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Truth in an Age of Disinformation

Carl Ruby

I’m doing a series on tough issues facing the church in the decade ahead.  Last week our topic was Truth in an Age of Disinformation. Who’d have thought that a 30 minute sermon on the ultimate nature of truth in the universe would be so hard to do? It’s a deeply philosophical topic and I am not a deeply philosophical person. I only remember one thing from the philosophy class that I took in college.  One day the professor, a wise old man revered on campus, looked out the window and in a very somber tone asked, “What makes a cow a cow?”  Then he answered his own question, “Cow-ness.” I grew up on a farm where we raised a few cattle and I already understood the nature of cows. I got a “C” in the class.

That being said, my approach to this topic is more practical than philosophical.  
My question was, “How do we know what is true in a world that bombards us with disinformation?”

I always identify the “big ideas” of my messages up front and for this message I settled on two.

PhilosophicalBig idea: God is the source of truth and he will help us to know it.
Practical Big Idea: We need to have our guard up to disinformation, and form our opinions based on what is actually true.

Some think that we are entering a major new era in history similar to the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment.  They call the new era an era of post-truth. In 2016, The Oxford Dictionary picked “post-truth” as the word of the year, its usage increasing by 2000% in 2016 alone.  The definition of the post-truth era is a time when objective facts are less influential in shaping our opinions than emotion, ideology, or personal belief.” It’s time that coined the term, gaslighting, burying people in misinformation.

This is the air that we breathe. How do we as Christians live in a post-truth world?

Some Practical Advice

Understand the tendency for emotions to obscure facts. The more emotional we are, the harder it becomes for us to perceive facts and allow them to shape our opinions.

Understand confirmation bias, the tendency to seek information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.  A 2016 study by PEW Research analyzed 376 million Facebook users’ and their interactions with over 900 news outlets.  The study confirmed that we seek news outlets that confirm our existing beliefs, and discount facts or news that challenge our views.

Learn to recognize disinformation. The BBC interviewed a panel of 50 experts about the major challenges of the 21st century and many of them named the “breakdown of trusted information sources” as one of the biggest challenges facing the world. Much of this misinformation is designed to incite our emotions and obscure the truth. Cable news. social media, talk radio, and even Russia are appealing to our emotions, not to do what is best for us, but to do what is best for them.

The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Russian attempts to sow discord and division in the United States found that 2016 alone, Russia generated 3,400 Facebook and Instagram advertisements, over 61,500 Facebook posts, 116,000 Instagram posts, and 10.4 million tweets, to deceive and divide us.

As an example of the impact of false information PEW cited a fake news story about the death of a CEO which caused market value of his company to drop by $4 billion.

The onslaught of disinformation is fueled by bots, software that interacts with the internet to feed us information, including misinformation, that conforms to our preexisting opinions and interests.  The Intelligencer reported that over 60% of all internet activity in non-human, clicks generated by bots.

Snopes, FactCheck, and PolitiFact are great sites for testing the accuracy of sensational claims found online or in social media.

Don’t share sensational information that you can’t verify. Did you know that Bill Nuy the Science guy got arrested for selling drugs to children? NOT. False stories like this spread like wildfire on the internet.

According to a study by MIT of 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, “Falsehoods almost always beat out the truth on Twitter, penetrating further, faster, and deeper into the social network than accurate information.”  In fact, they found that false stories reach 1,500 people 6X faster than true stories.

Just this week a FaceBook “friend” posted an article falsely claiming that Christianity Today is funded by George Soros. Another example of fake news that spreads rapidly online. The same is true of a picture of a Congresswoman supposedly receiving training in a terrorist camp, another story shared by a friend that is easily debunked.

Sharing obviously incendiary material about a person or organization is bearing false witness, a sin making God’s top ten list, wait, make that the top six!

Biblical Principles Related to the Living in a Post Truth Era

God is the source of truth.  Truth does exist and God is its source. In John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Suppressing the truth messes us up.  In Romans 1:18-25, Paul writes “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness….They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

It is possible for us to suppress the truth and when we do it always leads to destruction and disobedience.  In the case of Romans 1, it led to idolatry and all that went with it.

Embracing truth sets us free. The following verses attest to the fact that there is freedom in accepting what is true.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”    John 8:31,32

We can discover God’s truth by:

Praying for guidance.
“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:4-5
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

Studying our world
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”  Psalm 19:1,2

“And the heavens proclaim His righteousness.” Psalm 50:6

“...since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” Romans 1:19, 20

Reading the Bible
“The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” Psalm 111:7

“All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” Ps 119:160

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” IITimothy 3:16

Listening to the Holy Spirit
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” John 16:12,13

Following Jesus Christ.   John 1:14,18:37; 1 John 3:18
...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...” Ephesians 4:15

Jesus answered, ”...the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” John 18:37

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” I John 3:18

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Next Week's Message Polarization & the Age of Outrage

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