Ignorance and Arrogance

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I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. 

1 Timothy 1: 13

A question that the above description gives rise to is whether we are arrogant because we are ignorant, or ignorant because we are arrogant. At times it is clearly the former. I remember, with a fair degree of humiliation, times in which I have pontificated on a topic of which I knew very little in ways that were apodictic, sometimes hurtful, and never helpful. The very source of my strong and unyielding opinion was precisely my lack of knowledge and understanding of the nuances of the question at hand.

The less obvious because more subtle connection between the two, however, lies in how we are ignorant because of our arrogance. When it comes to questions of self-awareness and self-knowledge ignorance is often the result of our “passion to ignore.” The unfolding of our life in the world, especially our life with others, offers us constant opportunities to see ourselves as we truly are. However, we have a passionate investment to maintain our self-composed story, a story with which we feel comfortable and that helps us to maintain a certain felt sense of continuity and comfortability. This leads us, in ways that we are aware and in unconscious ways, to filter out any information or input that challenges the assumptions of that story. We choose to ignore those truths that would illuminate our illusions and direct us toward change.

At the pre-transcendent level of our personality, we do all that we can to arrogate to ourselves a sense of power and control over our own life and its direction. But that is not the truth of things. Life is constantly trying to remind us of our smallness and our place as part of a much larger whole. This is the source of life for us, but it is also suffering for our soul. To live soulfully means to suffer the conflicts and paradoxes of our human condition; it means to allow ourselves to know and live from the longings for love and communion that are deepest in us but are always beyond being satisfied. So we expend much of our energy in ignoring those truths from everyday life that could actually set us free. In humility we begin to grow in a wisdom that knows how much, even about ourselves, that we do not know.

As I began to read the Confessions, it seemed to me I saw myself in them. I began to commend myself very much to this glorious saint. When I came to the passage where he speaks about his conversion and read how he heard that voice in the garden, it only seemed to me, according to what I felt in my heart, that it was I the Lord called. I remained for a long time totally dissolved in tears and feeling within myself utter distress and weariness. Oh, how a soul suffers, God help me, by losing the freedom it should have in being itself; and what torments it undergoes! I marvel now at how I could have lived in such great affliction. May God be praised who gave me the life to rise up from a death so deadly.

St Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, Chapter 9, 8

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