Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s just ignorance. Sometimes, and about some things, a person can be safely ignorant. This year, I didn’t know who won the Super Bowl until several days after it was played. My ignorance about that didn’t hurt me, as far as I know, but it didn’t help me either.
Sometimes, however, ignorance hurts. If you are ignorant of your departure gate number, that’s going to hurt. If you are working on a renovation project and are ignorant of local zoning regulations and building codes, you are likely going to feel some pain.
We received our credit card statement in the mail this week, and my wife dutifully went over it. Almost the first item on the list was a toll road charge of over $90, which she brought to my attention. I called the phone number next to the charge and spent the next 20 minutes waiting for someone to pick up.
When my call was finally taken, I was expecting the proverbial runaround. Instead, I received polite and helpful assistance. I told the customer service representative that I was questioning an EZ Pass toll amount on my credit card, which seemed to be a gross overcharge. He quickly said, “That happens sometimes.” He then looked at his records, informed me the charge was based on a five-axle vehicle, and said that my credit card would be reimbursed more than $85.
The next day, I received a check in the mail from a medical provider. The attached letter explained that an internal audit revealed I had been overcharged almost $70 for anesthesia during a recent surgical procedure.
In both cases, I was for a time ignorant that I had been overcharged. Was ignorance bliss? No, it was just ignorance.
About some things I am satisfied to remain ignorant. There are things I don’t need to know, like the score of the Super Bowl or the World Cup finals, and things I don’t want to know, like what the Kardashians are up to this week. About other things, like overcharges on my credit card, I prefer not to remain ignorant.
Dallas Willard once called willing ignorance “a game of irresponsibility … a way of saying, ‘I’m not responsible.’” Willard pointed out that we never say “I’m agnostic” when something really matters to us. We don’t say, “I’m agnostic,” and leave it at that when we’re in the airport and our flight is leaving in thirty minutes and we don’t know our departure gate.
When we talk about being agnostic, we are usually talking about a lack of knowledge regarding God’s existence, but this is unnecessarily narrow. We can be agnostic or ignorant (the Latin form of the word) about many things. For example, we can be agnostic about the health of our soul or, if one prefers, our inner life.
This is not a case when ignorance is bliss. We do not do better, our situations do not improve, because we ignore the fact that life isn’t working. This is not an ignorance based on the unavailability of knowledge but on a fear of it. We are afraid that what we learn might require us to change when we don’t want to or when we are incapable of it.
I do not believe that agnosticism of God’s existence is based on the unavailability of knowledge either, though the attempt within some streams of academia to define knowledge so narrowly that it excludes everything that cannot be proven by the scientific method has left some people stranded in doubt. This intentional exclusion of most forms of knowledge is a dangerous innovation, contrary to the understanding of humanity’s greatest thinkers throughout most of history. It also undermines the way we live every day. I know I love my wife, and she knows it too, but neither of us can prove it using the scientific method.
I do agree, however, that no amount of knowledge, however one chooses to define it, will ever suffice to convince anyone that God exists who is not seeking to know the truth. God promises to be found by those who seek him, not by those who don’t care to look.
First published by Gatehouse Media, Inc.