sitting there on that bus, next to this poor woman, I had a deep desire to be able to do magic. I wanted so much to put ee cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay into her Bible. I wanted to sandwich a little James Thurber and Oscar Wilde right in between Philippians and Colossians. Emmanuel Kant chatting with Solomon. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine appended to Acts. And just for spice, a little DH Lawrence after Peter and before John, and TS Elliott following the Psalms, and King Lear added amongst the Proverbs.

What an awakening for this poor soul. To widen her horizon to encompass the entire vista of human experience and potential. I wonder what would happen. She'd probably turn Muslim. Wonder what I should put between Thunder and Abraham? Maybe just a little Orwell and Germain Greer.

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