One of the best classes I ever took in college was World Religions. As a seemingly confident Christian, I sat in the front row with my other Christian friends, ready to defend whatever attack this professor was going to bring, but instead of victory I found myself unexpectedly whittled and sharpened. Throughout the class, whenever I made a statement about my faith, I was challenged by the professor to back up my beliefs. I could no longer just point to the Bible as my evidence, suggesting that it’s true because the Bible says it is, but was forced to fully explain why I believed what I believed, citing history, hard evidence, archaeology, and science for the supports to my faith. To just suggest that it was true because I felt it wasn’t enough: I had to justify it with facts. Going into the class I knew what I believed; coming out of the class, I knew why I believed.
When it comes to being a Christian, truth is our currency. We deal in truth in all things when it comes to our faith and in making strides for our own spiritual journeys along with advancing His kingdom. Jesus claimed that there is freedom to be found in knowing what is true. When Christ speaks in John 8.32, He claims that if we adhere to His teachings, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” while in 14.6, Jesus says that, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Without truth, we have nothing but a handful of lies along with a destroyed reputation. To speak truth and know what is true is to have the power to be free. So, in all things, we must know the complete and absolute truth behind what we do and what we say, or like the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, who viewed nothing but projected shadows on a blank wall and believed them to be their reality, we run the risk of believing a false reality, and nothing says false reality more so lately, than fake news.
To be clear, fake news is the (mostly) online existence of sensationalist and exaggerated news stories whose sole purpose is to spread misinformation for reasons that include, more often than not, financial or political gain, usually through social media. These stories are usually not backed up by legitimate factual sources and are based in rumor, speculation, and falsehood. You would think that truth usually rises to the top in these instances, but few check the background of these stories for sources and to confirm what is claimed to be true in these scenarios, as we post them to our social media accounts with the intent to shock and outrage those who read. That’s one of the main draws of fake news and what makes it so appealing: it initially makes us seem informed and grants us the attention we so often crave.
Yet, if we are actually dealers in truth, we must look beyond the sensationalist nature of these stories and see what truth, if any, lies in them instead of blindly reposting them for our friends and family, wielding them wildly like a rusty sword that divides and infects our relationships with false rhetoric and illogical conclusions. And when the real truth comes out, reputations are ruined, and no one wants to believe what we have to say any more. Our truth has become tainted and our message soiled. Our currency is worthless.
So how do we handle truth in the era of fake news? Test it, repeatedly. Don’t just accept news, but put it through a wringer. Research it, and get to the bottom until you are absolutely sure of its validity. Find your evidence and know why it’s true, or not. Then, if it’s not true, reject it. If you’re unsure, keep it to yourself. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” If we are serious about Christ and His truth, we cannot risk being caught with anything less than the truth. Our testimony is our most useful tool, and without truth and a reputation for honesty, we are hobbled as warriors for Him. Nothing destroys a witness like the smallest bit of falsehood, enclosing him or her within the impenetrable walls of an inescapable prison. Remember that only truth will set you free. Amen.