Friday, March 14, 2014

The Evils Of Ignorance, Part 2

Unnecessary Suffering

One of the evils resulting from ignorance is unnecessary suffering.  Sometimes we suffer because we have no control over events, but the fact is that much suffering is caused by ignorance and is unnecessary.  This happens often in matters of health and safety, social relations, international relations, spiritually.   The old saying, “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you!” is false and dangerous.  Here are four other ways of looking at this issue. Herbert Prochnow said, “All things come to him who crosses the street without looking.”(1) Adlai Stevenson, former Senator and candidate for the Presidency said, “The way of the egghead is hard ”(2) Prochnow again:  “Ignorance is a voluntary misfortune.”(3)  And finally Elder Sill: “Without the opiate of ignorance no one could possibly be unafraid of the terrors of hell.”(4)  This one is interesting.  An opiate is something that induces rest or inaction. Ignorance, for Elder Sill is an opiate.  It desensitizes us and makes us fearless of the terrors of hell.

There is an interesting relationship between ignorance and sin.  For something to be a sin, one must know it is wrong and do it anyway.  Ignorance of the law makes violation of the law a transgression, but not a sin.  The temporal penalties may be the same, but the spiritual penalties are significantly different.  Yet Elder Sill tells us “... almost all of the sins of the world are the sins of ignorance.”  How can that be?  He goes on: 
“Most of those who violate the commandments of God don’t really know the importance of what they are doing.  When we fill our minds with evil thoughts, we seldom understand until it is too late that these ideas will determine our eternal destiny.”(5)   
He is talking about sins committed in ignorance of why the commandment is there, and of the consequences, not the fact of the commandment itself.  In this respect something that President Stephen L. Richards once taught Elder Marion G. Romney is both important and profound.  Elder Romney, speaking of the importance of  constantly sharpening and deepening our understanding of the gospel through self-disciplined study said,   
“President Stephen L. Richards indelibly impressed upon my mind the importance of understanding the gospel years ago as I rode in an automobile with him to a stake conference.  We were, at the time, discussing the means for encouraging the Saints to more faithfully live up to church standards.  He said to me, in effect: “I feel sure that the membership of the Church would be more faithful in observing the commandments if they more fully understood the principles of the gospel.”  I agreed with him then and I am still of the same opinion.(6)
Since this is the case, then the consequences of sin are often unnecessary suffering and unnecessary complaining.  Laman and Lemuel “did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them .” (1 Ne. 2:12, emphasis added)  Elder Maxwell said, “Our defiance of God is an expression of our ignorance not of our individuality.”(7)  

Let me refer to two examples of unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance.  One is spiritual, the other is temporal.  It has always interested me that it took Lehi and his family 8 years to cross Arabia.  (1 Ne. 17:4) Though Arabia is a big place, it does not take that long to cross it if you know where you are going.  Presumably they could have crossed it in eight months, or maybe even eight weeks.  So why did it take so long?  Well, the book of Alma informs us that because of disobedience the Liahona stopped working and “they did not progress in their journey” or “did not travel in a direct course” and “were afflicted with hunger and thirst.” (Al. 37:41-42) Alma is telling us that the length of the journey and its attendant trials was the consequence of the family’s disobedience.  Without a compass they did not know where they were going and their journey consequently lengthened–to 8 years. One might be forgiven for wondering if they were a bit slow in figuring this out.  In reality it probably took that long to penetrate the obsidian hearts of Laman, Lemuel and their wives. Nephi’s account repeatedly refers to the difficulties the family encountered in Arabia.  For me, however, his most potent and evocative metaphor is when he explained, “And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness....”  (1 Ne. 17:1)  “Wade!?”  It wasn’t just ankle-deep trouble he is talking about. It was full-fledged up to your belt buckle tough, wearying, wading.  If you want to understand how bad those afflictions would have been, take a look at the latter part of the wonderful DVD entitled, Journey of Faith.  Unnecessary suffering indeed!

Our second example most of you know about from grade school.  In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan started on the first rip around the world.  En route some of his men died of scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.  Tragically, in their ignorance, they didn’t know that the cargo of limes they had aboard their vessel were high in this life-saving vitamin.  Unfortunately, the ignorance of Magellan and his men was not their own fault, so in this case it probably really wasn’t unnecessary suffering, but it is nevertheless useful to make the point: “It is equally possible for us to die mentally, financially and spiritually while all of the time the means for curing our diseases are in the good books that are right under our noses.”(8)  The problem is that in their pride or sloth, many won’t even open the lid of the barrel.

