By / Dec 26

Fake news is everywhere. For the last several weeks it seems like every newscast and media stream has been filled with talk of fake news. But this phenomenon is nothing new. Recently, Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, pointed out that fake news is essentially the modern equivalent of the chain emails that used to clog your inbox. So why are we talking about it now?

On the right and left

More than any other reason, fake news has dominated the cultural conversation recently because of the unexpected results of November’s presidential election. Most major media outlets wrongly forecasted the election’s outcome. The President-elect’s surprise victory sent shockwaves through the media, leaving journalists and pundits desperate to explain how the consensus opinion could be so far off target.

In order to explain the results, many have pointed to the fake news articles that have recently become fixtures of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. These articles and websites are usually easy to identify. They employ outlandish or incendiary headlines that link to articles based on only the smallest sliver of facts. In some cases, the articles are outright fabrications, based on no truth at all. These fake news sites are nothing more than “click-bait” and in fairness, there are numerous right-wing versions of these articles and websites.

However, fake news is nonpartisan. It comes from the left and the right, and it can hardly explain the results of the election. In fact, in only a few weeks’ time, the term has become hyper-politicized, taking on the meaning “any news one disagrees with.” But all of this obscures the point. Fake news is a real thing. It exists to exploit people. It preys on ignorance, prejudice and biases.

Losing public trust

Many factors have contributed to this problem. In the age of the internet, there is an inexhaustible amount of information available at the touch of a button. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between real news, editorial, and satire. And the problem is compounded by the addition of fake news.

The press plays an invaluable role in our society. In a world as bleak as ours, we can all appreciate the role of satire—such as The Onion or The Babylon Bee—but we depend on real journalism to stay informed about current events and world affairs.

The news cycle is never-ending, and the majority of media outlets are for-profit entities. This means that their revenues depend upon subscriptions and advertising, which is driven in large part by web traffic seeking real-time updates on breaking news. Journalists and news organizations are under constant pressure to be the first to break a story or provide exclusive content, and this sometimes leads to errors, fraud or compromise which has weakened public trust in traditional media institutions. And while editorial and commentary are also invaluable, many reporters are often guilty of blurring the lines between news and opinion, which also damages their credibility.

This lack of trust has created a vacuum. In many cases, the void has been filled by smaller (and more overtly partisan) alternative news sites. However, the proliferation of news organizations has also made it more difficult to determine whether a particular source is a reliable or legitimate. This reality has created a major opening for purveyors of fake news.

The danger of fake news

Perhaps this wouldn’t matter if fake news were simply the innocuous distribution of false information. But as it turns out, fake news has real consequences. Recently, a man from North Carolina traveled to Comet Ping Pong, a pizza place in Washington, D.C., to investigate the claims of a fake news story about a child-abuse ring operating at the restaurant. After searching the building and firing his rifle at least once, the man surrendered himself to the police and was charged “with four counts, including felony assault with a deadly weapon,” all because of a viral fake news story. Fortunately, no one was harmed during the incident, but it serves as a cautionary tale; fake news is dangerous.

It may seem innocent enough to like or share articles on the internet that may not actually be true. But it is unwise for several reasons. If the example above represents the worst case scenario, a more likely event is simply the loss of your own credibility. Every person has a sphere of influence and each time you spread false information you either mislead other people or undermine your integrity. Either way, it is too high a price.

Truth as Christian stewardship

As Christians, we belong to Jesus who is himself the truth. If our primary task in the world is to know and reflect this truth to others, we cannot be complicit in the spread of false information. The world sees no distinction between the integrity of our politics and the truth of our gospel. We must tell the truth. Our public witness depends on it. So, let’s make it our aim in the next year to be the people God has created us to be—those who proclaim his truth and reflect that in our everyday interactions.

By / Jul 25

Feelings of guilt, like feelings of pain, are a gift from God. Both are warning systems alerting us that we are in danger. When these gifts are absent it poses a crisis—a person with a medical disorder in which he can feel no pain (congenital analgesia) lives in constant danger, and a person who never experiences the feeling of guilt may very well be a sociopath. Both of these are horrifying conditions, which often result in harm to self and others, but we do not need a diagnosis to misuse or abuse what God has intended for good.

