Ignorance

I was asked the other day what I thought of Joe Maddon replacing James Shields with Scott Kazmir as the starting pitcher in game 5 of the ALCS. I could answer that query with a well reasoned and informed answer. However, sit me down and ask me to discuss intelligently the state of health care in America, or the merits or demerits of the current administration’s immigration policy, or some other seriously important social issue, and it would not take you long to see the superficial nature of my understanding.

I find that I am a reasonably intelligent guy who has not wanted to invest the same amount of time in processing and understanding serious societal issues as he invests in being conversant on relatively trivial matters in the world of sports.

As a Christian pastor I believe I have some responsibility to help people process life in this modern world and to learn to navigate a path through it, seeking to bring Gospel salt and light to this world. But if I am content to remain only superficially informed of the things that really matter, my effectiveness will be and is seriously hampered.

And those of you who are not pastors cannot hope to bring a distinctive Christian point of view to the issues of our day (as opposed to merely liberal or conservative points of view) if you ignore these issues, merely dabble in them, or depend solely upon talk radio for your insights.

I was set upon this way of thinking by James Fallows’ reflections regarding an interview Sarah Palin gave shortly after her nomination. I’m not advocating Fallows’ politics here nor am I expressing an opinion regarding Palin’s suitability for office (a question on which Fallows has no doubt). What he observed, rightly or wrongly, was the impression that she lacked any deeply held interest in foreign policy issues. Again, his assessment may be way off base. I’m not raising that issue. But what he says here has implications for any of us. Here is what he said:

Each of us has areas we care about, and areas we don’t. If we are interested in a topic, we follow its development over the years. And because we have followed its development, we’re able to talk and think about it in a “rounded” way. We can say: Most people think X, but I really think Y. Or: most people used to think P, but now they think Q. Or: the point most people miss is Z. Or: the question I’d really like to hear answered is A.

Here’s the most obvious example in daily life: Sports Talk radio.

Mention a name or theme – Brett Favre, the Patriots under Belichick, Lance Armstrong’s comeback, Venus and Serena – and anyone who cares about sports can have a very sophisticated discussion about the ins and outs and myth and realities and arguments and rebuttals.

People who don’t like sports can’t do that. It’s not so much that they can’t identify the names – they’ve heard of Armstrong – but they’ve never bothered to follow the flow of debate. I like sports – and politics and tech and other topics – so I like joining these debates. On a wide range of other topics – fashion, antique furniture, the world of restaurants and fine dining, or (blush) opera – I have not been interested enough to learn anything I can add to the discussion. So I embarrass myself if I have to express a view.

I’m not suggesting that each of us should be expert in everything. But to what degree do we wrongly leave to others discussion and comprehension of the serious issues of the day?

I’m very interested in what others think about this? Are we too comfortably ignorant on difficult issues? If so, what should we do about it?

2 thoughts on “Ignorance

  1. Anonymous

    Yes, Randy, I do think that we are too comfortably ignorant on difficult issues, both as a nation and as a Christian community. My mother has been a fabulous model for me in this regard. She did not attend college but instead worked to pay for my father’s undergraduate and graduate education. She had two children in the 70’s and stayed home with us when all of the other women in her circles were going back to work to do something “important”. I watched her on a daily basis become educated as an “uneducated women” on difficult issues for her. For example, she grew up in a non-sports loving home. My father and little brother love sports, football especially, and so she learned the game. Why? Because she realized that she was missing out on something wonderful? No. She learned the game because she knew it would deepen her relationship with her son. Today, their relationship goes way deeper than football, but I know that becoming fluent in the pigskin language gave her inroads to that deeper relationship. My dad worked his entire career in the nuclear power industry. Again, my mom learned the language and the theories and the problems and positives and could discuss her husband’s line of work almost as well as he could. What a beautiful gift it was to listen to their dinner table conversations!In the same way, I have found that becoming less ignorant on the topics of the day can deepen my conversations with my non-believing friends. As I’m able to talk the language of the topics that are important to them, the the conversations deepen, and they eventually go to discussions that can be directed toward God and Christ. Knowing political platforms of both parties has enabled me to have great discussions with several non-believing friends that have lead to conversations on morality and then God. Learning a little about the independent, punk rock music industry, while certainly not my favorite topic, has enabled me to have conversations with my CEO-of-a-record-label friend that lets her know I care about what she does (even though I hate that kind of music). That care has opened roads to conversations about the meaning of life and Christ and the Bible. When my husband was a relatively new believer, our pastor went to the wastewater treatment plan where John worked to try and understand his career path a little, even though said pastor could have cared less about a sewage plant. John still talks about the impact that had on him.So, while I do think we have a responsibility as humans to get rid of our ignorance on uncomfortable topics, we have an even greater responsibility as Christians to know about the things that are important to the people to whom God has providentially placed in our paths.What do we do about it? Three things: stretch ourselves, listen and read. Then read again and again. Read while at the stop lights. Read while waiting at the doctor’s office. Read while watching the World Series!Great topic! Thanks for bringing it up.Staci

  2. Randy Greenwald

    Staci, this is so good. What a great model you have had. I will need to post a follow up in which I reference your comment. I want more people to read this. It is so good. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

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