Epistemophobia revisited


This is something I wrote a little over two years ago with the intention of following up with a few related posts. Obviously, I didn’t. Why am I bringing it up again?  Well, I was listening to a sermon recently and it got me thinking. Below you can read or re-read what I had written but first here are a few thoughts by way of introduction.

First, I think it’s normal to fear knowledge to some degree. I’m thinking specifically of learning new things which either a) force us to abandon a previously held notion in favour of something else, or b) push us to gain a better and clearer understanding of a previously held notion. This fear intensifies as the idea/belief being examined and challenged grows closer to my core and fundamental worldview.

Second, thinking about this from the church insider point of view, it’s interesting to see the defence mechanisms the church has built around this fear and to protect what it believes to be true/right/correct. It’s more than a simple fear of being wrong. It also very quickly becomes a strong dislike, even hatred (holy hatred of course), for anyone who would propose a different take on a commonly held belief. Especially when that someone is within the community or has influence on the community in some way. This is not only true of the church.

Third, The term “heretic/false teacher” is tossed around and associated with people who hold theological ideas that don’t line up with our own. There is an invisible line that you simply cannot cross. If you do (if you dare), you are regarded as a disobedient, rebel, unloving and divisive person who should be warned and shunned (out of love of course) lest you lead others astray.

Remember when Galileo insisted the earth was not at the centre of the universe (a.k.a. Heliocentrism vs Geocentrism)? Maybe you missed it. It was a little while ago after all. What I find interesting about that little piece of history is the pushback Galileo received from the people of his time. Not only did some people within his own field react strongly but so did the Church. Of course, as we know very well today, Galileo was right. At the time people weren’t in much of a hurry to accept this ‘new’ knowledge as true.

The Church, for example, had this to say about it. They concluded that heliocentrism was:

foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture. (Source: Galileo Galilei – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Why is it difficult to accept that something we think is true may not be? Or that something we believe is true may be slightly different than we think? The Church figured that Galileo must be wrong because there are verses in the Bible that seem to suggest the earth is a the centre of the universe and doesn’t move (Psalm 93:1; Psalm 96:10; Psalm 104:5; 1 Chronicles 16:30). How can the earth revolve around the sun? After all, Ecclesiastes 1:5 clearly says that it is the sun that “rises and sets and hurries around to rise again.”

It reminds me of a saying I learned growing up:

The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

Did the Bible get it wrong? In Galileo’s day they certainly didn’t think so and Galileo was treated harshly for it. But today, even the most serious christian has to admit that on this side of history, knowing what we know about our solar system, those verses are to be understood as expressing the human experience within the limits of the author’s knowledge of the world in his or her day. It’s writing from ones own point of view. That, by the way, is the best any one of us can ever do.

So back to the question, why is it so difficult to accept that something we thought was true might not be? It’s unsettling sometimes. Especially in regards to issues that are more fundamental to our particular worldview. If I got that wrong, what else could I be mistaken about?

I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work this week and it got me thinking about this. Trey Pearson was being interviewed and he said something about knowledge that stood out to me.

That is the interesting thing about knowledge. We are so scared of it sometimes ‘cause it might mean something is different than how we thought it was.

Are you Epistemophobic? Can you remember moments when you realized some fundamental things you had always believed were in fact incorrect? How did you feel? Was it a positive or negative experience? What is your default stance toward those who hold different, maybe even contrary, beliefs?

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A regular dude who remains hopeful in the promise of the renewal of all things. I write about faith, spirituality and relationships with a desire to encourage and inspire. Un gars ordinaire qui garde espoir dans la promesse du renouvellement de toutes choses. J'écris sur la foi, la spiritualité et les relations avec le désir d'encourager et d'inspirer.

3 thoughts on “Epistemophobia revisited

  1. Yes yes, in the beginning the resistance in caused by fear for sur. Then as I rested in the Lord I was more open to listen. Thank you!

  2. While I think I agree with what you’re fundamentally saying, and I can see this kind of ‘epistimophobic’ thinking just about everywhere I look, I think you and I would perhaps disagree with the degree at which the church is manifesting itself as epistimophobic. While the medieval church certainly needed grow in this area, we’re discounting 300 years of history (including the Reformation) if we believe it hasn’t.

    The very notion that you’re citing a gay man (Trey Pearson) who left his wife and child and was still invited to play at Christian festivals in the fold of other bands is a testiment not to how unwilling, but rather to how malleable the church has become.

    The people that seem the most aggressively ‘anti-tradition’ on my Facebook are those not outside the church, free to believe as they want, but those within the church under the pressure to not be accepting of any new idea lest they be labelled (perhaps self-labelled even more than labelled by others) as epistimophobic.

    We’re in a time where society and the church are both disoriented and impressionable – willing to cling to the first idea that is packaged to temporarily satisfy their fears. The profound, often offensive, but life-giving and life-changing Gospel is what people are dying for – both literally in most parts of the world and figuratively in our one of over indulgences.

    1. Thanks Joel and apologies for taking so long to respond! You’re right, I am generalizing but I think general statements are often needed as a starting point from which we can then zone in on and sharpen our perspectives. I agree with you that the fear of knew understanding that undermines previously conceived notions is everywhere and not simply in the church. The church is simply the angle from which I am looking at it at the moment. And while I certainly agree with you that some pockets of the church have been better at learning, I still think there are many that simply remain stuck. In saying that, I realize I’m somewhat irritated by the Trump supporting Christian right in the US which I happen to read a lot about in various news feeds. But even so, I still see it at different levels and to varying degrees. I also agree with you that in many ways and in many areas the church has changed, adapted and outgrown some childish ways. I guess what remains debatable is whether or not that is always a good thing.

      Fear certainly does cause us to latch onto things that aren’t always best or true. It’s in our nature. What I think I’m trying to get to behind the random thought of “epistemaphobia” is that the beautiful gospel you wrote about is too often distorted by the church in refusing to let go of what I would consider to be secondary matters.

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