Willful Ignorance

Willful Ignorance January 31, 2021

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

I would never call anyone stupid.  I shouldn’t say never because I have done it in the past.  Usually, it is out of anger or my own childishness that I throw out that label.  But there are so many different kinds of cognitive impairments that this label really doesn’t describe the situation and even if it did, it is probably is not that person’s fault.  We are just being mean-spirited when we call someone stupid, and not necessarily accurate.

Willful Ignorance is when we choose to ignore any input that might change our already held assumptions.  It is driven by confirmation bias and avoids all evidence that might upset our current model of reality.  In law terms, this mindset might be call willful blindness.

Stupidity might even be something we can’t avoid, but ignorance doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

Where do we see this willful ignorance and how can we change it?

Currently, we see this condition in politics.  Because we assume having our candidate in office is most important, we believe the stories attached to them by our group and ignore the other side’s obvious false information.  This became painfully obvious in this year’s election when conspiracy theories and bad information were rampant and widely accepted, enough that some people felt the world would end if they didn’t overthrow the election.

Willful Ignorance is also connected with issues of the pandemic, but I don’t have enough space to discuss that issue right now.

These types of beliefs and practices are sadly often rooted in religion.  In my background, it was promoted that there was a demon around every corner, so that made it easier to believe any kind of myth about the world.  Once a week for over a year, I would receive false information from the same person.  It only took a little bit of research to show it false, but she kept forwarding from her “reliable” source until I had to unfriend her.  I’m not saying she is stupid, just willfully ignorant of the facts.  I find this to be quite common in religious circles.  We search for information that confirms our bias.

The trouble with overcoming ignorance about anything is that it takes effort and sometimes, discomfort to find out what is true and not just what is agreeable.  At some point, we invested some time to settle on our current belief system and accept the thoughts we would defend.  And then, we aligned with a group for needed support and a reminder that we are “right.”

But, as many have said, the truth is a persistent thing, and often it makes us uncomfortable.

We can either lash out at the group that opposes us or we can do what I did a few years ago and start asking better questions.  If something troubles us, like when we see our group going to war or trying to overthrow a branch of government or other things that contradict our core understanding, then we should dig a little deeper and see whether we are being willfully ignorant about the apparent contradiction.

As a pastor, I noticed the issues that were occasionally challenged.  In my mind, they also didn’t make sense, but I was paid to defend them.  Eventually, I allowed myself to ask the questions and when I pulled at the string, the sweater came unraveled.

I wouldn’t say it’s been a blissful journey over the past few years, asking questions, digging deeper, and uprooting my ignorance.  But it has been worth it and I have found peace.

I traded being accepted and agreeing with the group for my integrity.  Every day, I feel like I’m getting closer to an authentic understanding of the world based on real research and asking very tough questions.

I wish you the same.  Take some small steps out of the comfort of the stable and look over the horizon and ask better questions.  When we are ready to learn, wisdom presents itself.  Understand that most people aren’t looking for the truth (no matter what they say), and they might resist or try to hold you in their control.

I have found the journey to be a real adventure, full of twists and turns and a fair amount of struggle.  But I found things like peace, presence, authenticity and wisdom.  I would never go back to being willfully ignorant again.  I will never say “I don’t know.”  I now say, “I will look into that.”

I wish you well on your journey.

Be where you are, be who you are, be at peace,

Karl Forehand



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Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and the soon-to-be released Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary and Too Many Podcasters podcasts. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!


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2 responses to “Willful Ignorance”

  1. We need another phrase as well. Willful ignorance is a somewhat accurate term, but it doesn’t encompass all of what I’ve observed.

    We know the person who spouts that Smartmatic voting systems altered votes to give Biden the victory… in say Georgia. But you come back and say “Hold on a minute. Smartmatic only ran an election in LA county, CALIFORNIA. You’re wrong.”

    So why don’t they change their mind. It’s more than plugging up their ears or talking about some “alternative q fact”. These people are deeply emotionally disturbed people and deeply damaged in their sense of self. They need some way to have meaning in their lives and their meaning is by whatever they allow to program value into themselves.

    So what does that mean? They watch Fox or OAN exclusively for their emotional management. They need to be outraged and triggered. They get their fix there. They won’t seek out another news source like an NPR because they want that emotional hit like a drug junkie.