The Uneven Playing Field

My final point for this part comes from a wonderful quotation by a pretty sharp man named Criswell Freeman.  He said,  
“By and large, the uneducated must play the entire game of life on an uneven field.  But the value of education is often invisible to young people who rebel against the very tool that might level the field on which they play–or even tilt it in their direction.”(9)  
Derek Bok, made the stinging point, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”(10)  And James Thom observed, “Probably the most honest, “self-made man” ever was the one we heard say: “I got to the top the hard way–fighting my own laziness and ignorance every step of the way.”(11)  An ignorant man’s world is restricted by the limits of his knowledge. These expressions suggest that ignorance forces us to play the game of life on an uneven field.  The ignorant always battle uphill. 

One way this happens is through the neglect of available resources.  Elder Sill was rather direct with this potent observation: “Our bookshelves are loaded with the most helpful volumes and yet ignorance and the violation of tested and proven principles remains one of the greatest curses of mankind.”(12)  Another wasted resource is our own talent.  Wasted talent leaves undeveloped your potential in many areas of life. It is an unnecessary self-imposed limitation. Wasted talent is unknown talent, undiscovered talent, and undeveloped talent.  A certain lack of understanding, ignorance and sloth is responsible for much of this waste.

Another way the ignorant play on an uneven field is to be constantly chained to that very ignorance.  Elder Sill eloquently said: ““The sentence of one who fails to study is that he is chained to his ignorance, and wherever he goes forevermore he must drag his ignorance along.”(13) One of those chains is to live an uninspired and unprogressive existence. President David O. McKay said, “To be ignorant of one’s own ignorance is to be in an unprogressive, uninspired state of existence.”(14) Alfred North Whitehead, famous educator said, “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute: Those who do not value trained intelligence are doomed. There is no appeal from the judgment which is pronounced on the uneducated.”(15) I don’t think Whitehead was referring to judgmentalism on the part of others or even of society, though that may be a factor.  I think he spoke of the judgment of natural consequences growing out of ignorance. Things like fear and insecurity, the spawn of ignorance, which inhibit our progress and success. 

At its most practical level, the uneducated have difficulty getting and holding a job.  A government survey which took five years to conduct was published in 1993.  It found that 90 million Americans, nearly half of the adult population, read and write so poorly that it is difficult for them to hold a decent job.  It is hard for them to perform such tasks as calculating the difference in price of two items or to fill out a Social Security form.(16)

The tragedies of unnecessary suffering and fighting the battle uphill are tragedies indeed, because today with modern technology and the “age of information” getting an education, even if we must educate ourselves, is more available and easier to obtain than it has ever been in the history of mankind.


Formal education does not completely eliminate ignorance, and to the extent which it does not, the dangers, problems, and difficulties mentioned above are still threats.  Therefore, one’s life should be a constant effort to eradicate ignorance.  It is in our interest to follow the teachings of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who repeatedly counseled us to “get all the education” we can, because it is the will of the Lord.

Lets think together again, soon.


1. Herbert V. Prochnow, The Complete Toastmaster, p. 73.

2. Adlai E. Stevenson, in Criswell Freeman, ed., The Teachers’ Book of Wisdom, (Nashville, TN.: Walnut Grove Press, 1998), p. 39.

3. Herbert V. Prochnow, The Complete Toastmaster, p. 293.

4. Sterling W. Sill, The Power of Believing, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), p. 76.

5. W. Sill, The Glory of the Sun, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1961), pp. 345-346.

6. Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1976, p. 106.

7. Neal A. Maxwell, “Not My Will, But Thine”, p. 67.

8. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), pp. 60-61.

9. Criswell Freeman, ed., The Teachers’ Book of Wisdom, (Nashville, TN.: Walnut Grove Press, 1998), p. 45.

10. Derek Bok, educator, Geoffrey Steck, ed., Leadership, (11 December 2001), p. 13.

11. James Thom, in Bits & Pieces, (August 2006), p. 19.

12. Sterling W. Sill, The Upward Reach, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), p. 58.

13. Sterling W. Sill, Leadership, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1958), p. 323.

14. David O. McKay, Pathways To Happiness, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1957), pp. 351-352. 

15. Alfred North Whitehead, in Criswell Freeman, ed., The Teachers’ Book of Wisdom, (Nashville, TN.: Walnut Grove Press, 1998), p. 100.

16. Cal Thomas, The Things that Matter Most, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994), p. 159.


  1. Another great post! I found both of your post on ignorance quite inspiring and motivating to make my own personal learning a priority. I do find it interesting that the more I learn the more I realize my own ignorance!

  2. Thanks, that is my hope for these blogs--to encourage others. You are correct, the more we learn the more we know we don't know. That is why it has to be a life-long effort.

  3. I do like to learn and continue to gain knowledge, but this post has made me ponder my priorities. With limited time to read and study, I realize I should be more selective in what knowledge I'm choosing to gain. Thank you for once again giving me something to ponder.