When Ignorance Becomes Sin

Ignorance comes in all shapes and sizes.  In fact, if we accept the definition of ignorance as being uninformed, then we are all ignorant of some things, for the simple reason that we cannot know everything.  Indeed, there are some things in life of which we would be better off if we remained ignorant of them.  But in other cases, becoming enlightened, dispelling the darkness of ignorance only brings greater appreciation and joy.

The Bible has quite a bit to say about the topic of ignorance, and most of it is not good.  For example, sins may be committed in ignorance (Ezekiel 45.20), but when knowledge is made available, all are expected to turn away from their ignorant sins (Acts 17.30).  Even Paul noted that he had sinned in ignorance, blaspheming the name of Jesus and persecuting his followers (I Tim 1.13). 

The goal for any person who professes a life dedicated to Christianity should be to achieve a greater measure of perfection—completeness—each and every day.  Jesus expects his followers to grow in knowledge (Matt 11.29), and thereby grow in grace and usefulness (2 Peter 1.8; 3.18).  The ignorance that holds us back from growing and maturing and performing to the best of our abilities is to be laid aside as the burden that it is, and we are to reach ever farther, ever higher, to achieve more in God’s service. 

Personally, I take great pleasure in learning and growing in understanding.  I hate the ignorance that I have in the past displayed.  I am ashamed of some of the things that I used to hold as true, but which I can no longer accept, having come to a greater understanding.  Not that I have achieved all knowledge.  Far from it.  But the more I learn, the less sure I become of some of the things that I once thought as immutable as a mountain of granite.  But like the forces of wind and heat and water that can over time reduce a mountain to a plain of sand, understanding changes perspectives. 

The Greek philosopher, Socrates, noted that the first step toward knowledge, even wisdom, is to admit one’s ignorance.  It is interesting that from that point, two classes of people can be ascertained: those that refuse to remain in ignorance and those that revel in it.  The Wisdom literature of the Bible speaks repeatedly about the dichotomy of wisdom and foolishness.  In these comparisons, the characteristics of the wise generally lead to happiness and prosperity, while the fool is fated to ruin.  Of course, Ecclesiastes could be seen to decry the futility of wisdom of earthly nature, outside the realm of true wisdom that springs from service to God.  I consider the New Testament book of James to be wisdom literature, and from the very outset of his letter, the source, way and value of wisdom are commended to his readers.

Now, I could spend many words discussing the dangers of ignorance in religion.  In doing so, I might reveal some of my own ignorance, which I would certainly not intend to proffer as anything to be adopted by anyone else.  But if I am ignorant on a subject, whether in matters sacred or secular, I pledge not to willfully remain so. And if for some reason, I don’t have the time or resources to correct my ignorant state, I hope I have the good sense not to get on my soapbox and display that ignorance by expounding on some topic of which I have at best marginal, limited knowledge. 

Willful ignorance is a sin.  There, I said it.  Why should I make such a pronouncement?  Because I see no other way of considering it.  If we are presented with truth and we reject that truth, whatever it may be, we have sinned against the ultimate author of that knowledge, and sinned against anyone else whom we have convinced to remain in ignorance.

This goes not only for matters of faith, but also for matters of life in general.  I got to thinking about this whole issue when I became aware of the dubious work of a minister for the non-institutional churches of Christ, who has taken it upon himself to enlighten the world about the futility and sinfulness of modern psychiatry.  I will not provide a link to his web page, because I do not want anyone to blame me for introducing them to his blatantly dangerous ideas. 

This person who paints himself as a man of God makes broad statements in his articles about mental health issues.  He says that that conditions like depression, autism, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and virtually anything else relating to the field of mental health are lies perpetrated by a nefarious cabal of psychiatrists.  Children with symptoms of autism are just the products of bad parenting.  (Never mind the vast body of literature that indicates the autism spectrum is comprised of conditions with causes too numerous to count, including gene mutations and changes in chromosome structure (e.g., chromosome 11).)  Depression is a result of sin or sinful choices, and has no biological basis.  With regard to ADHD, he blames educators for wanting classrooms filled with Ritalin-laced zombies, to make their lives easier, because they are essentially lazy, worthless parasites on society.  Consequently, he rationalizes that the best thing to do would be to fire the teachers, close the schools, and home-school everyone.  In claiming that research on mental illness is junk science, he cites dubious sources to support his claims, and there is certainly a wealth of that available—many from sources that would not be published in reputable peer-reviewed journals, and some are apparently self-published.

