February 22, 2017- Sincerely Ignorant
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s a deadly mix: ignorance and stupidity. Horrible things result. The civil rights leader knew personally what he was talking about; he felt the results in his own life and especially in his violent death.
All I have to do is look into my own history to those times when I was sure my course of action was the right one; I was positive it was right, maybe especially because I saw myself as so completely sincere!
But I wasn’t right. That soon became clear to everyone, including me. I would guess that I am not alone in that experience of being sure of myself and at the same time ignorant: I don’t have the information necessary and still I act. It’s the perfect recipe for disaster.
When I was studying moral theology, I learned the difference between invincible ignorance and vincible ignorance. The former ignorance is literally “not conquerable”―you can’t reasonably be expected to have some kinds of knowledge and information; that is, you don’t know something and there’s no good reason why you should know it. The latter occurs when you don’t know something and there are solid reasons why you should know it.
The combination that King speaks of here seems to involve invincible (his word is “sincere”) ignorance. I believe, in other words, he’s talking about the good people of the world―you and me―not the scoundrels. He’s talking to people who genuinely believe they are doing what is absolutely right and for the good of all. They have sincere hearts. They are the dangerous ones.
Or should I say we are the dangerous ones? We’ve all been there―which means we can all be there again. I believe there is a lot of ignorance that we consider invincible―”I have no reason to understand that issue!”― that is really vincible―”As a responsible citizen, of course I should know that!”
How can this be overcome? “With prayer and fasting.” By that I mean with extreme vigilance and self-scrutiny of our causes, with relentless examination of our motives and the available facts. And even then, we must always leave room for change, for growth, and for insight.
Does this mean I have to look again at my sincere convictions?