Fake news is not new. It was not invented by Russian hackers or media moguls during the 2016 Presidential campaign. Fake news has been around since man first listened to the “Father of Lies” in the Garden. News reporting is always saddled with some level of intentional or unintentional, benevolent or malevolent bias. That news media has always been funded by advertising should make this obvious. Persuasion is at the heart of most of our words, but unhinged from moral restraint, persuasion quickly descends into exaggeration, mis-construal and flat-out lying.
Fake news is not new. What is new is that no one seems to care if their news is fake. Fake news is no longer ‘news worthy.’ The mantra of post-modernity, “true for you, but not for me” has given way to a lack of concern for truth, so long as the story is moving. 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 predicted a society in which “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”
But man was not created to live in society where truth is 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. But can we spot what is true and what is false?
Back in my school days, my classmates clamored for quizzes that were True/False. The logic was simple. It gives us a 50/50 chance. But who wants to get 50% on a test? I despised True/False quizzes. Give me an essay question any day rather than statements that, if properly or improperly qualified, had so many caveats that truth or falsity was murky. None of us are as good with True/False questions as we like to believe. We do a poor job at spotting the fake. Game shows, icebreakers, and fashion counterfeiters have abundantly proven this point.
Gullibility and a love for the sensational makes us easy prey for deceptive news. We scroll over a shocking headline on social media and, without any credibility filtration, share it copiously. Only later realizing that our integrity has just taken a very public nosedive. In an article from the Freedom Forum Institute, Samantha Smith offers a quick guide to spotting fake news. She warns us to check out sources, resist click-bait, look carefully at an article’s URL, compare the story with reputable news sources, beware of sloppy writing and the absence of quotes, and use media literacy sites such as snopes.com or factcheck.org. Nothing she says amounts to rocket science, but the simplicity of her analysis shows how easily we can be duped. But if we are so easily deceived regarding things that can be seen and verified, what about eternal and spiritual truths?
Jeremiah expressed himself most in lamentation. Reading Jeremiah is exhausting. The weeping prophet laments the coming judgement of God, the idolatry of the people, the oppression of the powerful, and even the wasting of the land because of the sin of the people. But Jeremiah’s greatest lament was for the deception of the people through the false prophets and lying priests, even though he knows the people love it that way. In Jeremiah 21-23, the prophet offers a scathing rebuke to the kings of Judah for their unfaithfulness, then in Jeremiah 23:9, the prophet brings the hammer of God’s word down on the false prophets. And in his rebuke, he offers his beloved people a warning.
Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’Jeremiah 23:16-17
Jeremiah pleads with the people to discern the false prophets, reject their message, and turn back to the Lord. But this warning is for us, as well. We live in a world brimming with false teachers who ‘despise the word of the Lord’ and say ‘it shall be well with you’ to those who stubbornly follow their own heart.’ Their teaching is a ‘dark and slippery’ path that leads to death. How well can we spot the fake? Can we discern a false teacher from a faithful one? Have we loved truth or falsehood? Are we wary of those who attempt to “heal our wounds lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”
Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 23:9-40 and consider the prophet’s guidance regarding the sources, symptoms and solutions to the problem of false teaching. 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. Or join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.