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Our Collective Ignorance

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At Powerline John Hinderacker collects tales of ignorance – NPR does not know the most basic tenant of Christianity (Jesus rose from the dead); Jon Meacham writing in the New York Times Book Review mixes up who did what to whom in the Trojan Wars; and the pope’s apparent misunderstanding of hell.

For the record, I am not sure the later is an example of ignorance.  “Annihilationism” is a legit school of Protestant theological thought that denies there is a hell claiming that death, as opposed to eternal life with God in Heaven, is sufficient punishment.  It is based on the idea that because “God is Love,” such love would preclude the kinds of torture we see in Dante, et. al.  It is distinctly possible the pope is familiar with this work and finds it appealing – even if heretical if one measures heresy by the norms of Catholic doctrine – or more traditional Protestant norms for that matter.

But regardless, Hinderacker’s point:

Our common culture, the foundation of Western civilization, is under attack. Those who should be defending it in most cases are not. But more fatal in the long run is that our inheritance of millennia, Western culture, is being forgotten, lost in a rising tide of ignorance.

is worth noting.  However it should be remembered that we cannot completely separate our civilization and our culture – they are deeply related.

But I truly wonder if ignorance is really deeper or more widespread than it used to be or simply more public.  The one thing the internet has accomplished very well is giving a loud public voice to anyone.  There is now a way for ignorance once relegated to a bar stool in the wee hours to be broadcast to the world.  When you combine that with an educational environment that avoids telling students they are ignorant because to do so might damage their precious “self-esteem,” we find ourselves in a situation where the gates are not just open, but broken off their hinges.  And the result, because of sheer mass, is ignorance flowing into knowledge rather than the reverse.

I think ignorance is massive and always has been.  There is no real growth in ignorance, but there is institutional failure and breakdown.   Our institutions embrace the ignorance precisely because of its immensity – it is a much bigger marketplace than the learned.  But in so doing those institutions fail at that which they were created to accomplish.  They were created to guard and spread knowledge, but it seems they have spread it so thinly that it cannot be guarded.  Some people simply are incapable of holding it.  And thus we encounter one of those places where original sin should enter the discussion.


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