Listening to NPR on my 45-minute commute to home, the story is about a young Hasidic Jew leaving his orthodox life to join the life of the broader world. This young man is presently in college, studying biology and yes — evolution, physics, psychology to name just a few of his interests. Early in his life, in virtual total isolation from the outside world, he happens to live nearby a public library. The first secular book he reads, he devours. The second is the dictionary. His eyes are abruptly opened to what, up until that very day, is closed off to him by others — his parents, his religious community, his teachers. The only books on his shelf at home are religious. He says to us — the radio audience — “it was glorious.”
Under religious tutelage, he decides to confess his interest in the outside world to one of his teachers. The man, who he respects, puts him in even greater isolation — keeping him from speaking to his classmates — so that he can not infect others with his secular ideas. Finally, unable to continue in his “double life,” the young Hasidic Jew leaves home. His family is devastated for he has “given up this world and the next” per his mother.
While I am listening, I am remembering my semester at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and several youth who seem — true, from the outside looking in — out of control. Never having been on their own, maybe never having been in a big city with movie theaters and bookstores and restaurants and shops and so many people, these young people are confronted by the sights and sounds of the broader world. No longer in a boxed world with all things under the control of others, they must confront temptations never faced before. Why some are more prepared to resist than others is a bit of a mystery to me since I am not one who is protected from the world; rather the world has been in my face since early childhood. And, by the “world” I don’t mean debauchery and evil-doings; rather I mean Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare, Van Gogh, Matise, Rembrandt, Degas, Einstein, Darwin, Freud, Poe, Hawthorne, Neruda, Roethke, Yeats, Byron, Plath, Hesse, etc.
The mind exposed to knowledge is also exposed to error, however, the unexposed mind must necessarily lack ability to effectively debate with opponents of truth.
“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding; furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding… For wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will delight your heart.” (Proverbs 2:1-6, 1o; HCSB)