The Rise of Fake News

NPR has a fascinating, if not troubling, interview with a creator of various fake news sites that began to profilerate during the 2016 presidential election. This part of the interview was particularly telling:

Well, this isn’t just a Trump-supporter problem. This is a right-wing issue. Sarah Palin’s famous blasting of the lamestream media is kind of record and testament to the rise of these kinds of people. The post-fact era is what I would refer to it as. This isn’t something that started with Trump. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. His whole campaign was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources, which is one of those dog whistles to his supporters. When we were coming up with headlines it’s always kind of about the red meat. Trump really got into the red meat. He knew who his base was. He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat.

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

Prayer of Hope

God of Hope,

Advent begins with
a single, small flame
on a solitary candle,
a gentle promise
that We are not alone.

Here is our hope,
the darkness will pass,
for the light is coming.

Amen

Gratitude Over Despair

This prayer is from 2014, but somehow seems fitting again this year:

Gracious God,

In the events of this year,
we see how fragile our lives truly are.

Daily, we are faced with a choice
to be people who live in cynicism and despair,
or people who live in gratitude and thanksgiving.

On this day, we choose gratitude over despair,
and lift our hearts in thanksgiving to you,
the one who is the source of all good things.

Thank you
for family and friends,
for life and for love,
and for the beauty that we would see
if we would just open our eyes to you.

Amen

On Christian Unity

Comedian Emo Phillips is credited with writing this classic – voted in a recent contest as the best religious joke of all time.

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

It’s a funny joke, and like most good jokes, it captures something true, in this case disturbingly true, about our history as Christians. Today, according to Oxford’s World Christian Encyclopedia, there are over 33,000 Christian denominations in the world. This is partly a sign of healthy diversity, but it’s also a sign of some deeply unhealthy divisions.

The first three verses of Ephesians 41 contain this beautiful plea for Christian unity:

Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. (Eph. 4:1-3)

Eight verses later, Paul speaks of another kind of unity that Paul calls unity of faith:

He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. (Eph. 4:11-13a)

The unity of the Spirit is something that we are to work towards now, while unity of faith and knowledge appears to be eschatological — something that we will have in the end. We continue to exclude more and more people from our various groups, acting as if cooperation and fellowship require doctrinal unity. Paul’s charge to preserve the unity of Spirit assumes disagreement, otherwise there is no need to urge patience.2

When we exclude, we show pride, impatience, and hardness of spirit, not the humility, gentleness, and patience of Paul’s mandate. In the end, we sacrifice the thing that Paul urges us to protect, for the sake of something that we cannot yet have. We either demonstrate intolerance, or, at best, show tolerance from a distance. Neither is the love that Christ commanded.

  1. All Scripture references are from the Common English Bible.

  2. This is a point made by Larry Hurtado in this episode of Tripp Fuller’s excellent podcast, Homebrewed Christianity.

Housman on Thought

Three minutes’ thought would suffice to find this out; but thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time.1

A. E. Housman

  1. A. E. Housman, Saturae of Juvenal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1931), xi.