The kid loves to talk to me at the very end of the day as he’s snuggling down under his comforter. It never fails, that he wants a heart-to-heart when I’m struggling to stay awake and just need to fall into my own bed. I’m done. Just done at that time of day. So rarely do I have the patience or the kindness to sit and let him ramble and spill out all the thoughts and concerns that fill his nine-year old brain (Trust me, there’s a lot of them!) Though the none-sleepy part of me delights in his wild and wonderful imaginings and creative understandings of how he thinks the world works and how culture works and how people relate. Oh how I wish my mind wasn’t constrained by time and this feeble physical body of mine!
The other night he was fairly vibrating off the bed as he had had an intense debate with neighborhood friend a year older than him and who happens to go to the same church as us. Apparently they got into quite the argument over whether there are aliens in different worlds (of which my son is quite adamant that there must be life besides us and his friend is quite certain that there is not and Earth is the only place to sustain life because God created only us.) My son found that every time he would try to have his friend consider an idea to be a possibility, the other kid would respond with Bible verses to show that it couldn’t possibly be true because it didn’t say anything about it in the Bible.
At bedtime my son was telling me all about this and finally blurted out with great frustration, “Just cuz it doesn’t say it in the Bible doesn’t mean it can’t be true. Like the Bible never says that God created planets and galaxies and yet we know there are galaxies out there! Yet she won’t even consider that there might be things we don’t know that exist out there just because it doesn’t talk about them in the Bible! She just keeps saying it’s not true! But how can she know for sure?”
I was floored, partially by how he’s already getting into such deep thoughts and discussions with his friends and also how he’s so much further ahead of where I was at that age in thinking outside of the Box, or the Bible. He debates his peers like his dad debates me with me—with great exuberance—challenging their points of views with radical ideas and coming at things from a different angle. His friends have come up to me and asked me how he happens to know so much about so many things. (Uh, YouTube?) I’m thrilled to hear that he likes to learn things and share his findings with his friends—though of course he’s still at a tender age and misunderstands or misrepresents some things and has a ton of learning yet to do, which is quickly obvious to an educated adult. (And he’s just as stubborn to cling to his own ideas even when presented with evidence to the contrary—just like his friend)
This little conversation caused my thoughts to spin off in a couple of directions and I’ve been spending the last week trying to figure out how to write these thoughts into one blog post. I don’t think I can, so I’ve separated it into two sections that will be in two different posts but are connected to the root of this conversation I had with my son at bedtime:
Direction 1: (Using Ignorance to Keep People under Control)
I thought how education is so very important, and how lucky our kids are to have an education! Recently I was given a draft of a book to read about a man who was born a slave and grew up as a slave in America and eventually escaped to freedom in Canada. This book is titled The Road to Dawn: Josiah Hensen and the Story that Sparked the Civil War and is written by Jared A. Brock and should be available to read soon. It’s a book that gives a deep probing look into slavery in America prior to the Civil War, by following the story of one man—Josiah Hensen—who was in part the inspiration of the character Uncle Tom, in Harriet Beecher Stow’s infamous and controversial novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, though which many Americans of the time were first given an emotional picture of what slavery looked like. This picture of cruelty to human beings kindled strong anti-slavery sentiments within them, which in turned caused them to cry out for change. This book by Harriet Beecher Stow is considered one of the straws that “broke the camel’s back” for causing the Civil War. It also continues to be a controversial thorn for many Americans to this day. (I must confess that I have never wanted to read it because of the negative reviews I’ve heard over the years, yet now I’m intrigued, especially since I’ve been informed of the back story and the motivation that Harriet had for writing it. She is a woman of valor and to be highly commended.)
While I was reading The Road to Dawn, there was a section that talked about how slave owners would do certain things in order to keep their slaves under their thumb, both physically and psychologically. One of the biggest ways to exert control over their slaves (who weren’t considered—legally—at that time, fully human beings, only partially human, like three-fifths or something crazy like that) was to keep them as ignorant as possible. This didn’t just mean not letting them go to school so that they could learn to read, this meant right down to the nitty-gritty of knowing who they were as an individual.
