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Fake News and Fake Faith

November 28, 2016

For the past year, whenever I looked at Facebook, I constantly came across news stories with alarming headlines designed to rouse maximum fear or anger. Some of the news stories were obviously liberal in perspective, and some were obviously conservative. It was also clear that they were hoping to sway voters in the presidential election.

Most of the stories I ignored, but occasionally one would prick my interest. Could this claim possibly be true? I would often go to Snopes.com to see whether they had done any research on the veracity of the claim. Often Snopes would say the story had no basis in fact. It was fake news. For my friends who were posting this news, I would gently suggest that they check out Snopes.

Not everyone trusts Snopes. Some conservatives claim it’s just a liberal couple doing the investigating and coming to liberal conclusions. But what I like about Snopes is that it provides all of its research right there–you can check it out for yourself and come to your own conclusion. When I do that, I almost always agree with Snope’s assessment.

Another fact-checker I like is PolitFact.com. At this site professional investigators check out the accuracy of claims made by politicians. They zero in on both Democrats and Republicans, and they rate their claims anywhere from True to Pants on Fire False. Again, some people accuse PolitFact of liberal bias. It’s true that it is impossible to remove all bias. PolitiFact has to decide which claims to investigate, and then has to assess the level of truthfulness in the claim. Both of these steps involve subjective judgments. Nevertheless, the investigators are attempting to get at the facts as accurately and fairly as possible, and they present all of their evidence and reasoning so that readers can make their own determination. When I do this, I agree with PolitFact about 90% of the time.

I am writing about this because our society is in a “fact crisis.” Most Americans no longer get their news from newspapers or television news. Instead, Americans are relying ever-more heavily on cable television commentators, television satirists, bloggers, and social media newsfeeds. The problem with these sources are many: they are often opinion-based rather than unbiased reportage of facts; they often have a political and partisan agenda; they often have no editorial oversight for trimming out what is false or lop-sided in perspective; and they are sometimes filled with manufactured fake news. In Hitler’s Germany, propaganda (in contrast to unbiased news) was used to convince the public of things that were not wholly true. If a lie gets repeated enough times, people will believe the lie.

This is why it is so crucial that people get their news information from sources that have checks and balances, editors, and a commitment to be as nonpartisan and unbiased as possible. Can bias be eliminated? No. But we can eliminate intentional bias in our news. Subscribe to one or two newspapers and one or two news magazines–online or hard copy.

Fake news leads to fake faith. We begin to believe in what is not true. We trust in concepts and perspectives and “facts” that are made-up or distorted by prejudice and fear and a desire for power. We become disciples of an ideology instead of an ideal. We become small-minded instead of broad-minded. We become either naive or cynical rather than critical-minded.

Faith is often thought of as a leap–a going beyond the available facts to make a commitment that emerges from our intuition or reasoning or experience. That is true–both for religious faith as well as secular kinds of faith. All of us, whether we realize it or not, live by faith.

Trusting in God is not the same thing as trusting that the earth is round–a demonstrable fact. Trusting in God is about trusting in love; trusting that there is such a thing as justice toward which the universe is bending; trusting that there is meaning and purpose; trusting that there is a deeper reality undergirding the reality of measurable nature.

But religious faith still needs facts so that it is effectively doing God’s work of promoting love and justice and peacemaking and healing. It still needs facts so that it is fully congruent with the world we live in. True religious faith goes beyond facts but cannot be contrary to facts.

So, read the newspaper and give up fake news.

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2 Comments
  1. Bob Briscoe permalink

    Getting beyond the bias is hard to do. What do you think of World Magazine?

    I also saw an interesting quote from C.S. Lewis:

    “Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.”

    • Unfortunately I am not familiar with World Magazine. Your CS Lewis quote is certainly provocative! Thanks.

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