The Abuse of Knowledge

The Abuse of Knowledge

You and I are gifted beyond comprehension to live in an age when so much information is available. Have you ever stopped to realize this? Never before has a generation had such a vast opportunity to learn, and I wonder whether any future generation will have such an opportunity.

The Growth of Knowledge

The answer to virtually every knowledge-based question is at the tip of your fingers. From the longest-living animal, to the tallest building, to the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere, the answers to all these questions are available in a moment. Yet if you lived merely one hundred years ago, it would be very difficult to track down the answer to even one of these questions.

Scientists and data analysts recognize that not only do we know a great deal, but our knowledge is increasing exponentially. Until 1900, knowledge doubled every 100 years; now, it doubles approximately every 13 months.[1]

In the early 700s AD, the monastic library of the Venerable Bede (one the most learned Europeans of that time) was around 200 books. This was considered one of the larger libraries in Europe. Yet the last time I checked, I had over 160 books in my personal library – and I don’t have a particularly large library!

One final example: the mission statement of Google is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This may sound ridiculously unattainable – but Google Search and Google Maps have already organized and made accessible an immense amount of data. Using the ‘Street View’ feature on Google Maps, you can now tour Japan from your armchair – while the previous century was consigned to black and white photographs in a few books.

The Abuse of Knowledge

Very few people recognize or appreciate this knowledge at their fingertips. Most simply squander these advantages, or worse. There are three primary ways that people seem to abuse this wealth of knowledge.

First, some only wish to be acquainted with many things. These people do not really want true knowledge – only a surface-level primer. They are never interested in true learning, but only in being entertained. Quick snippets of facts are intriguing. Yet they never go beyond the surface. While all the knowledge of the world is spread out before them, they never take advantage of it.

Second, some turn the blessing of knowledge into a curse. They wish to know what is not lawful, and rather than use knowledge for good, they use it for evil. For example, there is no doubt that the internet is not only a great benefit for many people, but also a great detriment for many others. These people turn such a blessing as no previous age ever knew, into such a curse as no previous age ever knew.

Third, some wish to know only for the sake of knowing. As Bernard of Clairvaux once pointed out, “Some desire to know merely for the sake of knowing, and that is shameful curiosity. Some desire to know that they may sell their knowledge, and that too is shameful. Some desire to know for reputation’s sake, and that is shameful vanity. But there are some who desire to know that they may edify others, and that is praiseworthy; and there are some who desire to know that they themselves may be edified, and that is wise.”

Two Questions

I will leave you with two questions.

First, do you recognize and appreciate the knowledge at your fingertips? This blessing did not just ‘happen’ to occur. It is the gift of God.

Second, are you using this knowledge for good? Or are you falling into one of these three errors, squandering and abusing it? Since knowledge is a gift from God, it is one of the talents that he has entrusted to you, his servant (Matthew 25:14-30). It was not given to you to squander, but to use for the Master’s glory.