“Slave owners discouraged the recording of the birthdates of the slaves, because one of the most effective tools of slave oppression was ignorance. A slave with knowledge of the wider world is a slave who can cause problems. A slave with a memory of the past and vision of the future is dangerous.” (Jared A. Brock “The Road to Dawn”, emphasis mine)
This struck me. We’ve all heard the saying, “Knowledge is power.”
Therefore, it seems, one way to stay in power is to nurture ignorance in those you want to be underneath you. Sometimes this is so subtly done, other times it’s more out in the open—and yet often goes unchallenged by the masses. (Why?)
I have read many other accounts of people or nations keeping knowledge accessible only to a small group, and inaccessible to the majority as a way to stay in power and control. One book I recently read that demonstrates this happening in my own country is the Canada Reads Winner for 2018 “Forgiveness” by Mark Sakamoto, with the Japanese people during WWII. It’s an excellent and compelling read that clearly shows how people can use ignorance and fear to get their way.
There are so many examples of this happening throughout history and in our day and age! One striking account that I vividly remember reading about is the story of Malala Yousafzai, the girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head because she was a girl going to school and refused to stop. She survived (miraculously) and works to this day to bring knowledge and awareness of how women and girls around the world are being barred from an education. In her country, women were not to be educated. In many countries around the world this is a common thing—women are not allowed to learn beyond the basics of housekeeping. They are kept in ignorance on purpose! This makes me so angry!
I am so thankful that I live in a country that provides and encourages girls to go to school, because I certainly love to learn—especially through reading! I have been greatly enriched and broadened in my life by books. I have lived a very privileged and comfortable life, and so cannot confess to know what it feels like to be oppressed and denied basic human rights. Yet this thought of keeping people in ignorance in order to control them made me think of the church culture I grew up in and how there can be a subtle but powerful control being exerted on people’s thoughts.
Let me give a little personal historical context here: I grew up in a small western Canadian town in the middle of the prairies. This town happened to have a large well-known Bible School Campus in which my family was heavily involved. (Side note: You’ve heard of PKs—preacher’s kids—and MKs—missionary kids—well I’m a BS kid—Bible School kid—we were called “Peebs” by the “Townies” which was phonetically saying our school’s acronym of PBS) It was a largely religious community, with a sizeable percentage of the people not just involved with the Bible College, but also in the surrounding area—professing and highly active Christians.
My town was clearly divided into the North and the South. The Christian-side and the Non-Christian side. There was Us and then there was Them. I grew up with clear, defined divisions of people based on spiritual beliefs. We knew the Truth and they didn’t.
Growing up, it just was what I knew; the Bible was threaded into every conversation and dictated every thought, action and deed. Everything we did and said revolved around the Bible and church. I went from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve in a private Christian school and had a strong “biblical” education, with a decidedly creation-based approach to everything scientific. I was strongly encouraged to read only books by certain authors who came at things from a Protestant Christian perspective.
Everything in life was approached through the lens of the Bible. My perspective was strongly: I follow the Bible and only the Bible and the Bible is the Word of God—inspired and infallible and absolutely true. Which basically meant that it couldn’t be wrong or have mistakes. (???) So I grew up learning to defend the “Truth”. I was armed with the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Faith.
But I love to learn! And I love to ask questions! My dad says that I would follow him around and ask questions non-stop from the time I learned to talk. Questions, questions, questions! All the time, everywhere, about everything. And I’m not content with platitudes, or half answers, or small answers, or just the facts. I want to know beyond just the Whats and the Wheres and the Hows, I want to know the Whys? And Why answers are often convoluted, there might just be a thousand of them!
As I grew up I could no longer be content with just being told this is the only way to read and interpret the Bible. It was implied that the tradition I grew up in was the only true and pure perspective. However, as I matured, I accumulated more knowledge and experienced a broader selection of cultures, lifestyles, faiths and I realized that I had been kept in a state of ignorance that the church culture I was raised in maintained through fear tactics. Such as: “We’ve taught you what is true and right and if you believe anything or anybody else, you will be wrong (and go to Hell).” Or, “We believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word and anybody who believes differently is misguided and baseless.” Or, “If you dabble in anything other than the Bible, you will be deceived by the world, it will suck you in, and you will end up in hell.” Or “Jesus is the only way to God (which in actuality means, “OUR” WAY, the way we think and believe is Jesus’ way), so if you go any other way, (go against OUR WAY) you won’t get to God and you’ll end up in hell burning for eternity. Pretty much everything came back to ending up in hell! Fear 101 of the church culture I was raised in. (But why? I would ask. “It doesn’t make sense . . . if you take this verse and that verse . . . it doesn’t add up. See that’s the problem with too much Bible verse memorization! You become far too educated for most people’s liking.)
