1/21/2011 | Share this article:By Carl S ~
Most ignorance is willful. Some months ago, the Freethought Today newspaper published an interview with a former Onion periodical editor, in which he described true believers as being "incapable of learning." The sociologist/author Eric Hoffer wrote in his book, "The True Believer," that, "One is astounded at how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible."
My wife is a wonderful, caring person, and is totally indifferent to my statements of the harmful effects of religion. Her usual response involves the words, "Not in my church." This is even though her church includes all of them as of the same faith, in silent and tacit agreement with the most extreme of others of that faith. But she refuses to consider this. And there's a whole pattern of denials supporting the system, which amounts to ignorance is bliss, and the belief that this is harmless. But, is it really?
Let's think about it. Are individuals or organizations which refuse to learn actually "incapable of learning?"
There is now over 150 years of evidence to support the fact of evolution, and, in truth, evolution IS what's happening right now, and has been since life began. And yet we have creationists. To learn, one must be open and willing to learn. But what are the first and foremost lessons learned by believers, if not those of trusting the teachers and obeying them without question? One is instructed not to trust differing or opposing viewpoints, and to avoid even being exposed to them, if at all possible. This is the very opposite of becoming "informed." You might ask yourself how in the hell are you going to LEARN anything by that method? When one is given only one side of a story, there is no way to single out what is true from what is false, or perhaps more importantly, what is moral and what is not. There is simply unquestioning loyalty to self-declared authority. What one "learns" is NOT to learn.
Let's look at some examples of willful not learning. There is now over 150 years of evidence to support the fact of evolution, and, in truth, evolution IS what's happening right now, and has been since life began. And yet we have creationists. Homosexuality is as natural as different human personalities. Still, you'll find those who say it's "unnatural." You can probably think of many more examples.
Is the opposition to learning harmless? I know men who raise their children to read, write, hunt, fish, that genocide is acceptable (remember the great flood?), and that others deserve to be shunned and tortured because their opinions are different from dad's. These children are “taught” that the lesson of °the Fall” is, if you don't obey some "divine" will, you will be punished; and not only you, but the ones you love. (Interesting isn't it, that this is exactly how cults control their members?) Is such “teaching” harmless to gays, nonbelievers, church/state separation, and human political dialogue in general? And what about clear thinking? One might argue that believers do not belong on juries since they are, by culture of faith, already opposed to evidential consideration. Willful ignorance has no place in a courtroom.
Now, what has been gained through disobedience to this "will of God" as taught in the bible? We have ended slavery and achieved civil rights, gay rights, anesthesiology, vaccines, freedom of scientific research in general, and much, much more. (The tale of the Tower of Babel makes me laugh. We have breached Space, the abode of the gods!) And, all we have achieved was by learning, and by accepting, not denying, the results of that learning.
When I first came across those words, "incapable of learning," I kept re-reading them, for they impressed me as not just a statement, but a curse. What a terrible thing, to be incapable of learning! In shunning true learning, religions remain harmful and destructive, obstructing moral, social, and scientific progress. For, if what one learns is to simply obey the authorities of the past, then one is bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. One has not learned as long as any evidence to the contrary is ignored, and such a habit makes one incapable of truly learning.