The Age of Misinformation

This article was originally published in 2012 in the “Focus on Grace” church newsletter. I thought I posted it here long before, and I want to write a followup, so t was important I put it up now. I’ve updated a few of the references so they weren’t as dated, and made some minor edits, but in essence it’s as originally published.

“If you tell a lie often enough, people will accept it as true.”

The above statement, and variants of it, has been attributed to the likes of Goebbels, Hitler, and Stalin. One particular variation even suggests that if the lie is big enough, people are more likely to believe it, because honest people can’t imagine someone would lie about something so important. But the sad truth is some people would, and they do – and those as monstrous as Goebbels, Hitler, and Stalin could not have accomplished the evil they did if people hadn’t believed them. Wicked men lie to gain power, to influence people, and to gather acceptance for their agendas. They lie big, and their lies are often accepted without question.

But a lie needn’t be big for people to accept it either. The NPR radio show “This American Life” once retracted a segment they previously aired that purportedly spoke about abuses in Chinese factories that make Apple products.1 It was broadcast as non-fiction, and many took it as a journalistic documentary. But when someone belatedly checked on the facts, it was found that the presenter never so much as visited some of the places he talked about; events he claimed he witnessed personally he wasn’t really there for, or were embellished. When challenged, he said that the essentials of his story were true, but that he was an artist, not a journalist, and therefore, his “tools” were different. In other words, he made stuff up, lied, so he would have a deeper impact. The abuses he reported might have happened, but they didn’t happen where he said, or exactly in the way he said them. They were relatively small lies perhaps, but they were lies all the same.

Some falsehoods don’t start out as lies, but become them. An expert can make a statement about something, and a person who hears it may try to simplify it so others can understand it better. Not being the expert, this second person is bound to repeat his version with some things left out, or maybe a few things added to “clarify” the matter. Often, the omissions and additions simply are not true and instead of clarifying, create a false report. But they can be well-intended. The next person who hears it does the same, and before you know, the story going around bears only passing resemblance to the original statement. It has become a lie, and everyone who repeats it thinks they are telling the truth. Other times, someone simply makes a mistake, or takes a guess at something, even saying right off the bat that it is speculation … but the person who hears it repeats it as fact, and all of the above apply. It’s a pernicious thing, and given enough time, even when presented with cold, hard facts, people will insist on believing the lie instead.

This is the world we live in. Television specials and infomercials spew half-baked stories into the ether, and millions accept them as truth. The ancient Mayans made a calendar that stops at the year 2012, and people were afraid the world was going to end, because someone suggested that perhaps the Mayans knew something we don’t. As I post this, it’s 2016, and the world is still going strong, but right before the turn of the year to 2012, people were genuinely afraid. Preachers and evangelists take passages of scripture out of context, and draw false conclusions from them, then go on to teach those conclusions to their followers. People outright make things up, throw it on a web site somewhere, and get worldwide attention for their “amazing” insight or discovery. Scientists publish theories based on scant facts, and incomplete observations … and all these things get repeated and passed around; heads nod in agreement, and it goes around and around again. Much of what we think we know about our world is wrong, and the better portion has become unknowable. It’s all swirling around in a morass of misinformation that has passed through so many hands and minds, that no one has any idea what the real facts were in the first place.

It is no accident that our world has become this way. The Bible teaches us that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and is the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). What do you suppose that latter statement means? I think it’s a reference to the fact that he works through rumor and innuendo, and all the nebulous things you can’t quite lay a finger on. Like the air, his lies are everywhere, and get into everything. Eve was deceived by him (2 Cor. 11:13), and Adam outright disobeyed God because of it; the average man has been fighting a losing battle ever since. Satan wants us to be muddled and confused, and he wants us to be deceived, so that we will be trapped in sin and never find our way to the mercy of God.

It is very well for us that God has that quality of mercy. He has given us a source of truth we can always turn to, and that truth is the Bible. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). The Bible teaches us that we need a savior, and it teaches us how to find Him.

Which isn’t to say we can’t still be deceived, even when reading the Word of God. But look at what the Bereans did in Acts 17:11 – “… they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Are you searching Scriptures daily? Are you measuring what you hear with what is written in the Bible? Are you praying about the passages you don’t understand (James 1:5), and not trying to force what you don’t understand into a form you can? In other words, are you actively seeking the truth always, or are you just taking in everything you hear without question, assuming it to be true? Or, even worse, have you already made up your mind what is true without ever measuring it against what the Bible says?

If we are to be undeceived, if we are to survive in this age of misinformation … which is to say, this age of lies, we must abide in the truth. And, as He promised, we shall be free from the snares of deceit, and have His blessing:

Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth shall spring out of the earth, And righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Yes, the LORD will give what is good; And our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before Him, And shall make His footsteps our pathway.

(Psalms 85:10-13)

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