By Steve Post
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This ninth Commandment (eighth if you are Catholic) has been torn asunder in recent years—a victim of either the moral revolution or of pragmatism (whatever works is true) or both.
Postmodernism did no favors to the concept—favoring a malleable “truth” based upon individual perspectives and preferences. Further, Madison Avenue (the advertising industry) has made sport of our sinful self-centeredness, tempting us to confuse our needs and our wants with clever taglines.
Social media is the petri dish that now cultivates lies and half-truths. One can wield even technically true statements in a manner to misinform or have the reader reach a faulty conclusion. Context is left behind—details that might qualify the statement or denude it of its offense.
The tendency is not new even as the efficiency and effectiveness of misinformation grows exponentially with technology. That makes what Jonathan Swift penned long ago even more true:
Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.
Secular-minded individuals in politics and journalism may have their own sense of morality as to the necessity of truth telling. They might not admit it, but act and speak in a manner showing that whatever moves the ball down the field to the morally superior goal they have in mind is acceptable—even if it takes a deliberate lie or a carefully crafted partial truth to affect it. A recent speech that former president Obama gave in Brazil is a case in point:
Gun laws in the United States don’t make much sense. Anybody can buy any weapon, anytime without, you know, without much if any regulation. They can buy over the Internet. They can buy machine guns.
These four sentences combine truth, half-truths, and lies to form a clear presentation of misinformation—in net effect, a false witness.
The biblical Christian has no such liberty, in any media, to misrepresent truth in order to “move the ball,” no matter how noble the cause. (Of course, there are sometimes limitations on characters and words where an exhaustive treatment is impracticable. Without intent, a person might walk away short of a full grasp of the truth.)
My encouragement, then, first to myself and then other biblical Christian producers and consumers of media of all types is this:
- Fact-check what you share or write…or don’t share or write.
- Fact-check what you consume rather than consuming uncritically that which satisfies your current beliefs or prejudices, or dismissing that which challenges them.
- Measure your intent against biblical commands to love your enemies, love your neighbors, and to seek justice.
This is all-important because whatever your cause, it’s hindered by being found skirting facts for effect. If your cause is just and right, the truth is sufficient for the task.
Steve Post is a Tallahassee resident, armchair theologian, and past local ministry lay leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.