This is not only ignorance, it is insulting to every person who has a mental illness, their parents, and the un-numbered scores of diligent, caring educators who are trying to make a better world by teaching the next generation.

But this kind of anti-intellectual propaganda can lead to tragedy in at least two ways: first, and most directly, if someone reads his error-skewed teachings and believes them and fails to get a child the help he or she desperately needs to become a functional member of society, has he not become tantamount to an accessory to murder?  No, no weapon will have been used to stop a beating heart.  But a life’s potential will be squandered for no more than a page of lies.  That life is wasted as surely as if it were ended in violence.

Second, by perpetuating blatant lies and half-truths about mental health and claiming to speak as a preacher of the gospel, he does the gospel a grave disservice: if he is perpetuating lies about mental illness (and there are libraries of information that say he is), is he telling the truth about God?  How many people who may have been searching for spiritual truth have turned away because of such belligerent falsehoods?  We may never know. 

Why am I so affected by this?  Why can’t I just brush it aside and consider the ignorance of the source?  Because I am the father of a child with autism.  No, he is not affected by the “Rain Man” savant variety, nor is he the kind of asocial person who sits and stares at lights and engages in self-stimulatory behavior like constant rocking.  But he has persistent developmental delays, difficulty processing various kinds of information, fine motor deficits, outbursts and meltdowns when he becomes overstimulated by his environment….the list goes on and on.

To my own shame, I was in denial about his condition for far too long.  I refused to believe that he had any issues.  But a mother notices things more than an easily distractible father.  I didn’t want to believe that my son would be anything less than a high achieving child with a limitless future.  I caused my wife undue emotional pain during that time of denial.  I have long since come to my senses and cannot apologize enough for my lack of sensitivity.

For a preacher in my own faith tradition to point a finger at me and tell me that my son’s autism is the result of sin or sinful choices on my part (or his) is deeply insulting.  But more than this, his comments and allegations and sweeping generalizations about mental illness are indicative of willfully embracing ignorance, and seeking out those who will tell the lies to support his willful error.  To believe a lie is one thing.  To perpetuate it at all—let alone perpetuate it in the guise of religion—is unconscionable.  Interest and opinion are free for all to hold.  But using your religious platform to spread lies is abominable.   

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3 Responses to When Ignorance Becomes Sin

  1. Dear Darrell:
    I read with interest your article about the brother in Canada who dispatched the entire mental health field by flatly labeling the various problems as simply “sin.” I was a director of a county mental health center in Texas some years ago and then owned my own day-treatment center for chronically mentally ill patients, but never encountered that man’s warped theology. Thanks for stating your thoughts in an insightful yet kind manner.

    By the way, I have to say that any person who quotes Louis L’Amour–certainly the most widely read Western novelist of all time–just can’t be all bad. I got to meet Mr. L’Amour many years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was riding around the country in his stylish and lavish bus on one of his book tours. I like to point out, too, that the first book he ever wrote was a poetry book and much of it was written while he was living in Choctaw, Oklahoma.

    It was Louis L’Amour who inspired me to try my hand at writing fiction and to join in about 1985 the Western Writers of America organization of professional writers. I had already written three religious books (1 each for the Firm Foundation; for W. Carl Ketcherside; and for College Press), had been a newspaper reporter and finally an editor. But this year I will be polishing off two of my unpublished Western novel manuscripts and publishing them as eBooks.

    ‘Nuff of that. I just wanted to wish you and your family God’s richest blessings. Always glad to discover another person who write from his heart, even if it is not always politically correct.

    –From: Stan Paregien Sr, 1127 48th Avenue East, Bradenton, FL 34203.

    Follow me at: http://www.paregien.com and http://issuu.com/cowboystan .

    Most of my eBooks are for sale in many different formats at http://www.smashwords.com , some are available in the Kindle format (only) at http://www.amazon.com, and some are available in the Nook (or epub) format (only) at http://www.barnesandnoble.com.

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    CLARA LUPER: CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER.

    • Darrell Ray says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. As a gatekeeper trainer for the QPR suicide prevention program, and as I mentioned, having an autistic son, and having had other family members who have suffered from depression, I have become familiar with many mental health issues. While I agree that sometimes bad choices lead to mental issues, it is equally likely that mental illness may lead to bad choices. Hurling unfounded accusations is hurtful, and would not help people who are already hurting.

  2. Pingback: A Pause to Reflect on Reaching 100 Posts | the trail is the thing

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