Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Evils Of Ignorance, Part 1

The story is told about a missionary reunion sometime back.  One returned missionary who wasn’t remembered as the sharpest tack in the box arrived at the reunion in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce. It seems he had become a fabulously successful president of a gasket company. Naturally, all of his former companions and fellow missionaries were curious how someone like him had made so much money. So after all the handshaking, back patting and “oos” and “ahs” someone put the question to him. "Just how were you able to put together this gasket operation you run?'  "It was easy," he replied. "I found a manufacturer who could make them at one cent apiece and then I sold them at five cents apiece. And you just can't beat that four percent profit!"  ...  If you didn’t get that you may be in for the Rolls-Royce ride of your life.  My theme today is “the evils of ignorance.”

During our mission in California I created a list of potential topics for our mission newsletter.  One of them was “ignorance.”  This file was first created about May 2003 and I have been adding to it for over a decade. On my first mission, our fifth discussion was on the plan of salvation.  We taught the people that three lethal enemies faced mankind, from which we need to be saved: sin, death, and ignorance.  I had not thought much about that since then, until our mission in California.  Studying Elder Sill alerted me to it.  Some of the evils accompanying ignorance are: superstition, darkness, suspense, doubt, prejudice and bigotry, fear, intolerance, hatred, poor judgment, lack of understanding and wisdom, and impatience. These are not all, of course.  You can think of others. The point is that ignorance is one of the great enemies of mankind!  Bob Edward said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing, but a lot of ignorance is just as bad.”(1)  President Howard W. Hunter agreed, and was more specific when he said:  
“Only by knowledge can we banish ignorance, superstition, prejudice, fear, and hatred, the evils from which spring most of our world’s problems. Therefore it is imperative that you continue to seek knowledge.”(2)
A second insight came during my frequent preparations to give patriarchal blessings since we have returned from California.  I have thought a lot about what might and should be said in patriarchal blessings about education.  Somewhere in that process it occurred to me that: We are born into total ignorance, and we must spend the rest of our lives overcoming ignorance. Although he was probably referring to problems in society, the following from Elder Sterling W. Sill can also apply to many individuals, “The thick blackness of the Dark Ages has not yet been dispersed.”(3)

LDS Philosophy Of Education

What is the LDS philosophy of the importance of education?  A statement or two from the scriptures gives us some background.  Proverbs 1:5 says “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning....”  There are a few additional statements such as that in the Bible, but I could cite more than a score of passages on the subject from the Doctrine and Covenants alone, not to mention the almost innumerable statements by Church leaders since the days of Joseph Smith.  I will refer to just these: “pure knowledge shall greatly enlarge the soul. (D&C 121:42).”  “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (D&C 131:6)  And “Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear; For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly.”  (D&C 136:32-33).

Willful Ignorance Is A Sin

It is true we are all born totally ignorant, but we are not to stay that way, especially regarding knowledge of the existence of God, learning his will and commandments. Failure to do so is a sin, and brings with it judgment and punishment. God wants us to know, but Satan wants to keep us in ignorance and darkness.  Satan is “that wicked one” who “cometh and taketh away light and truth.” (D&C 93:39) Satan wants us to remain in total ignorance that way he can more easily rule over us. In Mormonism willful ignorance of the gospel is a sin. Elder Talmage wrote, 
“Willful ignorance of Gospel requirements is sin.  Man is untrue to his Divine lineage and birthright of reason when he turns away from the truth, or deliberately chooses to walk in darkness while the illumined path is open to his tread. Positive rejection of the truth is even graver than passive inattention or neglect. Yet to every one is given the right of choice and the power of agency, with the certainty of his meeting the natural and inevitable consequence.”(4)
Robert Browning agreed with this, but in more general terms. “Ignorance is not innocence, but sin.”(5) For Elder Talmage to be correct, there must be some requirement made of us, some expectation, some duty imposed to learn, and there must be the capacity to learn. These are philosophical matters worth considering.  Above I have pointed out that there are such requirements, expectations, and duties imposed in the Restored Gospel.  We also know that all minds are capable of enlargement, and to the degree which they are, we should be about it. The worst and most sinful kind of ignorance is willful, intentional, slothful ignorance.  There is no blindness so dark as that which will not see. There is no deafness so profound as that which will not hear. There is no ignorance so deep as that which will not know.

Closed minds are a manifestation of willful ignorance. Anna Quindlin said, “Ignorance is death.  A closed mind is a catafalque.”(6)  A “catafalque” is “an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body; a pall-covered coffin-shaped structure used at requiem masses celebrated after burial.” In other words, it is basically a coffin without a body. She is saying the closed mind is an empty mind. Joseph Smith spoke forcefully about his experience with closed minds:  “There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake.  Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe.”(7) Minds get closed in several ways; pride and sloth being the chief causes.  Have you ever corrected someone and they say: “Whatever!”? That response is symptomatic of either pride or laziness, maybe both, but it is a pervasive attitude among many today.

Like so many other things, overcoming ignorance is largely a matter of attitude.  Elbert Hubbard said,   “The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.”(8)  The real shame is not ignorance, but being unwilling to learn!  Elder Sill tells the story of a girl in her twenties who came to him to talk about her problems.  She didn’t believe the Bible.  She said it was a collection of fairy tales.  She had never read it, let alone study it. She waved aside the notion that Jesus and his apostles underwent great hardships and violent deaths in support of their testimony “as if these men were merely playing a childish game.”  Elder Sill concludes the account with this very interesting statement:  
“She seemed not the least concerned with what seemed to me like suicidal irresponsibility.  There seemed to her to be not the slightest chance that the wisdom of the prophets including the Savior himself, might outweigh her inexperience and lack of information.”(9)    
He could have said “ignorance” there instead of “lack of information.”

Pilate is yet another example.  Again Elder Sill: 
“Too frequently we follow a procedure similar to the one used by Pilate when he said to Jesus, ‘What is truth?’  And then without waiting for the answer he turned and walked out of the room.  Mostly we don’t have the answers because we have not been willing to invest the time and study necessary to find the truth....”(10)
I will continue this important theme in the next blog.


1. Bob Edward, in Glenn Van Ekeren, Speaker's Sourcebook II, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994), p. 232.

2. Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), p. 177.

3. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), p. 59.

4. James E. Talmage, Vitality of Mormonism, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1919), p. 271.

5. Robert Browning, in Richard L. Evans, Richard Evans’ Quote Book, (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1971), p. 78.

6. Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998), p. 69.

7. Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 309.

8. Elbert Hubbard, in B. C. Forbes, The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life, (New York: Forbes, Inc., 1976), p. 132.

9. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), pp. 51-52.

10. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), p. 61.

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