This month I leave you in the good hands of Colin Harris, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, whose recent comments in the Ethics Daily newsletter include the following:
The phenomenon of "fake news" has heightened our awareness of the influence of distorted expressions of reality on many levels and in many areas of life. The blatant and deliberate misrepresentations have become easier to spot, and we marvel at how easily deceptions are accepted and acted upon as reliable information.
Consider the ease with which a distorted caricature of an opposing perspective (liberal, conservative, capitalist, socialist and so on) can become an effective support for one’s own. Demonizing the "other" to gain credit for oneself seems always to be in season.
Or consider the tendency to evaluate and paint a whole community of people on the basis of what extremists do in its name. "Radical Islamists & quot; do bad things; therefore, Islam is evil. Believers do cruel things in the name of God; therefore, belief in God is a detriment to human life.
Or consider how complex issues, especially moral and ethical ones, are presented as simple choices between options championed by advocates whose passion seems to outrun their understanding.
Or consider the subtle (and not-so- subtle) suggestions that information based on credible research is less reliable than opinions held by various vested interests. The kind of misinformation that stalled efforts to make known the harmful effects of tobacco a generation ago has reappeared in claims that environmental concern is overblown (and, of course, detrimental to certain parts of the economy).
What seems to be missing in all these tendencies is the discernment that can separate the essence of something from its distorted expressions – or, in simplest terms, the content from the packaging. We tend to prefer the familiarity of the package to the deeper understanding of what is inside. I wonder if this is similar to what led Isaiah to lament those who "drag iniquity along with the cords of falsehood, who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight." (Isaiah 5:18-21) Or Amos to decry those who hate the ones who tell the truth about the trampling of the poor, the taking of bribes and the pushing aside of the needy in the gate. (Amos 5: 10-12) Proverbs has a special reproach for "one who justifies the wicked and condemns the righteous – both alike are an abomination to the Lord." (Proverbs 17:15) As people of faith and citizens of the Kingdom we are called live in recognition of the truth offered in our scriptures, and not settle for “truths” that emanate from other sources. We are offered a gift of wisdom that originates in the heart of our God. Of course, that wisdom is not always easily discerned: it involves faithful interaction with the Lord, the scriptures, and others of the kingdom who have pursued God’s heart in their lives. It involves prayers that probe our souls, questions that we may fear to ask, judgments that hold us accountable, and a deeply rooted love for that oddest of kingdoms where the last shall be first, the great shall be the servant of all, and all are called to a faithful life that mirrors the trust of a child for a loving parent. We are called to witness to the love of Jesus to that world described by Dr. Harris, not to be tainted by it.