Is It True?

That question “Is it true” does not seem to matter anymore.

We are in a “post-modernist” world—for better or for worse. And one aspect of this world is that we all have our opinions. Four people can have five opinions, and they are all supposed to be equally right. We are hearing the angry, frustrated, and increasingly strident assertion: “You can have your own opinion; but you cannot have your own facts.” There is a desperation to this call for truth. But it is falling on deaf ears.

We are moving into the post-truth era. It is no longer “I have a right to my opinion,” but “I have a right to my own facts.” False information is not so blatant that we can spot it easily. Most of us will admit we were mistaken before, but too many believe we cannot be mistaken at this point in time.

There have been times when I come across some information that makes so much sense, and it confirms what I think is true. This information can be an email, or an appeal letter, etc. I promptly send it off to other people because the sender says if you agree, send it to 10 other people. Some are indeed genuine appeals. But I discover to my dismay that what I have resent is fake news thinking it is true. For instance, I get a message that says as we speak, Christians in Syria was being massacred by Daesh, but that news is two years old. I can be fooled because these atrocities are generally true.

You can say there is no harm in praying even if the appeal is not true. Yes, there is some truth in that. But believing a lie to be truth is harmful to us as Christians. It is like saying, “I have a right to be gullible because it is a spiritual matter.” Or worse, to think “So long as it increases my devotion to God, it’s all right.”

That was the take of the Roman Catholic Church which led to the Reformation. The reformer John Calvin rightly said there were so many pieces of wood claiming to be from the cross of Christ that if you were to bring them together, you have enough to build an ark. During the Reformation, people got their religious kick from venerating relics. (These are pieces or remains of “saints” or articles of religious significance.) There arose the powerful myth of the “holy grail” which remains the grist of many a story today.

It’s easy to point out false information from the past. What is not so easy to spot is present falsehood. We will find certain falsehood easy to believe, and we pass them on with good intention but they remain bad information.

There was a time when we get our news from the mass media, like certain news reporting agencies. Today, we use them less and less. We get news from tweets, or messages sent to us by friends, and in various other ways through the internet. We have good reason to distrust the mass media, but we trust our friends. Christians have always been bullied by a left-leaning, god-hating, and now, LGBT-promoting media. Many of us switch off. In Singapore, our media used to operate under fairly strict guidelines from the political powers that be. Today, the media is less controlled, but it remains unsatisfactory because: (1) it is left-leaning and LGBT promoting; (2) it presents selective, politically-correct reporting; and (3) it exercises political self-censorship, and remains the stooge of the government.

Many of us are fed-up with the mass media, and we take delight in news reports that challenge the established platform. Example one: the surreptitious moving of MRT train cars for repairs. Example two: our armored personnel carriers impounded by Hong Kong. These two recent events came to light through non-standard media. They help confirm our suspicion towards the mass media. If you are still too trusting of the media, you may benefit from a more critical view of the news you hear. (I am not advocating unhealthy cynicism; or supporting conspiracy theories.)

Our weakness, our typical failure, where we fall prey, is when we discover something that confirms what we already suspect is true. We believe it is true because we want it to be true. Let me give you some examples.

Many Christians dislike Obama for his leftist principles. So we are prepared to believe everything bad about him. It doesn’t matter that these assertions are not true but we love them so much we believe them and pass them on, and we don’t care that there is no credible evidence to support these assertions. Before Obama was George Bush. Some people hated George Bush so much they choose to believe lies about him, like the common assertion that he attacked Iraq for oil. This myth is fueled by hatred, not common sense. War for oil must be the most expensive way to get it. (Today, there is similar myth that China’s interest in the South China Sea is about oil.)

Do you know how people are trying to manipulate you?

1. They make use of your assumption and create fake news out of it. If you are a conservative Christian (which I am), I will invariably get a lot of negative news about Clinton. Google records where we surf and what we click. They create a profile of you through your searches, and begin to pitch things to you based on relevance. For instance, I will get a lot of fake news against Hillary Clinton, and a lot of fake news about how dangerous the world is, and how America needs a strong leader to reverse the policy of Obama. These reports mix truth with scary falsehood based on my assumptions so I will be tilted to support a certain candidate. And Google (or Facebook) does not censor or filter.

Another example is that I prefer food products that are not processed. What I search online tells Google that. What I get on my YouTube recommendations will skew towards that. I will see a lot of false claims based on my own bias (together with reliable studies). I will see a lot of posts on natural cures, home cures, alternative medicine, TCM, holistic medicine, etc. And I need to be quick to add that most of it is nonsense. And as I turn away from these posts, they magically appear less and less.

2. Beware! Your assumptions will do you in. The internet is NOT a filtered source of information. I do not like the liberal filter I see in the mass media. And if you are conservative in your thinking like me, you would probably be also getting a lot of false news that support the conservative position. My red flag goes up when I see news that seems to fit everything nicely. That is not the nature of reality. Truth is simple but not simplistic. Truth often surprises us, and may not be what appears at first. If we see our assumptions affirmed by “secrets” or if the news fits everything too nicely, I would suggest the need to verify. Someone may be trying to strum your strings and nudge you to where they want you to go. Whatever you want to believe, you will have the fake news to back you up. Keep your beliefs, but reject the fake proofs. People cannot manipulate you in what you are skeptical about. But you will have a tendency to be gullible in what you already believe, even if that belief is fundamentally sound.

Christians must stand as defenders of all truth – even when truth is inconvenient. Our faith is not based on feelings though it is a passionate faith. It is not based on community though there is a lot of community. It is not based on personal views though there is enough of it. The Christian faith is based on truth. On the one hand, there is truth that is clearly demonstrable – like the resurrection of Jesus; and on the other, there is truth that cannot be falsified, like the reality of God.

If we make it a habit to allow falsehood to justify religious passion, we will head the path of the dark ages. That is when the ability of relics to inflame passion is more important than the reality that relics are useless at best, and fake at worst.

Most of us come from a good church tradition that emphasizes truth. That is one invaluable aspect of our tradition we must promote without apology.

Preconceived notions that are reinforced by means of false news are harmful to us individually and to us as the body of Christ. When the Christian faith values views more than truth, we condemn ourselves to darkness. And you can be sure the same darkness that breeds the evil found in the medieval church will resurface if we, like them, choose the false news that is convenient rather than hard truth that makes our case more difficult. But a case for truth that is hard won will be thorough, enduring, and pleasing to God.

Pastor Peter Eng


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