How does knowing and knowledge relate to feelings of faith? Should there be a connection at all? Or is belief really "blind"? A recent survey of religiosity by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life raises intriguing questions.
For starters, there's the finding that America likes to brag that religion flourishes freely within its borders as it does nowhere else on earth.But there is a downside to that proposition: researchers also found that many of the respondents knew little about the religions they practised and even less about other faiths. "Simple facts unknown to a majority of Americans would fill a book (say, the Bible or Koran),"comments Susan Jacoby in her blog Faith-based Folly."
Fewer than half of us know that Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation, that the Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday night, or that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist!" Not surprisingly, atheists knew more about religion than most believers! That finding did not surprise Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the renowned philosopher of randomness.
"A good foe is far more loyal, far more predictable, and, to the clever, far more useful than the most valuable admirer,"Taleb told your columnist during a recent interview, while quoting from his book on philosophical and practical aphorisms, The Bed of Procrustes.
But it would be unwise to read too much in the alleged display of ignorance in matters of faith. A celebrated verse from 700 verses in praise of the Goddess Durgasaptashati from Markandeya Purana, for example, flaunts the poet's ignorance of ritual practice and doctrine: in the prayer known as Kshama Prarthana, the devotee confesses that he does not know how to summon the Goddess (avahanam na janani).
Nor does he know how to send her off (na janami visarjanam).The devotee of the Goddess also admits frankly that he does not know how to pray (poojam chaiva na janami). But does that negate his emotions or sincerity? Not really. "Please pardon me O Mother Supreme," he pleads. "Please accept my inadequate worship".
For isn't she the Mother of the Universe who smiles upon the sincere shenanigans of her foolish children?
The Indic tradition also uses the flourishing culture of devotional self-abnegation to account for such phenomena as the holy fool or the "Crazy" Master who habitually hides his true brilliance under the cloak of mad antics. Is ignorance bliss?
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