Unknowing: The New Religion of Unlearning

Unknowing: The New Religion of Unlearning February 26, 2024

IMAGE: Keith Giles [MidJourney]

Over the weekend I was reading through Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterful novel THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and in Chapter 5 “The Domestication of Hunch” there is a reference to a group of Foretellers in a distant land where the protagonist travels to ask a question. The culture in this strange place is centered around a religious cult that honors ignorance and doubts wisdom.

This bit of dialog near the end of the chapter really intrigued me. It’s when the outsider asks the Weaver [their central prophet] about why their power to know the future doesn’t seem to change them.

The Weaver answers, “Well, we come here to the Fastnesses mostly to learn which questions not to ask.”

“But, you’re the Answerers!”

“You don’t see yet, Genry, why we perfected the practice of foretelling?”

“No—”

“To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”

The main character ponders this for a while as they walk together silently in the soft rain, and then the Weaver continues:

“The unknown…the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion…but if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion…Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable – the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?”

“That we shall die.”
“Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, and we already know the answer. The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

Meditating on this idea has started to fascinate me and makes me wonder if there’s not some deeper insight at work in this notion of a religion centered on the lack of knowing.

Creating a religion centered around the accumulation of uncertainty, the admission of ignorance and the celebration of knowing nothing would be a paradoxical and unconventional concept, but for the sake of exploration, let’s delve into how this faith might be framed:

Admission of Ignorance as Virtue: In this new religion, ignorance is not seen as a flaw but rather as a virtue. Followers believe that the pursuit of knowledge leads to unnecessary complications and distractions from the true essence of existence. Instead, they advocate for embracing simplicity and a lack of understanding as the purest state of being.

Remember: Socrates himself once famously said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Embracing Uncertainty: Uncertainty and ambiguity are celebrated as fundamental aspects of life. Followers are encouraged to let go of the desire for certainty and control, finding solace in the mystery of the unknown. They believe that the universe operates according to its own incomprehensible logic, beyond human comprehension.

Practicing the Sacrament of Unlearning: Intellectual pursuits are actively discouraged within this community. The accumulation of knowledge is viewed as a burden rather than a blessing. Instead, followers are encouraged to unlearn societal norms and conditioning, returning to a state of primal innocence and simplicity.

Living in the Now: This religion of unknowing emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment, free from the constraints of past experiences or future expectations. Followers practice mindfulness and meditation to cultivate a state of blissful ignorance, fully immersed in the beauty of each passing moment.

Valuing Questions over Answers: Disciples of unlearning strongly value the power of questions and resist reaching conclusions at every opportunity. Sitting with the question is more important than finding the answers. Meditating on the possibilities these unanswered questions create within the imagination becomes a spiritual practice.

Humility and Acceptance: Humility is highly valued, and followers are taught to embrace their limitations with grace and acceptance. Rather than striving for greatness or superiority, they find contentment in their own insignificance within the vastness of the cosmos.

Simplicity of Rituals: Rituals and ceremonies within the religion are intentionally simple and devoid of intellectual symbolism. Instead, they focus on sensory experiences and emotional resonance, aiming to evoke a sense of wonder and awe without the need for rational explanation.

Community and Connection: Despite their celebration of ignorance, followers of this religion still prioritize human connection and communal support. They come together to celebrate their shared ignorance and to find solace in the collective embrace of unknowingness.

Harmony with Nature: The religion of unlearning promotes a deep reverence for the natural world, seeing it as the ultimate expression of divine ignorance. Followers seek to live in harmony with nature, learning from its inherent simplicity and wisdom.

Overall, this hypothetical religion would challenge conventional notions of knowledge and understanding, inviting its followers to embrace unknowing as a pathway to enlightenment and fulfillment. It would offer an alternative perspective on the pursuit of wisdom, emphasizing the beauty and richness of the unknown.

Now, I’m not sure about you, but the more I think about this, the more this new religion of embracing mystery and celebrating the sacraments of unlearning and unknowing feels right to me.

What about you?

**

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Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” He hosts the Second Cup with Keith podcast, and co-hosts the Apostates Anonymous podcast, and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast.

His latest book, Second Cup with Keith is available now on Amazon HERE>

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