By Sister Patricia McCann
It is time to go back to the use of the word ignorant in our Mercy vocabulary. Catherine McAuley committed us to service among “the poor, sick and ignorant.” In recent years we changed wording to uneducated in many of our documents and in daily usage. Thinking of the vast network of Mercy educational institutions, we thought uneducated seemed more inclusive and less pejorative. And in that limited context it probably is.
In contemporary times, though, we are discovering a new urgency about denouncing ignorance. It cripples our society in so many destructive ways: racism is rooted in ignorance, bigotry is rooted in ignorance, sexism is rooted in ignorance, unbridled capitalism is rooted in ignorance, ignoring environmentalism is rooted in ignorance, tolerating violence is rooted in ignorance, oppressing those who are poor is rooted in ignorance. This list could go on. In fact, ignorance is bedrock to so much evil in human society.
It is not difficult to identify whole segments of American life in which educated, sometimes even well educated, people are impaired by ignorance, whether willful, circumstantial or accidental. The U.S. Senate comes to mind. How can so many educated men and women choose to shut down government and render their public service nil by opting for a work style of polarizing paralysis rather than make real effort toward bi-partisan collaboration? Organized opposition to Critical Race Theory swamping school boards across the nation is another example. Angry parents, many of whom have no clear understanding of what CRT is, are mobilized by equally uninformed fear mongers to march upon their schools with demands rooted in bigotry and latent racism. The poisoning of segments of evangelical Christianity and American democracy with “great (white) replacement theory” via Fox News and others fits the same pattern.
There is no dearth of evil animated and sustained by ignorance in American life right now: racism and white supremacy, the QAnon movement, multiple conspiracy theories flooding the Internet, efforts to restrict voting rights surfacing in various states, bigotry against LGBTQ persons, escalating incidents of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim violence, hate crimes.
The grave danger of ignorance is in the moral blindness it fosters. Many of the people impaired in the ways described above are otherwise quite ordinary good people. They go to church, love their families, are good neighbors, live among us, and sometimes are us. The ignorance grows out of limited experience of cultural diversity, misinformation, peer group influence, fear, etc.
Information and education can help to diminish ignorance, but a genuine transformation of behavior requires change of both heart and mind. As we sisters approach another Institute Chapter with renewed commitment to our Critical Concerns, wisdom invites us to put combatting ignorance high on the agenda. Opportunities for deepening multicultural awareness and experience, both among ourselves and for others, is a good place to start. Our Mercy Communities, ministries, collective voice and prayer provide fertile field in which to sow the seeds of tolerance, acceptance and mutuality which can overcome ignorance.