by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
December 2, 2020
Many people have experienced incidents of rank ignorance, stupidity, or incompetence in the modern world. Everyone seems to have a tale of young cashiers being unable to calculate the amount of change to return to a customer:
One day at the MacDonald’s [sic] drive-through, my bill came to $4.17. I gave the cashier a five-dollar bill and 17 cents in coins. Poor girl—she was completely lost! She gave me back $3.35. I told her that all she needed to give me was a dollar bill, but she still couldn’t figure it out. Finally, the manager had to come over to give me my $1.00 change. Sad.
The Internet is full of such stories. Man-on-the-street video interviews also reveal ignorance of common historical facts that college students should know but do not. Regrettably, formal surveys back up the anecdotal evidence these videos supply. Writes Max Boot in a February 20, 2019, Washington Post editorial, “Americans’ ignorance of history is a national scandal”:
A survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that “more Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” “more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place,” and “half of the respondents believed the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution.” Oh, and “more than 50 percent of respondents attributed the quote, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or Barack Obama.” [The correct answer is Karl Marx.]
Even the formidable bastion of science—to many secular minds, the true savior of humanity—has fallen prey to society’s diminishing working knowledge. A classic example is the “protester” who marches against the evils of “dihydrogen monoxide,” decrying its terrible corrosive abilities, its major role in acid rain and erosion, and its ability to suffocate children and even adults with just a small amount. Only later are gullible petition signers informed that they had advocated for the banning of water!
Over the past few decades, political debates have exposed willful ignorance of scientific facts. To push feminism, progressives have claimed that women are just as strong and physically capable as men, for instance, as soldiers in the military. Yet, while a few women can keep up with the average man, it is demonstrable that most women lag far behind in strength and endurance. The military has had to lower their test standards for female soldiers.
Liberals have shown similar deliberate obfuscation of biological reality in claiming there are scores of genders (currently 112!) when God says He created only two, male and female (Genesis 1:27). Further, the present response of “experts” to the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates a marked disdain for what doctors and scientists have learned about drug efficacy, quarantine, mask use, herd immunity, and the virulence of the virus itself, all to push a political agenda. People seem to trust whatever experts claim.
Despite the United States supposedly boasting the world’s second-best education system, it consistently scores lower than many other countries in math and science benchmarks. The 2018 Business Insider rankings rated the U.S. as 38th in math scores and 24th in science. In addition, most of the large school systems have lowered standards dramatically in grammar, literature, and history for reasons of “fairness.” Compared to international standards, the nation’s education rankings have fallen for the past three decades.
Biblical literacy has plummeted drastically too, especially among younger people. The 2019 Barna State of the Bible survey found that about half of Millennials (the youngest generation surveyed) believe the Bible’s teachings oppress the LGBT community, women, and certain races. Sixty percent of them assert that the nation would be about the same or better off without the Bible.
Despite keeping Christmas every year, just over half of respondents could correctly name Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace (while 20% said Jerusalem, and 10% said they did not know). Only half of Christians can name all four of the gospels, and the same percentage think the Golden Rule is one of the Ten Commandments (only about 40% of American adults can name just five of them). Worse, at least 12% of adults say Joan of Arc might be Noah’s wife!
George Barna’s assessment of his and other survey results: “The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy.”
God says in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” He speaks specifically of “knowledge of God” (verse 1), but a lack of general knowledge causes similar problems. Ignorance is truly a curse; it is the ultimate cause of many misunderstandings, misguided decisions, marred relationships, and disastrous wars. Many a tombstone could have been inscribed with the epitaph, “If only I had known. . . .”
Ignorance—especially ignorance of God and His Word—will one day spell disaster for this nation. God says in Proverbs 1:29-32, speaking as Wisdom:
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way. . . . For the turning away [waywardness, margin] of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.
Solomon later writes, “Wise people store up knowledge” (Proverbs 10:14). We could solve many of our nations’ ills by banishing the cloud of ignorance—feigned and real—that befogs so many of our fellow citizens’ minds. It is not too late, but is it too much to hope for?