Do you remember the old food pyramid that shows how a healthy body depends on a balanced diet, with the right proportions of food groups and nutrition vs. junk foods?
In our current epistemological crisis, where we are bombarded by a glut of content and information but have so little wisdom, I think we need guidance on healthier habits of knowledge intake. We need a wisdom pyramid. We need to think about what sorts of “knowledge groups,” and in what proportion, feed a healthy life of true wisdom and true joy.
This is what I’m proposing it looks like:
Level I: Bible
On the first level we have the Bible. Just as carbohydrates are (or used to be) the foundational level of the food pyramid, so is the Bible the foundation of the wisdom pyramid; our daily bread. The Bible is God’s divine speech-act. It’s the creator of all things speaking wisdom to us! The Bible is a book about God, and so if Proverbs 9:10 is right that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,” then reading about God in the Bible is key.
So of course we should build our diet of knowledge around the Bible. It’s the bestselling book in history for a good reason. It’s the energy that keeps us going.
Level II: Church
On the second level I have Church, with two important aspects: the local, physical church on one hand and church tradition/history on the other.
It’s important for our sanity in today’s world that we are grounded in physical, regular community. The local church provides this. The local church provides us with access to wise people who we can know and be known by, who we can have conversations with in physical presence. The embodied rhythms of worship and liturgy in a local church are also important sources of truth. I would suggest that there is more truth in the acts of taking the Lord’s Supper, singing and praying at church on a Sunday than in all the articles we might have read online that week.
The other aspect of church that gives us sanity is its historical continuity. Time-tested theology. It’s the reassurance that we are not reinventing the wheel here. There are church practices and beliefs that have been practiced and believed for 2,000 years. We need to surround ourselves with this. We need to listen to the voices of the wise people in Christian history who have come before us. We need to cling to this continuity as a foundation for our wisdom.
Level III: Nature & Beauty
I think a huge part of gaining wisdom is in attuning ourselves to nature and beauty.
The natural world does not lie. I love this recent L.A. Times headline: “We may live in a post-truth era, but nature does not.” So true! We can’t have our own preferred truth or “alternative facts” about whether or not it’s raining. It either is or it isn’t.
Nature is a reliable and nourishing source of wisdom. God speaks to us through nature, through general revelation (e.g. Psalm 19, Romans 1:20).
The heavens declare the glory of God. So get outside and listen! Being in nature also helps us to be humble; it reminds us that there we are one created being as part of a massive created world. It leads us to understand the rhythms of nature and the rhythms of our own bodies, the concepts of Sabbath and rest. It helps us be cultivate gratitude for all that God has given to us.
And this leads to the importance of beauty. Seeking out beauty, whether the natural beauty of God’s creation or the created beauty of human art and culture, also helps us to be reflective and grateful. It helps us to sit still and simply enjoy, to observe, to pay attention. And it often inspires us to create!
Beauty is by definition unnecessary; it is superfluous; and so it has a way of helping us understand grace and God’s love. There are some truths about God and existence that books and words simply can’t really capture, but beauty can.
Level IV: Books
Books. Read them! We learn so much from books, and not only the ideas in them but the habits of thinking they cultivate in us. Books helps us to be disciplined and patient, to take longer amounts of time to process and wrestle with an idea. That can be so hard in today’s world, where anything that takes longer than a few minutes to read is hard to justify. But believe me, 10 hours spent reading a great book is time well spent.
So read books. Read more old books than new books. Read the Great Books twice rather than a mediocre book once. Read a broad array of books: fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, philosophy and literature.
Spend more time reading books than wandering around the Internet. Even the titans of the Internet read lots of books! Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks.
Which brings me to the highest section of the pyramid, the Internet and Social Media.
Level V: Internet
The Internet is not in the dreaded “fats and oils” top of the pyramid because it is a fact of life in today’s world and there are plenty of good things about it. We have access to so many great resources online, it’s just a matter of finding them and focusing on the right sources. My advice on the Internet is to use it as needed and for specific purposes, but not to just “surf” it and see where it takes you. Focus on trusted sources and content recommended to you by wise people. Don’t just click on clickbait!
Level VI: Social Media
And finally, social media. What can I say? As the old food pyramid said, USE SPARINGLY!
Part of the crisis of epistemology we are facing in this post-truth, alternative facts, fake news world stems from the fact that social media occupies the base level in many of our wisdom pyramids. It’s where we spend most of our time. And that does not lead to health!
So I would say: Learn to live without social media. Like cookies or brownies or alcohol, it’s OK in small doses but not healthy as a staple in your diet.
One thing you'll notice about this wisdom pyramid is that it goes from the most enduring up to the most fleeting. God is eternal, so he should be the base of wisdom. The church has been around for 2,000 years and will outlive the universe. Nature and beauty have been around and will be for a long time. Books are more of a recent invention in history, but many of them have lasted for centuries. The Internet and social media? Well they are fickle things, changing everyday.
So orient your knowledge diet around the things are endure. This will help you find wisdom and joy in a fake news, post-truth, alternative facts world
UPDATE: Some have asked for a version of the Wisdom Pyramid that is on a white background. Here it is! Feel free to print out, distribute, use in schools, church, etc.