Remember that childhood song? “Oh be careful little eyes what you see”. There was very much a strong censure on what was acceptable material to put before my eyes.
I was steered to books that confirmed my denomination’s way of thinking. Books in the library had blacked out sections of what was considered radical or worldly thinking. (And OMG “swear” words like Gosh and Golly). And if I mentioned a book that was by an author that didn’t believe the “right” or “true” way, eyebrows were raised and I was pulled aside and strongly cautioned to not read anything by that author, because they were known to be heretical in their thinking, and I might be persuaded to let go of the truth and follow their wrong ideas and end up off the straight and narrow path that leads to righteousness and heaven.
As well, I was encouraged to stay away from certain people or areas of town, because I might I fall under “worldly” influences. I was advised not to attend certain denominations of churches because they didn’t teach the Bible truthfully, had women pastors (“So unbiblical!” insert sarcasm), let just “anybody” take communion, and or (gasp!) baptized infants. I was cautioned against engaging in conversations with people of different faiths or religions but if I did, to know my Bible inside out and have it close at hand. I was schooled in how to lead people through the “Romans Road” gospel message and given “practice” opportunities by taking a bus to the nearest big city to hand out gospel tracts to street people, so they could be educated in how to be saved (the right way) from their sinfulness and go to heaven. (Oh how earnest I was!)
I still see shades (some strong and some more subtle) of this happening in the Christian culture around me today—a heavy coaching on how the Bible must be read and understood and what to steer clear of. To be “in the world” but not “of the world” is a mantra I hear often. Yet it still seems that the church tries to dictate what is acceptable or not acceptable for Christians to think.
Another way I see this happening is with men being taught that they are the “Head of their wives”. Now I’m not going to get into a debate over this teaching here, but I hear so many Christian men using this reason to shut down their wives and not allow them to think for themselves. They control what they read or refuse to consider ideas they wish to explore—basically treating their wives like uneducated, ignorant children. Often the excuse I hear is that they are worried their wives will be swayed to think differently, as in believe what isn’t the true way. This is so subtly done, that I’m pretty sure most men don’t even realize they are doing this, because this is what they’ve been raised to do by the church. This is happening in a country that is educated! It’s all so very insidious!
Even now I’m questioned by well-meaning Christians for my choices of what I read because they are worried for my soul, or that I’m being drawn into sin. Maybe their worry is that it will tear me away from God or that I won’t trust in Jesus and that I will no longer go to heaven when I die? Seriously?!
I wonder though if it is more likely that they have an underlining fear that I will stop seeing things the way they do, which will makes things uncomfortable for them, because then they might have to consider their own beliefs.
So I ask:
Can anything thinkable or unthinkable drive a wedge between me and Christ’s love?
Can expanding my knowledge in different ways of thought or view things from other perspectives ever be a bad thing?
I have found the more I read from differing perspectives and learn about other cultures and approaches in the Christian faith and outside of it the exact opposite of what these well-meaning Christians fear is happening in my life, in that a greater compassion and empathy has been nurtured in my heart for God and His vision. The more I know, the less disillusioned I’ve become and the more hopeful I am. And this hopefulness is drawing me closer to the heart of Jesus. And of course, the more I know, the more I realize I didn’t know, and still have more to know. The learning never ends!
My hope and prayer is that we in the church will not continue to promote ignorance or fear by avoiding differing thoughts, or cultures, or voices, but that we will welcome new fresh perspectives that challenge stagnate ways of thinking. That the unnecessary and inconsequential will be stripped away and the vital remain unencumbered.
My prayer is that we will not continue to use our influence or power to keep others in the church in ignorance as a way to force them to conform to our way of thinking. My prayer is that we will not let fear of “others” and “different” keep us divided, but let go of it to find new and fresh ideas and better ways to create unity and peace in our communities.