FRANK SCHAEFFER (former Evangelical Christian): I read a great article on the origins of fake news. Here’s the operative quote: “Susceptibility to fake news has its particular historical origin in Christian fundamentalism’s rejection of expert elites…” What do you think?
“The Religious Origins of Fake News and Alternative Facts” by Christopher Douglas was first published in Religion Dispatches. I republished it on my Patheos blog in its entirety by permission of the author and titled it, “Here Is the Best Piece I’ve Read on Why Susceptibility to fake news has its particular historical origin in Christian fundamentalism’s rejection of expert elites.”
LUKE MOON (current Evangelical Christian): Give me 5 minutes to read it.
Frank: Great! BTW I’m not looking for an argument here — I thought you’d find this of genuine interest…
Luke: Ok. I read enough. It is of genuine interest. I had a meeting in October where I described how one could create a whole series of websites that target specific demographics with the same clickbait “news” story. I thought of this because I started seeing something similar. My morning FB feed was full of proper news sites and by afternoon they had given way to crazy sites. I have a pretty diverse friend list and so I saw stuff from both sides. Both included clickbait “fake news” stuff. But to respond directly to the question: I don’t think Christian fundamentalists are more prone to accept fake news. The faith in “experts” has ended because each side has experts that will tell you what you want to hear. I can right now pull up an expert that says the earth is overheating and an expert that says it is not.
Frank: I think you missed Christopher Douglas’s point, plus you are indulging in your pet “moral equivalency” argument. He says:
To see this connection, it bears recalling what it meant to be a Christian ‘fundamentalist’ in the early 20th century. Christian fundamentalism was characterized in particular by its rejection of two theologically disturbing bodies of knowledge that emerged from the 19th century: the theory of evolution, and the historical-critical method of Bible scholarship. While mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches have had considerable success in coming to terms with these expert knowledge consensuses, Christian fundamentalism is defined primarily by its rejection of them.
Evolution, we remember, was perceived as a threat to the biblical account of creation in the Book of Genesis (at least, if read literally). It dethroned humans as the culmination of God’s specific acts of creation during six days approximately 6,000 years ago. It replaced this story with a less grand one of natural selection and random mutation across eons. And evolution also undermined the theologically important explanation for human and animal suffering, as the result of God’s fit punishment of Adam and Eve for “original sin.” (Today, 57 percent of white evangelicals reject evolution, believing that humans have always existed in their present form, while another 25 percent believe evolution was guided by God.)”
What you see him referring to here is something unique to religious fundamentalism. Sure there are experts who disagree, but when you add in special “revelation” from God — say in the Bible about the Earth’s age — then there are lots of parents essentially bringing up kids to believe nonsense. Their only defense is to offer an alternative reality from evolution to global warming to how men and women “become” gay.
Actually I well remember back in my religious right days being one of these guys. I used to publish the Christian Activist newspaper and told my readers to trust us on politics and religion and discount the “secular liberal media.” It was my personal shtick! I used to always go after the New York Times as biased liars! Been there done that! Just think, if I’d stuck with the program I could have been Steve Bannon!!
Luke: I saw the argument, and it was weak. I’ll simplify it. The author uses evolution and biblical criticism to argue that Christians need to create an alternative reality. But what if evolution and bible criticism are wrong? I don’t really care that much about the creation vs. evolution debate. I think biblical criticism is fundamentally flawed. Dang, I must be on the cusp of being a fake news adherent.
You know how this plays out though. If we were in a different age, we would argue on the basis of logic and reason that we were each right. That age is gone. Logic and reason are dead.
Nietzche prophesied this day:
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him–you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
Frank: I think you use this as a cop-out. Christopher Douglas is speaking a simple historic fact when he writes:
They [the evangelicals] rejected the secular university as a site of neutral science and objective scholarship. And they didn’t just question the ideas and conclusions of the secular world and its institutions of knowledge. In a form of resistance, they adapted modern institutions and technologies to create bodies of counter-expertise.
Christian fundamentalist Bible colleges and universities, publishers and bookstores, newspapers and magazines, radio and then television shows, museums and campus ministries, together formed a set of institutions that resisted elite, secular expert knowledge. Recognizing the power of expertise’s infrastructure, Christian fundamentalists created this counter-infrastructure to cultivate and curate its alternative forms of knowledge. This alternative knowledge—the forerunner of today’s alternative facts— took the form of creationism and an alternative Bible scholarship demonstrating the Bible’s inerrancy and traditional authorship.
When I say “cop-out” Luke, I mean that there is no way to account for the “truth” of revelation from God, voices–whatever–then put this up against say math, physics etc. Jerry Falwell’s school teaches a ten-thousand-year-old Earth and calls itself a university. This trains brains to reject truth. Period.
Luke: Really? It’s the Christians that reject truth because we believe in God’s revealed truth? To what are you appealing to determine this “fact?” Science? Experts? Why are they right? How do we know they have uncovered the “truth?”
Frank: May I get the last word?
Luke: We started this blog months ago discussing the myth of certainty. Now that Trump is elected and suddenly there is lots of certainty…yeah. Have the last word.
Frank: You just made my point. When you say “Science? Experts? Why are they right? How do we know they have uncovered the ‘truth?’” You are speaking today’s GOP and religious right mantra. “Global warming? Who says?” “Illegal immigrants cause less crime than American citizens? Who says mere statistics and studies prove anything…”
I want to remind you of something– the Koch brothers fund right wing evangelical causes but make their money from geologists who by using fact-based science know that oil is a product that can be found rationally by estimating the Earth’s age via a science that actually works. The useful idiots of religion are useful to Koch Industries when they vote, but the brothers would be bankrupt in a year if they used the evangelical view you just put forward re science: “Science? Experts? Why are they right? How do we know they have uncovered the ‘truth?’’
Luke: I gave you the last word…. sigh. Have a good weekend.
Frank: You too!
Schaeffer & Moon is written on the fly in a real-time chat room format and lightly proofed by Patheos editors.