Intentional ignorance and misinformation is well-funded.
Because it works. If I can pay a few highly influential voices to craft a compelling narrative to scare you, then you are much easier to control.
Stanford University recently released a report highlighting how difficult it is in this information age to discern what is or is not a credible source.
There are people convinced that Dearborn, a city on the east side of Michigan with high Muslim and Arab populations, recently implemented Sharia law in all official aspects. Fearful community members are gossiping in salons and bars about the horrifying implications of this “fact.” National Report, whose tagline is “America’s #1 Independent News Source,” posted an article reporting on this huge story.
National Report, however, is a satire news site. It’s not obvious at first glance, but there is a disclaimer if you look for one. Of course, why would you look further if this “news” upholds your preconceived ideas? Nevermind the fact that this “story” was posted three years ago and has since been removed. Nevermind that Snopes has clearly identified it as fake news. And just in case you were determined to believe it as fact anyway, Truth and Action has curated another version of the same “story” to prove its legitimacy.
Trump’s campaign has been intentionally, not incidentally, Islamophobic. Built on a campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation, Islamophobia was a winning message in this campaign cycle. The fear experienced by Muslims in America is real, and for good reason. Islamophobia is likely to become national policy.
But the truth is that Islamophobia is a fake fear, albeit one that is well-funded by those who wish to be seen as powerful saviors from the evil other.
Religious extremism is dangerous, but is not limited to Islam.
I identify as a Christian pluralist. What this means to me is that I personally find a path to truth and redemption through Jesus as Christ, but I respect others’ distinct religious identities and accept that their paths to truth and redemption are no less legitimate. From this lens, I not only look for the salvific good in other religions, but also the distorted evils of my own religion. The KKK and Westboro Baptist Church are distortions of Christianity that stand out as extreme. It’s harder to see gentler, more palatable extremism that insidiously pervades our American culture, because it’s carefully hidden behind “good Christian values.”
Christians in America experience religious privilege grounded in subtle Christian triumphalism. In gentler terms it might sound like inclusivism, but it’s ultimately grounded in a belief that Christianity is right and possesses the truth, therefore anyone not Christian is wrong and does not possess the truth.
Muslims are assertively rejecting extremism. And American evangelical Christians voted religious extremism into the most powerful office in the world.
The echo chamber of misinformation is a tool of violence utilized by wealthy extremists paying for fake news.
But Jesus said the truth will set you free. Seeking out true stories is possible.
If those who are committed to truth seek out these hidden stories, the “us vs. them” binary narrative of fear may be dispelled. Rather than glom onto whatever fake news upholds their ideas, truth-seekers complicate the narrative and see the shared experience of humanity.
As a Christian pluralist, I commit to seeking truth where it may be found. As a public theologian, I commit to analyzing my news sources and refusing to perpetuate fake news. Will you join with me and other members of my seminary’s public theology course in pledging to do the same? Click here for the link to sign and share.
Freedom is possible in truth. Insist on it.