Tag Archive: politics


Hand on LaptopThis is a blog I originally posted on Facebook on August 27, 2012. This is a lead-in to a new blog I’ll be writing soon. Hope you enjoy!

Everyone loves a good story. People have been telling each other stories for thousands of years. Not all stories are true. Of course, some weren’t meant to be and everyone knows it. However, in other cases people don’t know a story isn’t true and they pass it along as if it were. This is one of the chief ways rumors get started. In the internet age, rumors and urban legends spread faster than chickenpox at a daycare. All it takes is a few seconds on Facebook, and someone can start a rumor that eventually millions of people will hear.

With the incredible volume of information that is passed around the internet, it can sometimes be difficult to tell which stories are true and which ones are phony baloney. Some people (I happen to be one of them) are natural skeptics and are suspicious of almost everything they hear or read, especially when it comes via the internet. The old saying, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see,” has never been truer than in the internet age.

To help further the cause of truth, here’s a helpful little guide for testing the veracity of stories that you read on the internet, whether they pop up in your email inbox, your Facebook news feed, or somewhere else.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This rule applies to many things in life—credit card offers, sweepstakes winnings, weight loss pills, etc. If the events in a story seem just a bit too fortuitous, or if the story leads perfectly into a pithy punch line, then your baloney detector should be sounding the alarm. Granted, an amazing story isn’t guaranteed to be false, because amazing things really do happen in this crazy life. But more often than not, if it’s hard to believe, it’s because you shouldn’t believe it.

If it’s typed in all caps, it automatically loses credibility.

I don’t know why, but it seems that quite a few made-up stories come in all caps. Maybe the person who first started passing around the tall tale thought that putting it in all caps would help boost its credibility. You know, kind of like adding “This is a true story!” to the end of a story that most definitely isn’t true. Whatever the case (no pun intended), be suspicious of email or Facebook stories typed in all caps. Chances are they did not come from a reliable or authoritative source. Also, typing in all caps is considered very poor netiquette (internet etiquette, for the uninitiated). It’s like shouting. Do you believe people more when they shout at you? Likewise, be on the alert when people shout at you in all caps.

If it involves donations for every “Like,” “Share,” or “Forward,” it’s almost certainly bogus.

There are voluminous numbers of these going around. Usually they follow a form that goes something like this: “Poor little Jimmy (usually an adorable baby or small child) has cancer and will die without treatment. Facebook has promised to donate $1 to his medical care for every like/share this picture/post gets.” I’m not sure how these things started. It might be something as simple (and disgusting) as a very needy netizen who desperately wanted more Facebook likes, so she made up a story that would prey on people’s emotions and sent it out into the webosphere. A few seconds of critical thinking should help you determine why these posts are bogus. First, Facebook is going to limit their donations to a dying child based on how many likes a picture gets? That’s twisted. Talk about bad PR! But it’s not even a picture that Facebook has posted. It’s someone else’s picture. Why would they donate money because someone’s random picture gets likes? Why wouldn’t they try to raise the funds through a more official forum, say, a Facebook announcement sent directly to your inbox, accompanied by a press release, and so on? I could go on, but I think you get the point. This is one of the most obvious fakes, and I am continually amazed that people fall for it. Look, I realize that these posts are accompanied by a real tearjerker of a story. That’s why they work. But just remember to use your critical thinking skills and not only your emotions, and you’ll have all the tools you need to sniff out the baloney.

If it doesn’t cite a source, it’s probably made up.

Every now and again I see Facebook posts and email forwards where wild claims are made without any substantiation whatsoever. Often these are politically-oriented posts, with accusations directed at certain politicians or political parties (e.g., “Mitt Romney said he was too important to go to Vietnam!”). Or it might be a clever quote, speech, or letter attributed to some well-known person (e.g., “General David Petraeus calls out President Obama!”). But if there is no source included, be suspicious that the information you’re reading might not be reliable. If this is a legitimate story, why not include the source from which it came?

If it does cite a source but doesn’t include specific information or a link, it’s probably made up.

Of course, just because it does include a source doesn’t mean it’s true. Sometimes the source is vague; other times it’s misattributed (e.g., the story might claim to come from a New York Times article, but lacks specific information about the date and page number). Also, in this day and age, where almost everything is on the internet, it’s very poor form not to include an internet link, so if there’s no link be at least a little skeptical of the source. Of course, if you have reason to doubt, you can do the research yourself…

If you think a story is suspicious, Google it.

One thing that really bothers me about bogus internet stories is how quickly people pass them along without taking a few minutes to verify the story. If you’re going to share something with the world through Facebook, email, or any other venue, take responsibility and make sure you’re sharing truth and not lies. Yes, I know; re-sharing internet stories is incredibly easy, and when the story you’ve just read really hits a nerve it’s oh so tempting to just hit that “Share” button and let everyone know how you feel. But please, for the sake of your friends, and the sake of the truth, become a fact-checker. Google is a great place to start; you can find information on pretty much anything in a matter of seconds with a simple internet search. For dealing specifically with fact-checking, sites like snopes.com and urbanlegends.about.com are indispensible tools. For fact-checking political statements, factcheck.org and politifact.com are great resources. Don’t become both a victim and a vendor of internet urban legends just because you were too lazy to fact check.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a solid starting place if you want to be a good internet skeptic (and everyone should be an internet skeptic). Share your own tips for improving your baloney detector in the comments. And remember: before you share a lie, verify.

