Power of Ignorance

Reflection of Dr. István Szabó, presiding Bishop of the General Synod of the RCH, about the violence in the United States.

I’ve been wondering for decades how a teacher’s ignorance, whether it’s accidental or wilful, can affect the thinking of the children in their care. It was back in the Communist era that I first started teaching religion in a small village in the Transdanubian part of Hungary. The school principal put into practice what had only existed on paper so far: he started a Bible class at the local elementary school. This caused an outrage because by the 1980s the Communist regime had successfully “discouraged” parents, or rather the whole country from engaging in such activities. And so I, a beginner assistant pastor without any teaching training, started teaching Bible class.

Back then I hardly knew anything, and I am still haunted by how much I did not know about life, religion, Christianity or God. And I can only guess what effect my ignorance had on the children I taught. It is interesting, although perhaps not unusual, that I am preoccupied with this issue once more, prompted by the serious social conflicts that are taking place in the United States at the moment.

I lived in the US for a while, I worked as an illegal laborer, I saw police officers chasing frantically a thief running away, I witnessed protests and a ghetto on fire in southern Chicago, and I have some awareness of the cruelty of a society in the pursuit of happiness and the terrible dire dangers of the racial scoring. And now we can see reports on the myriad of conflicts, which is permeated by the ideological wangling of the cultural elite, the upper-middle class and the intelligentsia, because many of them are intellectual leaders and multipliers of the tensions. The statues to be toppled and the list of works and ideas to be banned are only of secondary significance among the revolutionary demands, the main wish is the complete eradication of the past. This is what directs desires, as if the future could only come about once the past has been burned to the ground. The question arises: is this motivated by a infallible knowledge of the future, or perhaps by some ignorance? My excuse for my past missteps is that while there were many things I didn’t know, I would not say that I didn’t even want to know.

Ideologies, however, are based on a certain desire not to know. Not to know the past, not to have the faintest idea of who human beings are and what they are capable of, to disregard the warnings of past ages and to dismiss the experiences of our ancestors. And behold, again we are confronted with an old line from ‘The Internationale’: “Of the past let us make a clean slate”. I’m wondering where the intelligentsia is hoping to steer navigate the world with this not-knowing: to a safe haven or, by throwing away the compass, to the middle of perilous storms.

I urge everyone who is an eloquent speaker and an expert of expressing their thoughts and dreams to consider what is more effective: what the past has taught them or what they do not wish to know about that past. And they might still know what they do not want to know.