by Timothy Pauls
Since the presidential election, rarely a day goes by where I don’t see a news story about “fake news.” It’s as if there’s a brand new phenomenon in which various individuals are publishing stories that are not true. This has caused consternation to many who argue that lies can alter election results, affect national policy and even lead some to shoot up pizza parlors in Washington, D.C. (Finally, we have the answer: Guns don’t shoot pizza places, websites do.)
The outrageous outrage suffers a lack of focus, largely because there’s no consensus on what constitutes “fake news.” Satirical websites like the Onion or the Babylon Bee are exempt, because everybody knows they’re satirical, except for those who don’t. Other websites are obvious culprits, publishing articles full of lies designed to slander political opponents. Pope Francis has weighed in, condemning the spread of gossip and disinformation, and Mark Zuckerberg has promised to wage war against the blight on Facebook. As the outrage du jour, fake news must be banished.
In some ways, it’s difficult to me to take the controversy seriously, mostly because the folks who sound angriest are the same who usually “help” the Church celebrate Christmas by running cover stories like, “The Truth about Jesus that the Church Doesn’t Want You to Know,” then presenting a mind-numbing rehash about the Gnostic gospels that everyone has known to be fake for the past, oh, 2,000 years.
There’s another angle, however, that’s cause for concern: It’s the idea that something is fake news not because it’s false, but merely because I disagree with it.
It’s hardly breaking news that our culture has rejected the idea of objective truth: Look no further than the popular assertion that a man with XY chromosomes and matching anatomy can say, “I’m a woman because I say so.” The statement doesn’t hold water if one believes in objective truth; the problem is that our society has sacrificed objective truth in favor of, “It’s true because I want it to be.”
What’s the opposite of, “It’s true because I want it to be”?
That would be, “It’s false because I don’t want it to be true.”
Who proclaims all sorts of truth that the world doesn’t want to hear? The Church. We speak the truth about Christ, the Truth. Thus we’re subjected to another front in culture’s war against Christianity: It is only a matter of time until Christians are accused of “fake news” for speaking the Good News. And fake news must be banished.
Speaking of God’s Word, a few verses seem to fit our present situation:
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is. 5:20)
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Rom. 1:24-25)
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
If you want your myth to be true, then the truth has to be false.
Goodness. Whatever are we to do?
Keep talking, of course. Look, given the passages above, all the accusations that God’s Word is false are only confirming that it’s true! The more that culture works to justify its rebellion against God, the more absurd and hopeless it will sound: and likewise, the more brightly the light of the Gospel will shine. As St. Paul writes, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.” (Rom. 3:3-4)
Be at peace, friends. Christ the Truth has conquered the father of lies for you at the cross. Keep talking, for the Word of the Lord remains forever.
The Rev. Tim Pauls is pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Boise, Idaho.