When Is Stupidity A Sin?

Carpenters, shoemakers, peasants, manual workers are guided by common sense. They have no pretension to have the key to wisdom. They do not raise questions the answer of which is above their capacities (Ps 130). The blue-collar worker is very unlikely to have any illusions about the quality of his work: If a carpenter makes a set of drawers that does not close, he knows he has done a bad job. If the food prepared by a cook is unpalatable, the culprit knows that he should go back to cooking school. If a tailor makes a suit that is much too tight for the person who has ordered it, he knows that he is a bad tailor. If a car does not work after a mechanic made repairs, the customer cannot be mistaken in telling him that he is a bad mechanic. Blunt, tangible results are more eloquent than words. The punishment is on the tailcoat of the fault.

Things are very different in the religious, spiritual, intellectual, and artistic spheres. These are domains in which we find both the greatest accomplishments and the greatest aberrations. Recall St. Augustine writing in his Confessions that when he joined the Manichean sect, he “swallowed” the greatest nonsense one can imagine. He writes: “I was led on to such follies as to believe that a fig tree wept when it was plucked . . . . If some ‘saint’ ate this fig — proving, forsooth, that it was picked not by his but by another’s sinful hand — then he would digest it in his stomach, and from it he would breathe forth angels!” (III, 10). Only a very humble man can share with us the stupidity he swallowed when young; most of us would choose not to mention it. Here was one of the greatest minds of all times, and nevertheless he too could fall into the hands of religious charlatans.
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