Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Language of the Debate (2)

The Christian media urgently wants Christians to stop believing — and even more importantly, to stop circulating — what it calls “conspiracy theories”. I previously came across and responded to one of the earliest of these calls to cease and desist back in September of last year, and lo and behold, here are a whole bunch more folks writing almost exactly the same thing Aaron Brake wrote at Stand to Reason, and maybe even more so.

Interfaith Now says Christians “have to do better”. says, “Let’s unite together in spreading God’s truth, not rumors!” Relevant magazine argues that Christians only believe in “conspiracies” because they need to feel like they are in control. Christianity Today insists, “Gullibility is not a spiritual gift.”

Each of these articles and many more besides appeared within the last few months. To greater or lesser degrees, they all encourage Christians to prefer mainstream news sources to alternative media, which, they charge, may be “rife with conspiracy theories”.

I find that a highly improbable development to have occurred organically. However, notwithstanding the fact that all these articles appeared more or less simultaneously, quoting each other and expressing almost exactly the same sentiments, often in the very same words, their writers for all the world sounding like they are all reading from the same playbook, I will stop well short of alleging there is some kind of ... er ... conspiracy involved, and will instead attribute the sudden glut of anti-theorizing sentiment to the media’s natural herd instinct, obsessive self-referentiality, or perpetual need for some trendy issue to write about.

Five Interesting Terms

All the same, here are five thematically-related terms which appear repeatedly in these articles, along with my explanation of how their usage differs from traditionally accepted definitions. (Spoiler alert: you might notice that many of these “Christian media” sources are using these expressions in precisely the same way they are used by the political left and mainstream media.)

Conspiracy Theory: Ten years ago, the purveyors of conspiracy theories were people with tinfoil hats who claimed the government was covering up alien abductions. Today, there are still a few of those oddballs around, but their ranks have been bolstered by many formerly-respectable scientists and experts in various fields whose lived experience has acquainted them with “alternative facts” inconvenient for folks who wish to persuade you to vote their way. When the mainstream media uses the phrase “conspiracy theory” today, they actually mean what used to be called a dissenting opinion, something that in many cases is not only defensible but backed by considerable evidence. In their view, a “conspiracy theorist” is anyone who does not enthusiastically regurgitate their current narrative on cue. When an established expert doesn’t play ball with political correctness, calling him a “conspiracy nut” is an easier and far more effective way to disqualify his opinion than actually debating it. After all, in a debate, the media might lose.

Fake News: Coming from the political right, the expression “fake news” is a pithy way of acknowledging that the legacy media lies, and lies a lot. Coming from the political left, it means an alternative media opinion which dissents from the narrative, and for which sufficient evidence has yet to be presented (the bar being set by those for whom no amount of evidence will ever suffice).

Debunked: This used to mean “categorically proven wrong”. No more. Now it simply means the legacy media denies it until they are blue in the face. Then, when a non-falsifiable, contentless platitude from the legacy media, like “climate change is real”, cannot be effectively demonstrated to be false, they promptly consider all possible objections to their ever-shifting climate change narrative, no matter how reasonable, to have been “debunked”.

Fact Check: A “fact check” used to be an unbiased review of what was said about what happened, usually by an objective third party. Today, it means the most commonly accepted current ideological spin on what is said to have happened.* At this point, the very idea of a “fact check” from CNN, MSNBC, Facebook, YouTube or any other Google subsidiary should be enough to reduce us to hysterical laughter.

Misinformation: Back in the day, this meant something provably and deliberately false. In the context of “conspiracy theories”, it means any statement that contradicts the current media narrative. See “Fake News”.

Some Things to Consider

Hey, the Kennedy Assassination (which some of these articles are still inexplicably bringing up) is a fascinating story, but it was also a long time ago. Most of the principal actors are long dead, and nobody who wasn’t involved will ever be 100% sure what really happened no matter what evidence surfaces. And I’m certainly not for a moment suggesting Christians ought to spend our days researching and promoting Flat Earth and Fake Moon Landing theories. I also agree with most of these writers that slander, gossip and speculation are not legitimate Christian pastimes.

Three thoughts, however, before Christians summarily write off all accused conspiracy theorists:
  • Not all “theories” are on the same level. Lumped in with the above-listed notions-from-the-fringe are a few less radical “conspiracies” about which perfectly normal Christians may have legitimate questions: the much-disputed facts surrounding COVID-19, the trustworthiness of the factions promoting climate change, the existence of the Deep State, the involvement of billionaires like George Soros and Bill Gates in promoting globalism, and the concern that some of the mass shootings in the last few years have had more to them than a crazy “lone gunman”. While we do not and probably cannot know all the details about such things, there is ample evidence that the current media narrative about these subjects is questionable at best and outright false at worst. The fact that the narrative shifts so frequently strongly suggests most Christians could afford to be a little more skeptical about what we hear and read in the media.
  • For most Christians, these are queries, not theories. Let’s get real: keeping an open mind, thinking critically, and expressing healthy skepticism are not “bearing false witness”, “slander” or “gossip”. Nor are they the sort of “speculation” the apostle Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy. Most Christians I know do not insist dogmatically that they know what is really going on. Far more are asking questions than are making specific accusations. Most Christians would never think of sending a pipe bomb to George Soros or invading a pizzeria with a gun, and any who would are not doing so because of their Christianity but in spite of it. No, most believers are simply asking perfectly reasonable questions raised by the inconsistencies and blatant misrepresentations of our political class and media manipulators. There is perhaps a reason the New Testament warns us repeatedly about liars, lies and the dangers of being catastrophically misled.
  • There is a bad testimony, and then there is a REALLY bad testimony. The most common concern expressed by these writers is that Christians skeptical of current media narratives are somehow disgracing our fellow believers (“maintaining our credibility is crucial to our testimony”). In fact, I believe it’s often quite the opposite: Christians who — gullibly, or worse, knowingly — promote false media narratives present a far more pressing problem for the testimony of their fellow believers. Christianity Today’s May 28 puff piece on the tragic death of George Floyd was an absolute embarrassment, ignoring numerous facts readily available from even the most blatantly left-wing secular sources, allowing Floyd to be promoted as a “Christ figure”, and accepting, if not actively embracing, the odious and highly dubious “cops are out to kill blacks” narrative promoted so heavily by the secular media. If there is any legitimacy to the insinuation that Christian “conspiracy theorists” have helped fan the flames that result in pizza shootings and pipe bombings, the very same logic indicts CT in the matter of the recent Compton shootings of two LA Sheriff’s deputies and the protests that blocked their way into the emergency room of the hospital to which they were subsequently transported.
Hey, I’m fairly sure CT doesn’t want to own that one ...

*  Barbara Joanna Lucas, writing for the Capital Research Center, has done a nice job here of pointing out the problems with so-called “fact checking”. Her summary: “Both of the nation’s most prominent fact-checking organizations — and PolitiFact — tilt to the political left [and] go far beyond what they say they do, claiming to fact-check subjective things like political rhetoric that are not susceptible to fact-checking.”

It’s actually worse than that. During the early days of the COVID-19 crisis when next to nothing was known for certain, any suggestions from medical professionals that the current rules being imposed in their states and cities were in any way unhelpful or counterproductive were ruthlessly “fact checked” and suppressed in both mainstream and social media, despite the fact that those doing the fact checking had no medical backgrounds themselves, and relied on statements made by politicians to demonstrate that the dissenting medics were disseminating inaccurate information. Anyone with a memory longer than two weeks can probably recall some instance in which those same “experts” have flip-flopped on us since March.

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