Can Knowing Nothing Lead to Happiness?

Ahimelek answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household?  Was that day the first time I inquired of God for him?  Of course not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair.”
But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelek, you and your whole family.”
Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David.  They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.”
But the king’s officials were unwilling to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.
The king then ordered Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests.”  So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down.  That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod.  He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.
But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David.  He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord.

  • 1 Samuel 22:14-21

Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’”  Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom.  They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter.  While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown.  And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.

  • 2 Samuel 15:10-12

“The treatise in Praise of Folly, which Erasmus wrote in 1509, reflects the Humanist ideas that were beginning to flood across Europe during the early years of the Renaissance, and were to play a key role in the Reformation.  It is a witty satire on the corruption and doctrinal wranglings of the Catholic Church.  However, it also has a serious message, stating that folly – by which Erasmus meant naïve ignorance – is an essential part of being human, and is what ultimately brings us the most happiness and contentment.  He goes on to claim that knowledge, on the other hand, can be a burden and can lead to complications that may make for a troublesome life.
“…  Erasmus advocates a return to simple heartfelt beliefs, with individuals forming a personal relationship with God, and not one prescribed by Catholic doctrine.
“Erasmus advises us to embrace what he sees as the true spirit of the Scriptures – simplicity, naivety, and humility.  There, he says, are the fundamental human traits that hold the key to a happy life.”

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466-1536) was a Dutchman, from the name obviously from Rotterdam.  The author of the quoted book may have overstated the effect of Erasmus on the Reformation, but Erasmus was among the first critics of the Catholic Church during the 1500s.  But he remained a Catholic until his death, wishing to affect reform from within.  He and Luther disagreed on the issue of free will.  John Calvin and Erasmus disagreed on other theological points.  But Erasmus opened the door for discussion.  In this way, Erasmus, who remained a Catholic, was influential in much of the Reformation movement.

As for the Scriptures, Ahimelek pled ignorance, but King Saul either saw through the ruse or did not care.  It did Ahimelek no good to plead ignorance, with only Abiathar surviving the purge of the priesthood.  Note that the person who carried out Saul’s orders was an Edomite, not an Israelite who understood the dangers of killing priests.  In this case, ignorance was bliss for Doeg.

In the second Scripture, a small army followed Absalom, unaware of what Absalom was planning.  They were placed into harm’s way without knowing what they were expected to do for him.

In most cases, being ignorant does you know good.  Maybe a quote from Erasmus might clarify things.

“Happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is.”

  • Desiderius Erasmus

If we replaced the word “ignorance” with “simplicity,” the concept that Erasmus espouses is quite good.  The Catholic Church had grown into a political, economic, and religious giant.  Religious maybe, but in the area of promoting a relationship with God, maybe not so much in those days.  It would be a few short years before Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, where Luther spends a great deal of these theses discussing indulgences, money and goods given to the church (but really people making money off the church) in order to ensure passage to heaven for themselves or loved ones and other practices that were not biblical.

Martin Luther wanted to follow along the same lines as Erasmus, as in reform from within, but after being backed into a corner, a new denomination was formed, but Erasmus stayed in the Catholic Church.

But, can ignorance help us?  In these days of open antagonism toward Christianity, some say that all of us should be apologists to a certain degree, able to argue against the major atheist arguments.  The days of blind faith, as it seems Erasmus espoused, are long gone.  There are just too many arguments and too much misinformation to simply say, “I believe it, and that’s enough for me.”  Yet, that is all that is necessary for salvation.  To explain your beliefs to a sceptic friend may require a lot more than that.

Even in the quoted passage from the book, Erasmus seems to accept the need for a thorough understanding of Scripture.  From that aspect, our faith would not be totally blind.  Erasmus knew that we had to know who Jesus was and what the basis of the Gospel is.  The problem is, when we go past that point, we run into conflict and a lot of that conflict is probably not necessary for salvation.

Understanding the Scriptures is important.  Following a lot of rules that are made up as a result of centuries of corruption?  Not so much.  In that aspect, these bits of additions, above and beyond Scripture, are the things that made the Catholic Church complicated for Erasmus.

But the things that divided the Reformation in the days of Erasmus continue to divide the various denominations today.  The key problem in any age seems to be the direction of the world versus the direction of the church.  The world will always tend to stray away from biblical teaching.  It is up to the church to not stray from biblical teaching but remain relevant so that the lost can find their way.

Of the three bases for good theology, according to Erasmus, the only one that matches is humility.  It is not always the most simple approach to stay relevant and retain biblical purity and accomplishing those two is far from naivety.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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