It is not news that fake news is not new. On October 30, 1938, CBS Radio presented Orson Welles’ adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic story, “War of the Worlds.” Welles’ adaption unfolded the action of the story through a series of new-flash style interruptions to what appeared to be regular programming. Listeners who tuned in after the program’s disclaimer panicked as report after report came in of a massive Martian invasion, replete with giant war machines and poison gas clouds. The first commercial break in the program came almost 30 minutes after the introduction, fueling the illusion of realism. Before the program even finished, the studio was flooded with police and public outcry arose against the networks’ apparent lack of concern in reporting fiction as though it were truth.
Fake news is not new. It did not arise from the smoked-filled back rooms or the nefarious political machines of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Factual falsity in media is simply the immoral end of the bias spectrum. Man’s words are always saddled with some level of intentional or unintentional, benevolent or malevolent bias. Persuasion is at the heart of most of our words, but when it is unhinged from moral restraint, it descends into the murky realms of exaggeration, mis-construal and flat-out lying.
Fake news is not new. What is new to us is that no one seems to care if their news is fake. Fake news no longer inspires the public outcry that followed in the wake of “War of the Worlds.” The mantra of post-modernity, “true for you, but not for me” has given way to an utter lack of concern for truth, so long as the story is moving. As one preacher noted, “we are living in a post-truth era.” Arguing over whether something is true for you or me, or whether there is absolute truth, or whether something is consistent with that truth is passé. The cardinal value for today’s man is emotional resonance not intellectual verity. Does it grip me? Does it grab me? Does it move me? These are the questions that have replaced, “Is it true?” Neil Postman’s prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, rightly foresaw that an unquenchable thirst for entertainment, not discourse, would result in a society in which “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”
But man was not created to live in a post-truth society, with truth drowned in irrelevance. Truth exists – absolute truth, truth that is revealed and not discovered. Without this truth there can be no beauty, joy, peace, redemption, mercy, forgiveness, justice or love – only “how I feel.” Without this truth there is never any “us,” only a “me.” Truth matters. Just as fake news is not new, neither is a “post-truth” society. The people of Israel at the time of the exile to Babylon loved lies more than truth. God assessed and warned them by the prophet Jeremiah.
An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? Jeremiah 5:30-31
The Greco-Roman world also loved entertainment more than truth. So much so, that dramatic oratory and rhetoric were often found among the events at Greek Games. It was into this environment that God spoke, through the Apostle Paul, to urge his young protegee, Timothy, to unmask the promoters of “fake truth” and to rightly divide the Scriptures, breathed out by God to make men wise unto salvation and to teach, rebuke, correct and train men and women in godliness, holiness, beauty and love. This exhortation is no less needed today than it was in First Century Ephesus.
Join us this Lord’s Day, August 19, as we examine 1 Timothy 1:3-12 and consider God’s instruction to us to consider “what is truth” and “where can we find it?” We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.