FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT
Prayer of the Day: Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
There is plenty of blindness in our gospel reading for this coming Sunday. Jesus’ disciples are blind to the humanity of the beggar who is unable to see. For them, he is not a person. He is just a theological riddle to be solved. “Who sinned,” they ask Jesus, “This man or his parents?” Somebody must have sinned to bring about such a great human catastrophe. I have to wonder whether the blind man was overhearing this unfeeling conversation about him carried on by people he could not see, did not know and had no interest in including him.
This story reminds me of a day years ago when I was waiting in line to board a ferry crossing a section of Puget Sound. There was a wheel chair accessible place for boarding and quite a few people in line waiting for the elevator that would take them up to the passenger deck. There were so many, in fact, that they were beginning to impede auto traffic onto the boat. Suddenly, I heard over a loud speaker an angry voice shouting to the deck hands below, “Get them damn wheel chairs out of the way!” I wonder if it ever occurred to this fellow to consider how it must feel to be called an inanimate object. I wonder if it ever dawned on him how insulting it is to be thought of as just some troublesome obstacle, a nuisance to be pushed out of the way. The beggar in this story might have been physically blind. But the disciples are afflicted with a much more dangerous and insidious blindness. Jesus must open their eyes to the reality that human suffering is not to be theoretically explained, but addressed with generosity and compassion.
The religious authorities in this story are also afflicted with blindness of a similar kind. Unmoved by a miracle never seen from the dawn of creation, they remain fixated on a legal technicality. This was a sabbath day. In order to open a blind man’s eyes, Jesus made clay. Making clay is work. Work is not to be done on the sabbath. Thus, Jesus is a sinner and sinners cannot perform miracles. Accordinly, either the miracle did not happen or it happened quite apart from Jesus. Though they have the testimony of the blind man who now sees; the testimony of those who knew him before and after the miracle and the testimony of his parents that he was, in fact, born blind; none of that matters. The facts be damned. “We know that this man is a sinner,” they insist. When the formerly blind man will not be bullied, threatened or cajoled into changing his testimony, the authorities insult him, ridicule him and cast him out. They are willingly and intentionally blind to facts that do not accord with their own view of reality.
There is another name for this type of blindness: call it stupidity. And let me be clear. Stupidity is not the result of cognitive impairment. Neither is it the equivalent of ignorance. Stupidity is a moral impairment. It is a toxic blend of laziness and cowardice. Stupid people believe lies because they are comforting and because learning the truth is often disturbing, uncomfortable and requires effort. Stupid people follow the path of least resistance, stubbornly believing what they want to believe whether it is true or not because it is easier than learning and less frightening than confronting uncomfortable truths.
Stupidity is dangerous. Ignorance can be overcome through education. Error can be corrected by appeal to fact and reason. Neither of these weapons are effective against stupidity. As noted by preacher, theologian and martyr under the Third Reich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.” “After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010).
Stupidity is also dangerous because stupid people are easily manipulated. They are attracted to authoritarian leaders who echo their prejudices, give them scapegoats to blame for their unhappiness and offer them simplistic solutions to complex problems. An authoritarian leader makes weak, lazy and cowardly people feel bigger, stronger and more important. There is security to be found for such people in a frenzied crowd cheering a demagogue spewing all the hateful and bigoted sentiments they themselves feel but lack the courage to utter in the presence of polite company.
Stupid people will do and say in a crowd what they could never muster the courage to do on their own. Take, for example, those arrested and prosecuted for participation in the Republican insurrection of January 6, 2021. When forced to appear alone in court, few of these folks stood defiantly defending their conduct or chose prison rather than expressing remorse for their actions. On the whole, they sniveled, cried, claimed that they were tricked into their violent acts and pleaded for judicial clemency. Moreover, many of these “contrite” defendants reverted to their old seditious rhetoric once they were safely out of court and back in the company of their peers. See “Capital Rioters’ Tears, Remorse Don’t Spare Them from Jail,” A.P. News, January 2, 2022. Though they often fancy themselves fiercely independent rebels, stupid people are actually weak, insecure and deeply dependent upon peer support.
Jesus, like Bonhoeffer, knew that trying “to persuade the stupid person with reasons,  is senseless and dangerous.” He does not give up on them, however. Contrary to the old saw, it is possible to “fix stupid.” Yet as much as Jesus loves and cares for stupid people-as he does all people-he never gets drawn into senseless arguments with them on their own terms. He never stoops to answering their stupid questions. Jesus knows that trying to reason with those who lack “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” is futile. So, instead, he poses his own inquiries, tells stories and employs parables to “change the subject,” crack his opponents’ venire of certainty and get them to ask better questions, questions that might cause them to stumble out of the darkness and into the light. “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” John 9:39.
Sometimes, you have to be blind before you can see. Sometimes you need to unlearn everything you think you know before you can know truly. Sometimes it takes an eye opening event to convince you that the people sleeping on our streets, desperately seeking asylum at our borders, living in states that deny their very right to exist, struggling with unintended pregnancies and fighting addiction are not social problems but real people, opportunites for us to exercise compassion and so discover deeper fellowship with Jesus. Sometimes it takes the death of a black man under the knee of a police officer to wake us up from the dark lie of the American Dream and open our eyes to the reality of the systemic evil under which we live, along with the hopeful possibility of a better dream.
Here is a poem about sight and the maturation of vision with its seeming loss.
My vision isn’t what it used to be.
Time was when I could read signs
A quarter mile up the road.
I could make out the tree line
On mountain ranges, mark
The glacial frontier and the
Divide between ice and ice cold stone
With surgical precision and
Rock solid certainty.
Today, without specs,
I can barely discern the signs
In front of my face and wonder even so
If there is anything on them to be read.
Field and forest, ice and stone
All blend together into one
As life into death and I’ll be damned
If I can tell them apart from where I stand.
I squint at the horizon for signs of contrast,
Shape and defining form,
But see only the blur of connectedness as,
It seems, did the great Monet in his declining years.
Yet lacking clarity, perhaps we see the more truly.
 Ironically, though, stupid people often waste a considerable amount of mental energy constructing rationalizations, conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” to support their lies. Case in point: the twenty-seven million dollar Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The museum, if you can call it that, is dedicated to propping up the belief, neither scientific nor biblical but critical to Christian fundamentalist faith, that the earth is a mere six thousand years old, having been created in six days of twenty-four hours. Slick dioramas showing people cavorting with dinosaurs, elaborate geological displays cherry picking facts in an effort to prove and date Noah’s flood along with elaborate and blatantly inaccurate wall murals purporting to discredit evolutionary science are all employed to preserve this “young earth” lie against the onslaught of overwhelming genuine scientific evidence to the contrary. A more impressive monument to stupidity is hard to imagine.
1 thought on “Fixing Stupid”
Agree on creation museum – easier to believe what is printed and ‘everyone else’believes than do the incredible hard work of reading and discerning what God wants us-as his children -to know