Fake News is Old News in Religious Studies

It was recently drawn to my attention that the fact-checking and debunking website Snopes links to a blog post of mine, on the subject of the hoax that regularly circulates about chariot wheels allegedly being found in the Red Sea.

It struck me not long after that that hoax is in fact an example of “fake news.” Fake news has been around in matters related to religion for a long time. The fake story that Charles Darwin repudiated evolution on his deathbed is another famous example. Things that were supposedly done, or discovered, circulated in the knowledge that even the most thorough debunking imaginable will never succeed in altogether reversing the impact the falsehood makes. Some people will not read or hear the follow-up. Some will be presented with counter-evidence and will choose not to accept it, because they are more predisposed to believe the fake news.

Some will believe that a resurrection has occurred even if they are presented with a corpse, and some will refuse to believe that one has occurred even if they see the nail scars.

Religion of a certain type makes it meritorious to believe. But the issue, as illustrated in the sentence above, is that refusal to accept counter-evidence isn’t “faith,” it is stubbornness, arrogance, dogmatism, and unteachability. It is a way of making oneself imperveous to truth if one has already embraced lies, and convincing oneself that one’s unwillingness to accept correction is a good thing.

Of related interest, Jim Palmer blogged about “fake religion.” I think his point would have been stronger if he had zeroed in on “fake Christianity” or “fake Islam” ot something more specific. There is no one thing that is inherent to religion, as normally understood and practiced. But one can look at the founder, the roots, and/or the core teachings of a religious tradition, and evaluate purported examples of it on that basis.

And approached that way, there is indeed a lot of fake Christianity around.

And a lot of it thrives on fake news.

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