Feelings of guilt and pain can be easily corrupted. Though pain is a gift from God, when someone needlessly physically mutilates him or herself, they are dishonoring God by harming his image bearer. Likewise, harboring false guilt for things that are beyond our control or because of our personal limitations in certain areas of our lives is a wicked form of spiritual self-mutilation.

It’s not about humility

False guilt is not humility. It is the result of an unhealthy self-preoccupation that is often rooted in our expectations about what we think we should be able to do and accomplish. The problem is that we do not often distinguish between true guilt and false guilt, and we mask our false guilt as humility. Wallowing in false guilt is the fruit of fixing one’s gaze on oneself rather than on the acceptance and freedom found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We are objectively guilty because we have sinned against God. Our subjective feelings of guilt, when they accurately reflect what the Scripture names sin, are a path to confession, repentance and a renewed experience of the grace of God. But often our subjective feelings of guilt are not rooted in what the Scripture describes as sin, rather in our own misplaced longings and identity. Often with false guilt, the standard is not God’s revelation but our perception of how we compare to those around us. We think we should have or be able to do what we see others around us doing, so we feel guilty and begin to accuse ourselves.

Falling prey to Satan’s tactics

When we harbor false guilt we become a malicious witness, not against our brother (Deut. 19:15-20), but against ourselves. Satan’s name means adversary and accuser. He is the accuser of the brothers, and he will answer to Christ for his malicious accusations (Rev. 12:10). When we accuse ourselves and bear false guilt, we are unwittingly imaging the evil one in the world. False guilt is one of the primary weapons of Satan’s parasitic rival kingdom. I once heard my friend Russell Moore explain, “No one is more pro-choice on the way into an abortion clinic than Satan and no one is more pro-life on the way out of an abortion clinic that Satan because he thrives on hopeless accusation.”  

Genuine feelings of guilt that lead to conviction, confession and repentance do not leave the believer in self-oriented groveling but rather declaring, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). False guilt cannot lead to an experience of grace because its root is satanic self-deception. Satan’s temptations of Jesus were fundamentally accusations, based on Scripture but abstracted from the cross and the gospel. “If you are the Son of God . . .,” Satan asserts, you should be able to claim these promises right now (Matt. 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).

Satan’s tactics have not changed. He longs for us to be gripped by the constant ache of false guilt: You do not have that? You cannot do that? Look at how much everyone around you is doing. Why didn’t you do more? You are worthless if you do not have what others have. You are not bright enough, attractive enough, credentialed enough, and successful enough to really be useful. You are a burden to those around you. This kind of false guilt is a self-feeding beast. It produces hypersensitivity and a paralyzing self-loathing that often projects self-accusation on others.

The answer found in gospel-esteem

When we become our own accuser based on false guilt, the gospel becomes eclipsed in our thinking. False guilt accuses but offers no hope. Instead of taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), every thought becomes a referendum on whether or not we are measuring up and whether others think we are measuring up. The answer is not found in the prevalent notion of contemporary American culture that all feelings of guilt are bad and we should focus on our personal self-esteem. The flattery-oriented, “everybody is always a winner” culture is vacuous. The answer is found in gospel-esteem. We are guilty, but Christ died for sinners, and there is forgiveness found through faith in him.

Embracing gospel truth on a daily basis means viewing our lives through the lens of Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). God’s love demonstrated on the cross of Christ atones for the sins of those who trust him and removes their condemnation. It is an act of rebellion to develop a new self-generated legalistic standard and to make accusations against oneself based on that standard. Paul declared, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Trusting God and his all-wise providence means living the life we actually have in faithfulness to him as the most strategic and influential thing we could be doing for the sake of the gospel. Wishing we had a different life and could attain some level of self-defined success is the most worthless anti-gospel thing we could waste our time doing (Matt. 25:14-30). We are called to surrender our lives, strengths and weaknesses, ability and disability, to Jesus for his glory. Do not let anyone rob you of your gospel freedom in Christ—including you.