Rational Religion

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Of Ignorance and Ignorance.


My dictionary (and yours, too, more than likely) misses an excellent opportunity to make a useful distinction in meaning between two words spelled alike but pronounced with different emphasis on the syllables.


Most usually, words with identical arrangements of letters betray a common etymological origin.  Distinctions in pronunciation, then, indicate shadings - or outright differences - in meaning, but stemming from the common root.


As in "minute," referring to a strictly measured unit of time; and "minute," meaning something very small or insignificant in size.   In this case, the familiar usage of the time measurement has probably taken precedence over the older, historical, reference to anything tiny.  After all, as a species, I imagine we have been using the idea of discrete units of time for far less of our history than we have been accustomed to thinking about differences in size. 


In the case of "ignorance" and "ignorance," however, the advantageous distinction evidently never took place.  I mean that although "ignorance" is fully represented in the dictionary, with all its attendant adjectival usages and permutations, "ignorance" simply doesn't show up; not even with a different spelling ("Ignore-ance," for example).


While this omission gives us creative literary types an excellent opportunity to be clever (I am sure James Joyce might have used "Ignorance"  -- it's too obvious to miss.   But I do not read Joyce, much.  He's just too clever by at least three-quarters.) I decry it as a glaring loss of a spectacularly useful definition. 


When we are children our elders and mentors chide us for calling each other "stupid;" carefully making the distinction between a brain unable to learn and one which has not been exposed to the critical information. 


Someone who simply does not know what we know, or knows it in a different way, is not stupid, but merely ignorant. 


There are a number of quasi-clever sayings on this subject; "Ignorance is temporary; Stupidity is forever."  etc. 


The implication is that if the deficient intelligence were correctly exposed to the information, it would no longer be uninformed; assuming it had the capacity to absorb the information in the first place. 


But here is where the opportunity to use "ignorance" as a legitimate word enters the picture; and is lost, evidently, upon the lexicographers.


In absolute truth, it's not the lexicographers' fault.  All they do is historically track and record common usages; and evidently the great preponderance of English speakers have never felt the need for "Ignorance," as a separate concept.


We are left, nonetheless, with the necessity of adding modifiers; willful or militant ignorance, for example; to indicate that a given central nervous system has been exposed to information which it has subsequently chosen to ignore.


I hereby attempt to perform a useful service to concise thinkers, everywhere, and install "Ignorance" in our vocabularies. 


To many orthodox religionists who have made my acquaintance over the past sixty-odd years, I am definitely an ignorant person.  I have been exposed to certain information - even basic childhood influences - which have had very little effect upon my body of useful knowledge.  


I have likewise encountered many thousands of other souls who, by my definition, remain sadly under-influenced by data which I consider crucial.


But these are not ignorant people; nor am I.   We are ignorant.  We choose not to factor into our mental processes data which we find mis-informative, or irrelevant.


Now, if we could all be calm and tolerant about this crashingly usual phenomenon, the species would be in a lot less peril of self-extinction.


But ideas, being ephemeral shadows coursing through our brains, without any lasting physical reality - even when written down - evidently demand extreme methods of defense and dissemination. 


A great many people in this world are quite willing to kill me for what I believe; or for the fact that I do not believe - very closely - what they do


A greater many more, while they would be uncomfortable doing the deed themselves, would not consider my absence from the host of the living a significant loss. 


And, I must sadly admit, I feel pretty much the same way about them.


If they are not persons whom I both know and have active reason to like, I would not miss them at all. 


(This doesn't necessarily have much at all to do with ideology; more with personality.  A woman of my acquaintance who recently died "prematurely" of a malignancy, I suspect shared a number of my more cherished interests and attitudes.   Because -- for reasons of competition and personal association, I think, she was openly prejudicial against the artistic efforts of my family;  and had the forum to do us reputational damage -- it never occurred to me to mourn her death.    Another lady comes to mind, who died even younger and over two decades ago.  I still miss her, in spite of the fact that we had few ideological similarities. 


Both women worked at professions which touched my life at different points, but without any particular emotional involvement.  Both were skilled at their work, but one discharged her duties - at least in regard to me and mine - in a prejudicial, "unprofessional" manner and so lost my respect.  The other, in what might be considered a more mundane profession, behaved responsibly and with active concern for my welfare, even in the throes of her terminal illness.)


John Donne correctly observed that "No man is an island..."


But he did not presume to specify that we all must enjoy being part of society, in the precise ways that most of society defines itself.


So, we come back to stupidity, ignorance and ignorance.


Evidence of these three conditions of information deficiency have very different effects upon my attitude towards people who suffer from them; and, I suspect, upon most people who make such judgments about other people. 


Stupid people we can feel sorry for.  We may not much like them and may actively avoid having to deal with them, but we ordinarily don't hate them for suffering the effects of conditions beyond their control.


Ignorant people we may even regard as an opportunity, appealing to the tutorial instinct in most of us, to correct their deficiency and expand their consciousness.  I think this may be a reason that we generally regard children with beneficence.    They may be thoughtless, uncivilized little creatures, but they are educable; and therefore worth our while.


Ignorant folks just tend to piss us off. 


One cannot be guilty of stupidity or ignorance; ignorance has the definition of guilt written in.  You do it on purpose


This does not necessarily include whole areas of investigation which you may know about, but might individually be precluded from entering because you have been taught you are not supposed to investigate them.   This is somebody else's guilt, which has been imposed upon you, and the true responsibility for this particular tyranny may be lost in many generations of history.


Just remember; if you happen to be the victim of such traditional intellectual mayhem; in the Rational Religion there is nothing that you are not supposed to learn about.


Certain conclusions may be considered more valid than others, and certain behaviors may be regarded as antisocial, but there is nothing that is barred from exploration.


And god will not punish you; though other people may.