Daily Archives: February 15, 2011

A Lack of Wisdom in a Sea of Facts

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depths of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cyberspace and the airwaves in the United States are awash with “facts” about the current crisis that seems to have enveloped the world.  They are also awash in those that in an almost Gnostic manner act as if they or a group that they are part of have discovered the key to understanding the “facts” that surround the crisis. The pseudo-Gnostic “experts” be they pundits, preachers or politicians, the unholy Trinity of the information age come in all political, religious and philosophic persuasions and are entrenched in every aspect of life in a more pervasive and invasive manner than in any previous generation.

The sheer mass of information now at the fingertips of anyone who has a computer or smart phone has made everyone an expert in their own mind. However the simple knowledge of facts or even some level of understanding of them does not necessarily mean that such opinion, even that of the most popular of the unholy Trinity of pundits, preachers and politicians qualifies as wisdom.  In fact much of the so called analysis and presentation of the “facts” regardless of their political, social or religious orientation actually occurs in liberal or conservative echo chambers where the “facts” are crafted into sound bites designed to stir up and even enrage supporters in order to gain or maintain power. However the sound bites which are allegedly “factual” are beaten into us in some cases by men who ask us to give them “three hours a day every day” do not necessarily mean that those that spout them are wise, be they popular pundits, persuasive preachers or powerful politicians.

Now I know that this may offend those that bow at the altar of these personalities, but knowledge as important as it is does not equal wisdom even it comes from people with good ratings, great attendance or high poll numbers. The problem as Bonhoeffer put it so well is not that facts are not important but rather the significance of the facts to the time, place and situation.   We have become dependent men and women who make their living packaging the truth in such a way that it looks like they alone of the key to get past the Archons that ensnare us and keep us from understanding the truth.

The scary part is that much of the pervasive distrust and hatred that comes from all sides in the poisoned political pond of the American body politic is not due to an absence of information or lack of facts, but rather the intentional perversion of them for partisan gain by people that should know better.  As a Christian that which scares me most is when I see fellow Christians on the cutting edge of such actions even using the Christian faith and Scriptures to justify themselves. I think it is because that we have lost our way instead of being consumed by the love of God we have been consumed by the need to be in control, or be at the table of those in power.  We have allowed others to define our faith in such a way that it is hardly recognizable as anything Christian and that applies to all parties.

I have given up on having any answer to the madness that has overtaken the United States of America except to look back at history.  I think that Bonhoeffer had it right. He saw the evil of such unbridled passions in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.  Germany was deeply divided and in political, social and economic crisis the same as we are in now.

I pray that we will not head down that path.

As Bonhoeffer said:

“Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values… . Socially it means the renunciation of all place-hunting, a break with the cult of the “star,” an open eye both upwards and downwards, especially in the choice of one’s more intimate friends, and pleasure in private life as well as courage to enter public life. Culturally it means a return from the newspaper and the radio to the book, from feverish activity to unhurried leisure, from dispersion to concentration, from sensationalism to reflection, from virtuosity to art, from snobbery to modesty, from extravagance to moderation.”

I pray and hope against hope that we will find a way to step back from the Abyss.


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion