We use the expression, jokingly, when we want to suggest that something or some behavior is so bad, so distressing or so stupid that it would be better to say nothing about it.
One could see in it another, more serious connotation. Many families face the challenge and the quandary of revealing to a close relative a catastrophic diagnosis, the presence of an inoperable cancer, or a doctor’s estimate that he or she has just a few months to live. The patients “wouldn’t want to know”. Or would they ? (I would.) Reveal or conceal ? That is the question.
Some people are in harm’s way, but they don’t know it. The captain knows the ship is sinking, or that the fire will soon be out of control, and there is no way to do anything about it and no time to get help. He tells the band to keep playing. No point in creating panic. They’ll find out soon enough.
The best data reveals that unavoidable disaster is imminent, a tsunami or an asteroid or a contagious disease discovered too late. People wouldn’t want to know. Things would be worse if they did.
All this seems a far call from our concerns about faith and religion. But I have often confronted the reaction of people to my grim statements about the fact that all they have been taught about God is nonsense, about the pointlessness of prayer and about the after-life being a myth. Some tell me they would have preferred not to know. They refuse, in fact, in spite of what they now recognize as at least doubtful, to “let go”. “Distressing”, “depressing” news like this they can do without. So they enter a state of denial. It can’t be true : it is too much to accept that their faith is unfounded, so they prefer to ignore the truth and continue to find comfort in illusions.
Such a phenomenon poses a question to iconoclasts like me. Should I avoid the issue, burn my book and close down my blog ? Primum non nocere (“first do no harm”) is a permanent reminder of the implications of destroying or even disturbing people’s faith. I try to justify myself by saying that most simple believers will never read the book or consult the blog. Those that do presumably can tell the book by its cover and the blog by its title. If either tempts them to sample the content of one or the other, it’s their choice to continue and hopefully weigh the pitch presented, make up their own mind, and decide to choose to believe or not to believe. I want to give them the choice. I feel that they have the right to examine the pros and cons, and that I am doing them a service in making an intelligent decision possible.
I must admit, however, that for some it is pretty shattering to discover that they have been duped right down the line. They feel that I leave them with nothing and no one to believe in. I hope they discover, as I did, that the truth really does make one free to enjoy life for what it is, whatever about its inevitable, definitive end; that instead of kidding themselves or allowing themselves to be deceived by the fantasies and fiction of faith, they can make the most of the opportunities life offers; and that having discovered their dignity as free individuals, they can find meaning and fulfillment in developing their own potential and in making their life and the life of their loved ones worth living.
You wouldn’t want to know, but many will stick with the comfort zone religion has provided them. They don’t want to know, or try to understand, how the rest of us can do without it. When will they ever learn ?