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Derek Ouellette: Should Knowledge Be Free?

Guest blog by Derek Ouellette. Derek blogs at Covenant of Love. If you are not currently following him, you should be.

He works in marketing and advertising for Cameron's Bookstore in Windsor, Ontario. He says: “I’ve worked in the Christian book industry for more than seven years and in spite of the struggles the retail end of the industry has faced recently, I love my job.” He also is a Classics Major at the University of Windsor. His interests include guitar, theology and history.

We live in a world where it seems knowledge is free. Or at least we think it should be. We call this the Information Age which grew up hand-in-hand with the Digital Age.

Never before has it been easier to explore topics, learn new things, gather information - both useful and useless - than today.

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, has established a superb track-record as a credible source of free information. Studies have shown — and this is way back in 2005 — that Wikipedia is just as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Today, no doubt, it has improved upon itself.

YouTube is an excellent free “how-to” resource. I don’t need to go to school or to rely upon my father to learn how to repair a hardwood floor, hang heavy pictures, build a deck, barbecue like an expert. I don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to attend a lecture in a far off place. I don’t need to take computer courses to learn how to do practically anything on a computer. All of that information is freely given by others like me. Others who agree that knowledge should be free.

And I love it.

I grew up with a learning disability. I was “slow.” I had a more difficult time learning things than the other kids. And I could never understand why it was that people held back information. I could never understand why my grade four math teacher insisted I learn how to figure out what 9x9 was. Why couldn’t she simply tell me that 9x9 equaled 27 and let me memorize that fact. I felt my Bible college professor was being downright shrewd when he counseled his students to hold back 80 percent of what they knew when they teach.

Why can’t we just agree to make it easy on one another by freely telling each other everything we know? Isn’t that one way we can better humanity? By sharing what we know freely. Isn’t that why I blog?

So why do some bloggers save their best stuff for their ebooks? Or for their print books? Why not just tell-all? I’m guilty too. I have a “free” ebook on my blog. But it’s not really free, is it? It’s yours for the taking, if you sign up to my email list. Hence, not absolutely free.

We live in a world, I believe, that is rebelling against power. Against rich CEO’s who manipulate the system for their own benefit.

And we know, don’t we, that knowledge is power?

Then wouldn’t the Christian thing to do be to surrender your knowledge, to give it up freely to everybody you know, perhaps unsolicited? Are not Christians supposed to surrender power?

What Christ follower wouldn’t divulge all of the information they’ve learned in higher education to everybody around them freely?

Well, I have one in mind in particular. His name is C.S. Lewis.

During Lewis’ golden years teaching at Oxford, the 1930’s, there was a common practice of many other tutor’s at Oxford called “gramophone.” Gramophone was the practice of the tutor “simply imparting information” that the student failed to grasp on his or her own.

Lewis rejected this whole practice. He did not see it as his responsibility to impart information to his students. He saw it as his responsibility to equip his students with the necessary skill set required to solve problems and gather information on their own.

As Alister McGrath puts it in his forthcoming book,
C.S.Lewis - A Life,

We possess a number of accounts of Lewis’s approach to tutorials during the 1930’s, all of which emphasize his acutely critical questioning, his desire not to waste time, and a certain impatience with weaker or lazier students. (p.163-164)

At first students didn’t like this about Lewis. Perhaps I would have been one of them. Frustrated and lazy and just wanting clear and straight information. But by the 1940’s Lewis was famous among the students at Oxford who lined up and would do anything to have him as a tutor.

I feel like this describes, to some extent, the Christianity we live it. We want all of the information, clear and simple. No mystery. No allure. And definitely no questions.

What we want is answers.

Is it any wonder such a strong reaction arose against Rob Bell? And what about the book
Do Hard Things in which Brett and Alex Harris discovered that teenagers are able and willing, once you get them past the inferiority complex and lazy expectations of society, to do hard things.

By lowering our standards, by making everything free — be it information or technology or whatever — could we be doing more damage than good with good intentions?

Sure “knowledge is power” is one way to look at it. But it’s not the only way to look at it. “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a life time.” Give a man knowledge, starve him of the God-given gift of intellect, critical thinking, personal growth and the adventure that comes with it.

Teach a man to think. Now we could use some more of that.

[P.S. the irony of this post does not escape me.]

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