On Wednesday January 11, at his first press conference since November, US President Elect, Donald Trump, refused to allow a reporter from CNN to ask questions. He
labelled CNN (the world’s largest TV news broadcaster) as a purveyor of ‘fake news’.
Fake news are stories/clips that look and sound like real news but they are not. They have no basis in fact. They are distributed around the world by social media. Fake news items were prolific in the run-up to the US presidential election. ‘Fake news’ items continue to be posted daily (hourly) and despite efforts to block these by Facebook and Twitter, it is predicted that the number of these spurious news items will increase.
Here are some samples of fake news that were circulated prior to the US election.
- Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop in Washington DC.
- Democrats want to impose Islamic law in Florida.
- Thousands of people at a Donald Trump rally in Manhattan chanted, “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back.”
When writing about ‘real’ events, journalists, editors, historians all put their own ‘spin’ on their story – their own interpretation or bias. Throughout history the re-telling of events has often been distorted or news made up (fake news) to justify wars, persecute people and establish, maintain and enrich politicians, princes, popes and establish whole empires. But, putting your interpretation on an event does not make it ‘fake news’. Distorted it may be, but it is still based on fact. Fake news has no such basis.
Today we are swamped by information on everything. There is so much it is impossible for us to process all of it. In this situation we search for sources (often ‘experts’) who can filter, summarise and interpret this information for us.
This leads me to the basic question, who do we believe?;
In my teen years it was all pretty simple. If it was on the ABC’s (Australian
Broadcasting Commission’s) news broadcast it was ‘true’. In my adult life I realized that even this news source had editorial bias. In recent years I have set a lot of store in the BBC (British Broadcasting Commission) but I note that Donald Trump has labelled this news organization as ‘one of those’ (implying links with fake news).
Conversations in our church and centre has alerted me to another reality. Although we are friends and share many things together, we don’t share the same perception on world news. Clearly those from Eastern Europe are not listening to the same news sources that I do. The same is true with my friends from China, Asia and the Middle East. Recently I have been told of very special internet sites where the ‘true’ story on what is going on can be obtained. Clearly, there is no news outlet we all believe.
‘Fake news’ is the stock in trade for most religions. The most common line which is repeated again and again in different centuries, in different cultures, in different religions is this: The life we live is insignificant compared to the life that is to come. In the life that is to come after death there are two main options, terrible torment which goes on forever, or bliss beyond anything ever known on this earth. To get to bliss you have to do what the people who know – religious leaders, priests, prophets, ministers – tell you.
These experts on life after death are commonly stern-faced men. I am not suggesting that all of these gurus realise they are perpetuating a scam. Most of them believe the fake news they retell. Some do not, but go along with the scam enjoying the privileges, perks and often finding it profitable. My point simply is their next-life stories have no basis in fact. Fake news of this kind built the pyramids, created the Terracotta Army, built Angor Wat and provided the funds necessary to build the cathedrals of Europe. And so on! It is still happening. In my view fake religious news is presently the greatest threat to world peace.
This brings me back to the question, ‘Who or what are we to believe?’
What about the Bible? This is the way I understand it. It is an absolute disaster to try and believe the Bible literally. It sets out stories to live by and deeds which shock and challenge. This is particularly true in the New Testament. And as for Jesus my whole life experience affirms that he is truth. I don’t understand all he says and what he has done, but what I do understand is enough for me to put my next foot forward. My reading of Jesus, my mental relationship with him, encourages me to give my best to every day (I don’t always do it), to value love and to look for beauty all around me and within me, to share kindness, compassion and forgiveness whenever I can. My understanding of Jesus informs me that now is ‘the time’ and where I am is ‘the place’ to experience what he referred to as ‘fullness of life’.
This week I listened to a BBC programme based on interviews with terminally ill patients by a palliative-care nurse on the topic of regret. (Part of ‘The Why Factor” series). One of the major regrets people told her about was that of not being true to themselves. For instance, they had been afraid to say what they really thought, afraid to live as they really wanted to, afraid to stand up for what they believed. Instead they went along with what other people said, what other people believed and expected. In other words, the person and personality they projected was fake news.
Sad when you think about it and not just for them but also for those around them. But, I’ve been there and done that!
Several older people I know have moved from keeping up appearances to being frank, honest and free. For those closest to them this has been rather unnerving. ‘Where did this person come from? It is not like him/her’. In actual fact it is the real person shrugging off the fake persona they felt pressured to portray.
I want to make this journey. In a world with so much smoke and mirrors and phony stuff, I think commitment to living out our ‘truth’ will be freeing for us and helpful for others –
a kind of antidote to ‘fake news’.