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Here are a couple of outstanding blogs along similar lines that some friends of mine have written. Enjoy!

Bruno Mars’ Masonic Baby Haircut and 5 Ways to STOP Misinformation on the Internet

ALS Challenge and the Age of Aquarius

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A Church Divided

Angry Political FightUnless you’ve been purposefully avoiding the news, you know that the U.S. government is currently in shutdown mode following a stalemate between Democrats and Republicans over the budget. The big storyline of the shutdown is the thousands of federal employees currently not working and not getting paid. Congress is still getting paid, however, which naturally draws the ire of many citizens. How is it that the people responsible for thousands of others losing their income are themselves still getting a paycheck?

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the mess we’re in. And everywhere you turn you can find someone eager to place blame, whether it’s pundits in the news media or your politically-minded friends on Facebook. (This is yet another of those occasions when suddenly everyone becomes an expert on Constitutional law, and economic and domestic policy.)

And here’s where I, as a pastor, become greatly disturbed by what I see happening. American political discourse has become increasingly rancorous and partisan. Angry accusations are hurled by each side at the other. Each side presents itself as the champions of truth and justice who are justifiably—even righteously—angry at the malfeasance of the other side. And Christians are right in the thick of it. Despite the fact that we claim to follow a King who unequivocally declared, “My kingdom is not of this world,” we seem to get awfully caught up in what the kingdoms of this world are doing, so much so that we, too, take sides and get into the mudslinging with the best (worst?) of them.

I see three big reasons why this Christian partisanship is problematic. The first is that it divides us from each other and even pits us against each other. You may be a hardcore political conservative who can’t stand Democrats, but guess what: sitting next to you in the pew may be a diehard Democrat. When you start blaming the Democrats for what’s wrong in Washington, how well does it go over with your Democratic brothers and sisters in Christ? How well does it go over with you when you find out that they’re Democrats? (“In my church? Unconscionable!”) Are you able to maintain Christian unity with those on the other side of the political spectrum? Are you more likely to be singing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” or “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” followed swiftly by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic?”

The second reason why Christian partisanship is problematic is that it distracts us from our mission. The Great Commission tells us that the invitation to join God’s kingdom extends to every nation (Matt. 28:18-20). The kingdom transcends nationality, race, culture, language, and political affiliation (Rev. 5:9). Can you embrace your political opponents as members of the same family of God to which you belong? Or do your political convictions lead you to exclude those whose convictions are different? If those of us in the church can’t get along because of political disagreements, how will we ever make disciples all over the world? Who is going to take us seriously if we’re divided amongst ourselves over matters which only have temporal importance? After all, Jesus said that all people will know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). If we’re lacking in love, we’re telling the world that we’re not really His disciples.

The third reason why Christian partisanship is problematic is that causes us to sacrifice our Christian values. I have observed that there is an inverse correlation between the party which one blames the most for our current political disorder and the party which he or she supports the most. That might seem obvious; of course we’re going to criticize the other side more. But Christians should have a higher standard of morality than which political party we happen to like better. Let’s suppose, for example, that you tend to side with the Democrats. Your natural tendency might be to blame the Republicans for the nation’s woes. But would you be willing to hold your own party accountable? Would you be willing to stand up and call out injustice, greed, pride, and selfishness no matter who has perpetrated it? It’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to our preferred party’s faults and instead focus on the wrongdoing of the other party.

Far too many Christians seem blindly loyal to their political ideology, and far too few Christians display a sold out, no holds barred loyalty to God’s kingdom that supersedes every earthly loyalty. The first words in the Great Commission establish that Jesus has all the authority in heaven and on earth. No political loyalty should surpass our loyalty to Jesus and to the principles He taught. Can you love your political enemies like Jesus does? Do you have to sacrifice Christian values, like humility, graciousness, mercy, and peacemaking, in order to fight your political foes? Ask yourself this: how would Jesus relate to our current political climate? Can you imagine Him in the thick of political debates blaming, accusing, and deriding the opposition? Can you honestly imagine Him taking a side at all? If you can, I would strongly encourage you to take a closer look at Jesus’ values and compare them with the values of your preferred political ideology. The glaring discrepancies should answer any lingering questions about which party Jesus would support.

The gospel is for everyone: Democrats and Republicans, liberals and libertarians, progressives and conservatives. And the gospel unites everyone under the same banner of God’s eternal kingdom. But when we allow politics to divide and distract us, we deny the power of the gospel and the all-inclusive nature of God’s kingdom. We become a church divided against itself which cannot stand. Make no mistake: troublous times are coming, when the kingdoms of this world will array themselves against the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. But how can the church withstand the onslaught if we’re too busy bickering over which earthly kingdom is greatest (or which is the lesser evil)? I challenge you, my Christian friends, to put your loyalty to God’s kingdom above all other loyalties. Do not let anything undermine your allegiance to Jesus and your unity with your fellow kingdom citizens. Let the words of Paul in Ephesians 4 characterize your life, even in the arena of politics:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1-6)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:29-32)

 

 

My friend Nelson Fernandez, who pastors on South Carolina, has also written an excellent blog along similar lines.