Fake News

For the week of February 10, 2018 / 25 Shevat 5778

Reporters with various forms of "fake news" from an 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper

Excerpted from “The fin de siècle newspaper proprietor” 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper

Mishpatim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 21:1-24:18 & 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Melachim/2 Kings 12:1-17 (English: 11:21 – 12:16)


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You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. (Shemot/Exodus 23:1-3)

During the most recent presidential election in the United States, one of the biggest news stories was “fake news.” I don’t mean that “fake news” was fake news. It is that “fake news” had become big news! The phenomenon of fake news is nothing new. It has existed since the Garden of Eden. And I am not talking about the serpent’s deception of Eve. Even before that something went awry in the communication world of that supposedly perfect environment. When the serpent asked Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Bereshit/Genesis 3:1), her reply was technically incorrect, when she said: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Bereshit/Genesis 3:2-3). According to the record, God didn’t say that they couldn’t touch the fruit; only that they should not eat it. I don’t know how much of a difference Eve’s inaccurate report made; I only wanted to point out that fake news goes back a long time.

It’s not really fair to refer to all inaccurate reports as fake news, however. Satires and parodies, for example, are forms of fake news for fun. Yet even then, there have been incidences of fabricated news items that have caused large scale panic, because the public didn’t get the joke. The most famous one occurred on October 30, 1938, when the radio drama “War of the Worlds” was in the form of a simulated news broadcast. Apparently, people really thought America was under Martian attack, resulting in mass panic. I write “apparently,” because it appears that the level of reaction regularly referred to might itself be exaggerated. Whatever really happened that night is the stuff of myths and legends. Something happens. It’s conveyed a certain way, and then grows in the consciousness of people, taking a life of its own.

Myths and legends aren’t fake news. Neither is a whole spectrum of inaccurate reporting. Real fake news (did I just write that?) is intentional misrepresentation of the truth in order to deceive. What makes the current hoopla over fake news ironic is that popular culture fueled by academia has for a long time set its sights against truth. “All truth is relative,” they say. “You have your truth; I have mine,” they say. So now, new media is fertile breeding ground for all sorts of fake news from the personal to the political, and people cry foul? As the Bible says: “You reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7).

People’s reaction to fake news exposes an innate sense of the existence of truth, regardless of whatever misguided philosophy they buy into. Truth is an accurate reflection of reality. Everyone knows deep inside that reality isn’t different for every person. We may have different opinions about all sorts of things. But the way things are is the way things are. Yet we so readily create worlds of fantasy. It’s to God’s credit that he made creatures who can conceive of nonsense. It’s all part and parcel of being given the gift of imagination, I suppose. Yet it is tragic that our alienation from God leads us to use this precious gift for nefarious purposes.

It doesn’t have to be that way, you know. But to be free of the deceptive lure of fake news, you need to be friends with the truth. Truth is a stubborn companion. The fake news of the serpent’s deception in the garden led Adam and Eve to hide from God and the truth. We have been hiding ever since. It’s scary to come out into the light of reality. But God has made a way. Because of what Yeshua the Messiah has done for us, the truth that condemns us becomes the truth that sets us free. Once we accept the truth about ourselves and the truth of what God has done on our behalf through Yeshua, then we are no longer under the oppressive control of deception and become bearers of truth to others. That’s good news!

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Source: Torah Bytes