Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Real Problem of Fake News


I cannot believe this happened to me… AGAIN!
I allowed my buddy Jerry to talk me into going to a little hole-in-the-wall taco stand for lunch. The place has like four tables. The last time we went there, a couple weeks before the election, we were discussing the news. I said something like, ‘Trump is claiming the election is rigged. I wonder whether he’ll stick to that claim if he wins?’
Before Jerry could say anything, a rabid Trump supporter came over to the table and began telling me how Awesome Trump was, how He was going to Make America Great Again (she even spoke in capital letters). I asked her whether the recent news of Trump’s disgusting remarks about women had changed her opinion somewhat, and she reacted like I’d accused Trump of being an illegal alien. That recording was fake! It was just a Hillary plot to discredit her savior Trump, etc. At this point, Jerry and I both pointed out to her that we had no horse in this race – that we were completely apolitical, neutral, don’t care who wins, that we wouldn’t be voting for either candidate.
“Not voting is the same as voting for Hillary,” she said. I don’t get the math there – maybe it’s connected to how a Hillary win would prove voter fraud but a Trump win would prove he was on the side of the angels. We finally got ourselves disentangled from her – fortunately, most people get their tacos to go at that place, and hers were getting cold.
I swore I’d never go back. Today, Jerry insisted we go - he loves the food and the low prices. What could go wrong? The election is over, I now have a better understanding of the acoustics in the place. I went.
So Jerry brought up a mutual friend who is very bright but seems to have a blind spot where it comes to ‘secret knowledge’, conspiracy theories, etc. I said my problem with conspiracy theories was what they all have in common – the teller of the story claims to have acquired some insider knowledge that the majority of us don’t have. Where’d he get it?
“Like fake news,” I said.
“What’s that?”
“Oh, you know, like that story about what’s-her-name” (I purposely didn’t say Hillary, even though I was speaking quietly, just in case the ONLY OTHER person in the café was a Trump supporter) "supposedly running a sex-ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor in Baltimore.”
“What?”
“Yeah. Totally fake story. But a guy believed it, went in and shot up the place. The FBI got involved, proved the story came from the computer of a high-level Trump supporter, who admitted he made it up.”
Before I could finish, I was interrupted by the ONLY OTHER patron in the place… you guessed it: Trump supporter. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing. Do you mind if I join your conversation?”
“Actually, I do mind…”
“That story was true! Just because you read something in the New York Times that says otherwise doesn’t make it not true! Stop being a sheeple! Hillary is running a pedophile sex ring in Washington, and they’re trying to cover it up!”
-To Jerry: “I am never eating here again, I don’t care how good their carne asada is.” –To the fat woman in the leopard print stretch pants: “You are NOT welcome in this conversation. I was talking with my friend here, NOT you. Please leave us alone.” Not that she was inclined to, but her tacos arrived.
Jerry, of course, finds all this hilarious.
Here’s why I find this serious enough to write about. In a conversation between Jesus and Pilate, Jesus said ‘Everyone who is on the side of Truth listens to me.’ Pilate sarcastically replied, “What is truth?”
2000 years ago, there was already a tendency to question the Truth – to at least doubt, to raise doubts as to whether absolute truth were even knowable.
We often hear praise for having an open mind, but what if your mind is so open that common sense completely falls out?
Jesus foretold that the Good News of the Kingdom would be preached in all he inhabited earth right before the end. (Matthew 24:14) If that is happening right now, it is reasonable that Satan will do anything to obscure it. Since he doesn’t have much of an imagination, he’s using the same old nugget – obfuscate the truth.
In the 1960s you could tell someone, for example, that when we die we return to dust, we become nothing, we exist only in God’s memory… there is no “soul” that flies off to somewhere else. To prove it, you simply cracked open your Bible (or theirs) to Ezekiel 18:4, Ecclesiastes 9:10, and John 11:11 and proved it to them. They had to choose between two, and ONLY two options: either change their beliefs to harmonize with the Bible, or live the rest of their life knowing their beliefs didn’t match that Bible. The Bible was considered the final authority. There used to be a bumper sticker that read, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” I loved talking to people who had that bumper sticker.
Today, though, for more and more people, the Bible doesn’t settle anything. Show them a scripture that directly contradicts their beliefs, and they are just as likely to reply, ‘Yes, but Jung said,’ or ‘modern science has proven,’ or ‘my preacher says’ or ‘I think…’
So someone can make up a completely false ‘news’ story about a sex ring operating out of a basement of a pizza parlor (the place has no basement, btw), and ten million people believe it. Two weeks later multiple respected national news agencies can report that he admitted to the FBI that he made the whole thing up; do all ten million people admit to themselves that they were duped? No. Some do. But there are still some, a few million or so, who believe the made-up story.
Jesus only said the preaching of the Good News had to be completed before the end comes. He didn’t say – but it makes sense – that the preaching of the Good News also must be completed before humanity completely loses its ability to tell the difference between Truth and lies.

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here

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