Catholic priests, when required to instruct a potential convert who seems incapable of grasping the simplest points of doctrine, speak sometimes of “invincible ignorance”. This is an interesting phrase: wilful ignorance, not stupidity, is the problem, and nothing penetrates this wall. It frequently happens that a lack of interest is mistaken for stupidity. Most of us are incapable of understanding matters in which we have no interest, whereas those who are passionately interested will master a subject which, to others, appears complex and abstruse.
I once had a friend who edited a journal of “Comparative Religion”. One day his neighbour accosted him over the garden fence. “I’m told you’re involved in religious matters,” he said, adding with the pride of an independent thinker: “I feel I should tell you that I am an atheist!”
My friend expressed mild interest and asked the man if he had ever read Plato or Plotinus. He had not. “Perhaps you have studied St Augustine and Aquinas? No? Pascal might be more to your taste? Ah, then perhaps you have ventured further afield. “The Upanishads?” “Never heard of them,” said the man. “The Quran?” “The what?” This went on for a while until my friend sighed and told his neighbour:
“You are not an atheist. You’re an ignoramus.”
Gai Eaton, Remembering God. Reflections on Islam. pp 139-140