There is ignorance that comes from never having an opportunity to learn something. I am ignorant of the fine points of quantum physics, for example. I’ve read enough for a general familiarity, but I haven’t studied it in detail. Translating Sanskrit? Don’t ask me.
There is also willful ignorance that refuses to accept or believe something even when evidence demonstrates that it is manifestly true. Many people continue to deny that humans contribute to global warming, for example, or that Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president.
There is narrow ignorance that focuses so much on one belief that it downplays previously cherished principles. We see it when “evangelicals” readily cast aside biblical concerns like morality and integrity to support an overtly corrupt president and policies designed to support white supremacy.
Then, there is twisted ignorance, which not only refuses to accept clearly demonstrated realities but also invents wild notions to refute them. Think QAnon, for example, and the assorted conspiracy “theories” promoting notions of a “deep state” run by child-trafficking pedophiles and the supposed reinstatement of Donald Trump.
When twisted ignorance and religious zeal combine, the result is particularly noxious.
An illustration of that reared its head where I live this past week, when a group of parents complained that the Wake County School Board should no longer require masks for summer school or year-round school students – even though a state-mandated “Strong Schools Toolkit” for reopening schools, following CDC guidelines, calls for them.
Some also claimed that teaching students the truth about America’s systemic racism is tantamount to “blatantly adhering to a Marxist political agenda” with the goal of turning children into Communists, but let’s stick with the subject of masks in school.
A report in Raleigh’s News & Observer quoted one angry parent who described masks as “respiration trash muzzles.” The decision to require masks promotes “a spirit of fear which comes from Satan,” she said.
God “created us to breathe freely and tells us not to live in fear,” she said. Opposing vaccination as well as mask-wearing, she claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine “comes from the pits of hell.”
How? How, we wonder, can anyone believe such blather? It can only derive from a suspension of logic, a willful refusal to acknowledge clear scientific evidence, and a penchant for twisting the truth.
The woman, no doubt, had in mind the King James translation of 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
One should keep in mind that many other Bible verses do counsel fear, specifically the fear of God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10).
But what did the author of 2 Timothy 1:7 have in mind when speaking of a “spirit of fear”? Would he counsel us to walk into traffic because we don’t fear speeding cars, or have the power to resist them? Would he suggest that we leave loaded guns within reach of children because we do not fear potential consequences?
No, because he also affirmed that God has given us the spirit “of a sound mind.” The NRSV and NIV translate it “self-discipline,” and the HCSB has “sound judgment.”
The Louw and Nida Greek lexicon describes the meaning of sōphronismos as “to have understanding about practical matters and thus be able to act sensibly,” describing its meaning in 2 Timothy 1:7 as “the ability to understand how to make wise decisions.”
Showing no concern about exposing children to a very dangerous virus, refusing to take a vaccine that offers protection from the virus, and claiming that the life-saving vaccine comes “from the pits of hell” does not show sound judgment.
Rather, it demonstrates irrational thought, a gullible susceptibility to anonymous “sources,” and a penchant for making poor decisions.
I wonder if one of the reasons such nonsense spreads so easily or gains any credibility is that too few of us, perhaps trying to be polite or maintain harmony, have dared to call it what it is.
The author of 2 Timothy was concerned with the truth about salvation rather than with modern conspiracies, but he also warned against swerving or turning away from the truth in favor of myths (2 Timothy 2:18, 3:7, 4:4) while encouraging believers who know the truth to explain it to others and correct their false notions (2 Timothy 2:15, 25).
In this case, what is the truth? The truth is that we should thank God for the dedicated scientists and medical professionals who developed the several very effective vaccines against COVID-19, and who have encouraged safe practices for avoiding the disease.
No doubt, millions of lives have been and will be saved because of them. The vaccines’ effectiveness grows in proportion to the number of people who are immunized.
What kind of thinking concludes that such a tool for good comes “from the pits of hell” and should be condemned?
It is the kind that prefers absurdity to truthfulness, and we should be willing to say so.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.