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Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Thirty Minute Writing Response- Part One

For in much wisdom is much grief, and increase of knowledge is increase in sorrows.” These somber words conclude the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, written as a warning from someone who was heavily burdened by the yoke of his own knowledge. Indeed, it is often said that “happiness is bliss,” that those most happy are those most ignorant. But, if knowledge brings only pain, why do we seek it? Why do we praise those great minds who, through their own courageous efforts, enlighten us and bring us within the folds of civilization? Why, for that matter, do we teach our beloved children to reason and learn- to question and seek truth? Knowledge brings pain because it brings awareness- awareness of grievous wounds in society, awareness of deep evils within ourselves. But knowledge also resolves to happiness when there is hope of amending the evils, for it is only thus that society could be repaired.

Knowledge does bring much good to society and the individuals who posses it. With knowledge, we make our work easier for ourselves and our posterity. With knowledge, we entertain ourselves with literature. With knowledge, we save and preserve our lives. And so it is with wisdom. With wisdom, we make beneficial decisions and with wisdom we have defeated such evils as slavery. And do not recognize a false dichotomy between this knowledge and the deeper, introspective knowledge lamented in Ecclesiastes, for all wisdom flows from the same spring.

When hope is gone, however- when there is no possibility to amend the evils- knowledge is destruction. In a Brave New World, Aldous Huxley depicts a society corrupted to its very core, with any semblance of hope, of virtue, of humanity, ripped from its soul. The people there “carpe diem,” for that is all there is to seize- they live only for the fleeting pleasures of the moment. If they begin to realize the emptiness of their society, they ease their depression with state-issues drugs; “the trick is not to think.” Those who do think- who realize the tremendous evil of that society- are dashed to pieces by their hopeless fate. Grieved by that which they could never change, they are destroyed. And thus it is in our world.

The wisest, the bravest thinkers and philosophers, are too frequently the quickest to abandon their lives, because they have no hope of significance. And this itself is significant; a detail worthy of discussion. Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes as a warning to those who think they can be satisfied with what the world has to offer. Solomon had tried it all. He had taken of all the pleasures the world had to offer. He could speak with experience. All is vanity and vexation of spirit. Nothing under the sun offers any permanent profit. In the end, the truly wise man is he who fears God and keeps His commandments (12:13). Thus it can yet be written: "Happy is the man that finds wisdom, and the man that gets understanding." (Proverbs 3:13) When we speak of wisdom, we must remember that wisdom is good, but not God. With God at the center of wisdom, there is joy, fulfillment, and eternal hope.

But even if knowledge causes pain, is it any better to be ignorant? Would any of us truly choose to live our lives oblivious to some great and weighty evil? I, for one, would not, and indeed could not, for our sentience is what makes us human. Our knowledge can bring pain, but it also makes our joy richer, fuller, and grants it a deeper meaning.

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