Fake news is in the news this year. It’s being blamed for the Trump election and the general dumbing down of our populous. But fake news isn’t new.
Not long after the birth of Christ, the Magi came to Herod’s palace just outside of Bethlehem to inquire as to the whereabouts of the newborn king.
Herod, attempted to assassinate the Christ-child through an act of subterfuge and deception. He claimed he wanted to “worship” him as well. Joseph was warned in a dream and fled to Egypt fulfilling a long-standing prophecy about the Messiah.
Some say that social media has caused the proliferation of fake news. But fake news is not the result of Twitter, it comes from the human heart that would rather believe a lie than live in accordance with the truth. Aeschylus, the Greek writer said, “The first casualty of war is the truth.” We are living in a war of deceptions. The most dangerous thing in the world is a lie you believe is true. Because you will act on what you believe is true, but falsehoods have no power to sustain you in the real world.
Even in the “golden age” of news, propaganda was used to shape public opinion. Journalistic historian Marvin Olasky writes,
- “Peter Braestrup in his 1977 book, Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington, showed that the Tet offensive by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army was a colossal failure resulting in the destruction of the former and heavy casualties among the latter. But CBS’ Walter Cronkite (then “the most trusted man in America”) and other top dogs declared the offensive an American defeat.
- The advent of penicillin led to a decline in abortion-related maternal deaths from 5,000 per year during the 1930s to perhaps 300 (officially, 160) in 1967. Yet 1960s pro-abortion leaders like Dr. Bernard Nathanson gave “5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year” as the current figure, and leading newspapers used that number to promote abortion legalization as a way to stop “back-alley abortions.” Nathanson, after coming to Christ and opposition to abortion, said, “I knew the figures were totally false, but they were ‘useful.’”
Fake news like that has long-term consequences. A century ago British propagandists hyped news of German atrocities in Belgium. Lies led some during World War II to think wrongly that stories of German genocide against Jews were also exaggerated.
- Stephanie Gutmann inThe Other Warshows how (to choose just one example) The New York Times and The Associated Press showed a bloodied man apparently beaten by a rage-filled soldier and labeled it “a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier,” but it was actually a photo of an Israeli kicked and stabbed by Palestinians and rescued by a policeman (see https://www.studentnewsdaily.com/world-current-events/photographic_negatives/
- Three decades ago Harvard’s Stephen Gould quipped that the lack of transitional forms—evidence for macroevolution, one kind of animal in the process of turning into another—was “the trade secret of paleontology.” That’s still true, but die-hard Darwinians keep coming up with fake news of intermediate forms, such as purported “missing links” between ape and man. PBS in 2009 acknowledged the existence of only a “fragmentary fossil record” but claimed we now have “a very solid general picture of human evolution.””
What can we learn from all of this?
First, don’t believe everything you read or see. I like Reagan’s strategy, “Trust but verify.”
Second, the human heart is deceptive. We look for information to confirm our bias.
Third, objective truth exists. Jesus said at his trial, “I came to testify to the truth and everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” You cannot say all truth is relative without defeating your assertion.
The sad thing for Herod was that his paranoia, pride, and lust for power denied him the chance to worship his own Creator. The sad thing for us is that we all have a little “Herod” in our hearts. The King of Kings came as a baby and fled as a refugee to show us a better way. Humility and truth triumph pride and deception. The scariest deception is one perpetrated by our own hearts. It tells us meaning, pleasure, and fulfilment will come only if we live as our own masters. We worship autonomy and become slaves instead of worshiping the Lord and becoming free. Jesus said, “If you seek to save your life, you will lose it, but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”
Even from the beginning, the wisest of men worshiped him.