Learning, Ignorance, Insanity

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Tuesday in the week of Proper 16, Year 1 (Pentecost 13, 2015)

Acts 26:24 ~ While [Paul] was making this defense, Festus exclaimed, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!”

I confess to a fondness for this verse and often wonder can too much learning drive a person insane? I don’t think so, but it’s certainly worth contemplating. It may just be a matter of perspective; perhaps in some circumstances the actions of a learned person can appear irrational to those lacking knowledge which the educated person possesses. In any event, with two masters degrees and two doctorates, I’m hardly the person to scoff at education.

In fact, I believe in life-long education and continue to take classes when I can and to read and study new things. Each year I find a subject about which I knew only a little and strive to learn more. Last year, I read several texts on quantum mechanics, string theory, and the nature of the universe (or the multiverse, according to some). Did I understand it all? Of course not! There times when what I was reading seemed absolutely crazy, but I continued my course and I think I’m a better person for having done so. This year, I am reading the history of Palestine and Israel from a variety of perspectives.

I don’t believe that too much learning leads to insanity. But I do believe that ignorance can produce irrational conduct. Consider, for example: the anti-vaccination craze, denial of human causation of climate change, so-called “creation science,” congressional refusal to fund federal research into gunshot injuries as a medical issue, a state legislature’s refusal to allow its state agencies to properly measure changes in sea level along its coasts, laws requiring doctors to give their patients misinformation about birth control and abortion, etc. We now live with governmental policies affecting nearly every facet of our lives adopted by people who say, “I am not a scientist, but . . . . ” and then enact laws regarding the very scientific issue about which they have confessed ignorance. That’s crazy!

I don’t believe that too much learning leads to insanity, but I do believe that too little does. You are out of your mind, America! Too little learning is driving you insane.