What can we do to share God’s message in an age of post-truth and fake news?
Published on: 04-06-2023
Did you know April Fool’s Day is celebrated in many countries? In Brazil, where I come from, things can get a little more intense on that day than in Australia — starting with the name, which translates freely as “Day of Lies.” More than a day to prank others, it’s considered by many Brazilians as a day with a free pass to lie.
Growing up in the church, I was warned not to engage in such celebrations, as Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Around me, others would defend the validity of the day and come up with guilt-free, made-up excuses to justify their mistakes. “It’s the day of lies anyway. It doesn’t count as lying,” they would say.
Lies have been present in this world since its early beginnings, when Satan delivered the first lie recorded in the Bible by deceiving Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4, 5), bringing about humanity’s fall.
Today, and maybe more than ever before, lies have become a big part of our society. It surpasses the casual “white lies” told when one is running late but assures the other that they are “almost there.” It even surpasses the traditional lies told by politicians. It’s become more insidious and pervasive—an industry.
In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary’s choice for word of the year reflected a little of this sad new reality. The word post-truth was selected after a year dominated by highly charged political and social discourse — the U.S. elections and Brexit. According to the dictionary, post-truth is an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Oxford Languages president Casper Grathwohl said the term’s rocketing popularity was “fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment [or established media].”
In this new context, conspiracy theories and the ever-growing — and lucrative — fake news industry thrive among the masses, especially during significant world events.
Scott Reid states on Britannicathat “conspiracy theories increase in prevalence in periods of widespread anxiety, uncertainty, or hardship, as during wars and economic depressions and in the aftermath of natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, and pandemics…. This suggests that conspiratorial thinking is driven by a strong human desire to make sense of social forces that are self-relevant, important, and threatening…. The content of conspiracy theories is emotionally laden, and its alleged discovery can be gratifying.”
The Words that Define Us
Back in 2016, Grathwohl suggested that post-truth would become “one of the defining words of our time,” and he wasn’t wrong. This phenomenon has only increased its presence since then, especially in the past two years. The Bible actually predicted this trend: “Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:11).
So, what should we do if we have the truth but live in a time in which truth is becoming a rare commodity? Live it intensely. But “intensely” doesn’t mean rubbing it in other people’s faces, pointing the finger and shaming them for how they lead their lives. That would only label us as fanatic fundamentalists.
Author and journalism lecturer Tony Watkins suggests that when public discourse is reduced to different opinions claiming to be factual, it becomes difficult to have meaningful debates about the truth of the gospel.
Social media has had a significant impact on public discourse, and in the age of influence, complex issues are often reduced to simple, polarizing viewpoints shared with millions of followers as an appealing TikTok video or a quick tweet. Loads of influencers, many of whom are not exactly experts on the topics they talk about, shape public opinion, relying exclusively on their personal beliefs and emotionalism.
Watkins notes that advocates of absolute truth are often considered narrow-minded, and their message dismissed, with appeals to sources of authority, such as the Bible, being neutralized as “ancient fake news.”
In this environment, our best bet is to follow Jesus’ example, living the truth intentionally, loving and caring for our neighbor.
So, on the Day — or age — of Lies, let’s share the truth, but in the same way Jesus would do. Being completely humble and gentle, and being patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).