    Often, they are religious. Already, they are primed to believe fantastical accounts such as talking serpents or sticks transforming into snakes or all sorts of other nonsense. What is a Q fantasy about jewish lasers or that children’s blood for youth but just more of the same? But the problem is that these individuals seek out abusive groups that reinforce their already mentally disturbed world view. Instead of having a good friend say “Hey, we need to talk. I think you have a problem. I want to help. Can we talk? No judgment. There are just a few things that make me feel like you need a helping hand.” No. What they get are “Trump won the election by God” Q nonsense. They get religious leaders who abuse them and push them further into disordered thinking. At first it’s just “abortion = murder”. But now, look at what they are doing. Now, these mentally ill people believe that children’s blood is being used to keep Tom Hanks youthful. They think that Trump was going to uncover some deep state pedophilia nonsense. This is not right. We shouldn’t treat these mentally disturbed people like this. Franklin Graham and others need to be held accountable for their abuse of these mentally ill people who can somewhat pass as normal in public.. but aren’t.

    What we are dealing with is more than an intellectual denial. It’s an emotional denial and I’m not sure how to fix this. We don’t have the mental support infrastructure to address these deeply damaged individuals nor do we have a society that can easily address it. How can we when a third of the population appears to be insane? Yes.. even the ones who didn’t storm the Capitol. Those conservative voters voted for Trump after the mess of these past 4 years. So the problem we face is substantial. It’s not fixable. The junkies need to hit rock bottom but before they hit rock bottom, they’re going to kill a lot of decent people who are just unlucky enough to live in the same society and they can’t escape. Again, over 400 thousand Americans are dead and these mentally ill people still believe that Covid is a hoax or something. They’re gambling with other people’s lives and there’s no way to infringe on their “right” to murder other people’s families. America is screwed up because we allow conservative mental illness to go unchecked. (in the left, they had antivax which was mocked mercilessly. Now, the antivax is moving to the conservative circles and it’s flourishing because conservativism is a form of mental illness. life is about change. If you cannot adapt, you are broken inside. I mean, I’m not a 5 year old. I’m not a 22 year old. When I shovel snow, I feel it now. Life is change.
    So I don’t pretend that I’m still that 18 year old kid. I take two alleve or I pay somebody to shovel. I acknowledge the change and I don’t deny it and attempt to “conserve” my past in an unhealthy way.)

    Religious people – especially religious leaders – need to stop enabling this nonsense. The need to start drawing barriers and pushing the idea that “Q is not a topic that is credible”. We need leaders who do the equivalent of a 1st grader who tells his friend that Santa isn’t real. We need the equivalent of parents who say “Aren’t you a little too old to believe in Santa?”

    This atheist can’t do it. What I can do is prevent people from accessing religion by equating religious people with crazy. It’s not hard. All I have to do is show the capitol coup or some nonsense and go “There is no Santa. Look at all these christians who are so nasty. You figure it out.” Those people aren’t interested in religious freaks who abuse their friends or spout weird “God sent Trump” nonsense. So I’m playing the role of vaccine and trying to keep people away from the disease of religion.

    Religious people need to start developing a treatment for the chronic disease of religion so that it doesn’t kill the host. Think of it like the HIV medication that an HIV positive person has to take every single day or else. It’s not a cure but we can hopefully contain the mental issues that are exacerbated by magical thinking.

  2. I realize that I am a full year late to this “party” (post = 1/31/21; reply = 2/27/22) but none-the-less, I will comment anyway in the hope that someone will possibly read my contribution.

    To the author: Karl Forehand – whether you call it stupidity, willful ignorance, or confirmation bias…it’s all the same thing: a denial of reality. Humans are quite prone to “truthiness” (i.e. if something feels true, it must be true) despite all sensibility, logic, or evidence. But this is the pathetic history of humanity; we have a penchant to accept absurdity and reject rationality. Our species is a sorry excuse for an intelligent life-form.

    I share with you three quotes that coincide with your thesis. (two of which are my own; one is the reflection of a genius):
    1. Humans are either idiots or assholes – often both!
    2. Most people do not seek truth – they merely look to confirm
    what they already think is truth.
    3. Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so. – Mark Twain –

    And to the commentator, “jh” – I agree entirely with you. A full third of the American populace is insane, or as I prefer to say, DELUSIONAL!!! As a fellow atheist, I concur that I can’t really expect to de-convert the “converted”…they ‘ll believe what they WANT to believe. I can only hope to offer a “believable” option by exposing the fallacies and expounding the facts.
    – JTJ

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