It’s amazing to me. For some reason, when it comes to the internet and social media, too many people who call themselves “Christians” feel free to spread false information or misinformation. For those with college educations, what they would never cite in a paper without checking for truth and accuracy, they will happily share on social media.
Yes, I know, social media isn’t an academic forum. Still, if one is going to share anything of substance, something important, something where they are making a serious assertion and want people to take them seriously, they should fact-check what they plan to share.
Those who don’t do this normally fall into two camps. There are those who don’t fact-check, don’t research, and just ignorantly share what they’ve read or seen somewhere. When the misinformation is pointed out to them, they recognize the error and share the correction as to the previous misinformation or falsehood.
And then there are those who have researched the information they’re sharing, and even after learning it’s not from a widely trusted source and a minority view, they still really believe it to be true. They don’t feel like they are sharing false or misinformation.
Hopefully for those in the first camp, they learn a lesson. They start fact-checking, researching, and vetting the information before sharing it with others. The second camp is different. The people in the second camp often do not know how to discern what credible, reputable sources are- or they are so invested in the narrative they believe, they can’t hardly “hear” or believe anything that might contradict it.
A good example are the vaccines developed in response to Covid 19. It’s one thing if a Christian wishes to believe we didn’t really land on the moon. However, repeating and sharing misinformation or falsehoods about these vaccines may get people killed or at the very least prolong the pandemic.
There are three responses a Christian who is sharing misinformation, falsehoods, or partial, out-of-context information can provide when such is pointed out to them:
- They can check out the sources given to them and, if they agree they are reputable sources, can cite these in reference to their earlier sharing and note the new information so people can consider both sides.
- They can check out the sources given them countering the information they shared, decide the sources are not reputable, and refuse to correct or update the original information provided.
- They can ignore the information provided that counters what they shared, not read it, and continue sharing what they’ve been sharing.
Number 1 is clearly a responsible way to handle such situations. If we are not afraid of the truth, if we are trying to be open, we should have no problem sharing both sides of an issue.
A caveat though. There are not “two sides” to the question of if we landed on the moon or not. We did. There are not “two sides” to the question of whether the earth is flat or round. It’s round. There are not “two sides” to the question of whether the last presidential election was “stolen.” It wasn’t.
There are majority opinions on every substantive question, in every field of endeavor, and in every area of knowledge, which are held by a wide, reputable, and authoritative number of sources. In relation to these, there are minority opinions held by those with less credible or authoritative voices.
An example: It’s the difference between citing a supermarket tabloid as a source for one’s assertions over and against a scholarly tome from the Harvard University library. An extreme example, but I hope the point is taken.
This isn’t to say that majority opinions are always correct. Sometimes the minority opinion has turned out to be right. However, that is normally when the issue isn’t something like if we landed on the moon or not. It’s more like when Galileo was found to be correct, but I hope my point is taken. For the most part, it is wise, safer, and we are better off, taking the majority consensus view in the areas of science and medicine.
Further, if one is going to cite a minority opinion as correct, they should always note it as the minority view and also provide the majority opinion (I thought this was common sense, no?). They should also note why it is they believe the minority view over the majority.
As to the Covid 19 vaccines, in their favor is a wide body of evidence, facts, and credible information provided by a large and reputable web of respected voices from the scientific and medical community. And these voices inform us these vaccines are safe and effective. Do you know what that means? They will save lives.
And then there are the smaller circles, of less reputable/authoritative voices from the fringe. And there are too many Christians out there believing those voices. Do you know what that means? People may die. How will we choose to respond then?
Response number 2 is neither reasonable nor responsible. It’s the supermarket tabloid choice. And clearly response number 3 is that of the unethical and morally challenged.
This seems to be a continuation of the propensity on the part of too many evangelicals to believe conspiracy theories and to view science and “secular” academia with suspicion. It also comes from their discipleship by Fox News and other right-wing media sources. They’ve been told to tune out mainstream media and view it as “fake news.” See here, here, and here for confirmation of the problem.
Christians, evangelical or otherwise, are supposed to be truth tellers, people who don’t lie or spread false information. It’s wrong to spread false information, even if no one is physically threatened by it. But in the case of vaccines, it could actually lead to the deaths of others.
Imagine the person who trusts the voice of the evangelical telling them not to take the vaccine or to view it with suspicion. The person listens and opts out. The person gets Covid and dies. Who would want that on their conscience, Christian or otherwise?
This is far worse than simply not loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is to possibly do them actual harm. Unless one is acting out of complete ignorance, it is deplorable and a total failure to be Christ-like to spread this type of misinformation. Christians: Ever read Exodus 23:1? Also, as to the care of souls and bodies, first do no harm.
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Image by Gerd Altmann