Recent talk of “Willful blindness” in reference to the House Select Committee on January 6 public hearings leaves the door ajar to re-publish “Two Universities: Paris and Liberty” from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), p.101-2.
Two Universities: Paris and Liberty
“Let’s teach them (i.e., Muslims) a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell told thousands of students here Dec. 4, with an unsubtle reference to a pistol in his back pocket. Five days later, he announced plans to let qualified students store guns in residence halls for the first time. —Nick Anderson, “For Many at Liberty University”
When the president of “the largest Christian university in the world” in Lynchburg, Virginia urges every student to buy a gun and get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, for whatever reasons, it seems a little oxymoronic and moronic. It’s neither Christian nor smart. It’s not what people do in college. They buy books, not guns. It’s not consistent with the traditions and standards of higher learning. Scholars and presidents of real universities don’t talk like that.
In the thirteenth century CE, a young Thomas Aquinas enrolled as a student of Christian theology and philosophy at one of the world’s first universities, the University of Paris. His professors introduced him to the writings of Aristotle, Plato, and Maimonides in their original Greek and Latin languages, and to the Christian scriptures.
Lynchburg, Virginia in the twenty-first century is long way from Paris in the 13th Century, and that’s too bad for all of us in America where what Aquinas later called “willful ignorance” has become the order of the day.
Thomas Aquinas wrote,
It is clear that not every kind of ignorance is the cause of a sin, but that alone which removes the knowledge which would prevent the sinful act. …This may happen on the part of the ignorance itself, because, to wit, this ignorance is voluntary. … For such like negligence renders the ignorance itself voluntary and sinful, provided it be about matters one is *bound and able to know.Thomas aquinas,Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 76, a. 1, a. 3.]
The sin that comprehends all others
Thomas Aquinas quoted St. Augustine, upon whose work his thinking drew, with a statement about willful ignorance. “Hoc et peccatum quo tenentur cuncta peccata” (This is the sin which comprehends all other sins).
Liberty University is not a thirteenth century Catholic university. It’s Protestant and fundamentalist. It prides itself on its knowledge of the Bible.
But don’t we have to suppose that somewhere in that auditorium in Lynchburg, there was a professor who cringed? Someone there who resonated with the old student at the University of Paris? Someone there who thought that telling young professing Christians to arm themselves was a deliberate act of willful ignorance, a sin against faith, the sin that comprehends all others? Someone who knew Matthew 26:52 by heart — Jesus’s words to Peter when Peter had cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear at Jesus’s arrest –“Put away your sword. Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword” — and wanted to scream out loud about willful ignorance?
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, June 13, 2022.