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Ignorance is Bliss?

By Slow Break ~ 

The process of de-converting from Christianity can be very difficult, at least has been for me. I will never go back, but at times the constant disconnect with family and friends wears on the soul.

Ignorance is blissImage by Rajesh Vijayarajan Photography via Flickr
One of my favorite movie moments comes from a marginally successful Nicholas Cage film called Eight Millimeter. (I recommend it. It’s disturbing like Seven was disturbing and even though it revolves around the world of pornography it is not a skin flick) In the movie, Cage is a private detective hired by a widow to look into the origins of a 8mm film reel found in her husband’s safe after his death. The film is pornographic and includes a grisly depiction of a girl being killed. We learn that these videos are called “snuff” films. Along the way Cage meets Joaquin Phoenix who plays an intelligent kid who happens to work at an adult book store and spends his days reading texts books disguised as pornography. Cage enlists Phoenix’s help in getting access to the seedy world of underground porn in Los Angelis. The duo is about to enter a “black market” for porn when Phoenix looks at Cage and says “are you sure you want to go in there”. Cage looks perplexed and says “of course” to which Phoenix responds “it’s just that, (dramatic pause) there are certain things you can’t un-see. Some things get into your head and they stick”.

There are certain things you can’t un-see.

I’ve often said that whoever first said “ignorance is bliss” was a sage of great wisdom. I’ve come back to this thinking several times in my life. What is better, an informed, educated life that spends its days wrestling with the all the contradictions in the world, or an ignorant life, satisfied with the simple surface realities perceived by the casual observer? In this case I use ignorant in its dictionary meaning not in the pejorative.

Sometimes, I think the later.

It is the sausage argument. Sausage taste good, but few really want to see how it’s made.

There are certain things you can’t un-see. Some things get into your head and they stick. My favorite professor in college, L. Spencer Spaulding (you always say his full name as a show of respect), often said that he viewed learning as “becoming ignorant on a higher level” because with every step you take toward being educated you realize how much more you don’t know.

I picked up a book the other day about a topic of great interest to me but one that is controversial to many readers. I read the first few pages and stopped. I’m not sure I want to read the other 500 pages. I think my life might be more comfortable if I remain ignorant of the facts in the book. That way I don’t have to argue with friends and loved ones who disagree. I won’t have to wrestle with the implications the facts might have for how I want my children educated. I may remain ignorant, but I will likely have more bliss. Maybe I’m a sellout, but it’s an exchange I might be willing to make.

Who is to say that people who live and die in the Matrix are worse off than Neo who has his ignorance removed? If you lived a rich, full, and rewarding life but found out at the end that it was all in your mind and your actual body was a in a goo filled pod producing electricity for machines, would that make a difference? I sometimes I think that living in The Matrix wouldn’t be so bad if I could have the life I wanted.

I love to learn. This hasn’t always been so and I often feel like I’m playing catch-up because of the time I wasted in my early twenties. I love to be challenged by a new concept. I love to pick up a book by Stephen Hawking for the challenge of seeing if I can understand it. (I can’t) I like browsing the bookstore and finding a book about an obscure topic. In the past six months I’ve read books on the follow topics, secret societies, Ghengis Khan, management theory, economics, human resource management, Enron, eternal security, biblical authority, biblical textual criticism, reading body language, Power and Influence, the merger of RJR Nabisco, Harry Potter, etc, etc, etc. I love adding information to my mental filing cabinet. How much smarter it makes me is debatable.

What I do not always like, what I sometimes wish I could un-see, is the impact that information has on my worldview. If I had never read a book that wasn’t bought at the Christian bookstore would my life be more blissful? I could find comfort is excoriating liberal minded intellectuals. I could win every argument by appealing to authority, never considering that others may not grant my sources the same authority. I would make those around me happier. My pastor’s wife would never ask me if I was trying to punish God with my doubt. I would never feel bad for holding views that are in direct conflict with people I love.

In 8mm, Cage finds that the snuff film is indeed real, meets the dead girl’s mother, and eventually catches and then executes her killer. When he returns to his comfortable mid-west home complete with picket fence, he walks upstairs to his infant daughter’s room and looks at her sleeping peacefully in her crib. His wife comes in at which point Cage breaks down in her arms and sobs “Help me”.

In the end, ignorance is not bliss. The unexamined life really isn’t worth leading. I am reading the next 500 pages of the book and I will likely read more. Like many things in life, ignorance is only bliss on the surface. At its core, ignorance is the face of slavery, the holocaust, the crusades, and fundamentalism. Like Alice and Neo, I don’t think there is any going back. The rabbit hole only goes one direction and Phoenix was right, there are certain things you can’t un-see.