Sunday, September 14, 2008

Obama Wants to Give Your Kids Cancer

Jared Wilson writes about ridiculous rumors (e.g. "Obama is a Muslim", "Palin had an affair") that surround election candidates, and how Christians are often all too willing to engage in dirty tricks in order to advance their political agendas:

Politics is yucky business, but this isn't just about politics. It's about anger, about fear, and most of all, about truth.From a gospel perspective, it makes sense that the world would not place a high premium on truth.

These days it only takes one enterprising blogger to create a story and before long the entire nation is buzzing with b.s.

The Church, however, is playing gleefully right along. That Obama/Antichrist thing? Some so-called Christian put that piece together to scare up some political leverage, and plenty of truth-deficient Christians ate it up. And passed it around. I got the email from a relative.


Why do we eat this stuff up? Why aren't we different?

Christians follow Jesus, who is The Truth. This means we should be people set apart, keepers of truth, zealous about truth, relentlessly devoted to protecting and perpetrating truth.

When we buy into and pass along lies about public figures we don't mind vilifying -- whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal -- we commit a double sin. We are playing party to lies and in doing so we are playing party to hating our neighbor.

Read it all, for it is good.

I fully agree with Wilson that Christians should never engage in dirty tricks in any domain just to get an advantage. Small lies cannot serve greater truths -- they are simply lies.

However, I think that Wilson is erroneously assuming that Christians who pass on e-mail forwards and preposterous rumors, such as that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, are doing so dishonestly. Remember Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

I, for one, am constantly amazed at the number of people, including mature Christians, who believe in the wildest conspiracy theories simply because they heard them through e-mail forwards.

My mother and library school taught me to believe half of what I see and none of what I hear, and as I get older, I'm inclined to think that they were being optimistic. But I don't think that such reflexive skepticism is the norm.

Many people are just far too willing to accept any information, regardless of veracity, that supports their worldview. One thing that I've learned in my life, particularly in the past few months, is that cognitive dissonance is among the most powerful forces in the universe.

UPDATE: In the comments, Jockeystreet points us to this excellent post at slacktivist, which examines responses to a crackpot conspiracy theory about Proctor & Gamble.

It gets me thinking: perhaps we're both making a mistake in framing our analysis with Hanlon's Razor.

Stupidity and malice are not necessarily mutually exclusive.


Anonymous said...

Funny, I read a post just today over at Slacktivist touching on this seem theme. Invoked Hanlon's Razor as well, but then argued that it just can't be attributed to stupidity, no one able to accurately repeat the lie (or fire up a computer and forward the email) is actually stupid enough to believe it. Anyone, post is here:

Tom Jackson said...

Another important rule, when analyzing politics, is Clarke's Corollary to Hanlon's Razor, which tells us that "Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice."

Does it seem to anyone else that both parties have been scraping the barrel for candidates since about 1984? It seems that no one who is actually qualified for high office wants it.

Michael said...

I'm inclined to believe that passing on e-mails with such claims and questionable sources is not only stupid but careless and irresponsible, and makes one guilty of "bearing false witness". It is akin to gossip, passing along something that any adult Christian with any reasonable intelligence can clearly see is meant to do harm to the subject.

I don't pass along these ridiculous e-mails for this simple reason as well as knowing, by reading the news, that they are dead wrong. In fact, I've begun answering these e-mails by replying with hard facts to the sender, who is usually a "patriotic" Christian.

Art said...

Great post, John... totally agree. Especially in regards to the error of assuming "Christians who pass on e-mail forwards and preposterous rumors... are doing so dishonestly". I think many actually believe this stuff and that is ,to me, the saddest part.