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.
Philosophical Big 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
Jesus taught that our attitudes and actions toward immigrants reflect our attitudes and actions toward him. In the Gospel of Matthew (25:35-46) Jesus said “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Stranger is the New Testament word for foreigner or immigrant. He makes this statement in a way that should be a wake up call to Christians.
His point is that how we treat immigrants is among the most important measures or our righteousness.
Those who heard his words were puzzled. They asked, “Jesus, when were you an immigrant, and when did we invite you in?”
Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.”
Then Jesus shifts his eyes to a group he refers to as “the cursed” and says “Depart from me...I was a stranger and you did not invite me in.” He condemns this group to eternal punishment but offers the previous group eternal life.
I don’t believe this passage teaches that deportation is always an act of evil, and I certainly don’t believe that all who disagree with me are bound for eternal punishment. But I strongly believe that Jesus is paying close attention to our attitudes toward immigrants, and that he considers our attitudes toward immigrants to be our attitudes toward him. We know this to be the case because he said so.
As our culture wrestles with how to fix our broken immigration policy, Christians should be mindful of the words of Jesus. We should insist upon an approach that treats immigrants the way we would treat Jesus.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Wow, it's been way too long since I've taken time to post. I'm trying to develop a healthier lifestyle and that has involved time on the treadmill. An unexpected benefit has been the discovery of some great podcasts. My two favorites are Theology in the Raw by Preston Sprinkle and Q Podcasts with Gabe Lyons.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.