Fake news

Dealing with history is never fully objective. Writing about the past always requires a selection of the facts. Moreover, the historian will always view these facts from a particular perspective. And the reader of the product of the historian reads through his own, usually colored, lenses. Therefore, any student of history does well, if at all possible, to consult various sources.

The fact that history is always characterized by a certain degree of subjectivity does not, however, mean that is therefore defensible to consciously alter the facts and to select them in such a way that a totally warped picture is created of what happened. In that case we are confronted with the falsification of history and that is an ugly matter.

But even when we try to describe the present, a degree of subjectivity is unavoidable. Most things that happen around us are so complex that this also forced us to be selective in our descriptions. And, also here, much depends on the perspective from which we view things. Usually it makes quite a difference whether our political leanings are more to the right or more to the left. Aspects like gender and ethnicity, religion and culture, also impact on the way we see events that happen far-away and nearby. However, we enter the dubious realm of ‘fake’ news when there is a conscious effort to ignore certain relevant facts and to enlarge and color other things, with the clear intent to mislead people and by manipulating “fake” information in such a way that particular pre-planned objectives are reached. Sad to say that nowadays this type of news delivery and communication has become a common phenomenon.

The processes which are at work in the descripting of the past and in reporting on the present are not limited to the world of the secularl media (including the social media) but are also seen elsewhere. Even in the world of the church it is difficult (or maybe impossible) to be fully objective. I remember a statement made by a theology professor at Andrews University in the middle of the 1960’s about the official journal of the worldwide Adventist Church: the Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald. (The name was later shortened to Adventist Review.) This professor said that a regular reader of this Adventist journal would have to conclude that everything in the Adventist Church is OK; that only good things happen in the church and that nothing ever goes wrong. At the time I was rather surprised by this critique but after a little thought I could only agree. Since that time things have improved. Recent books about the history of our church have become much more professional and critical. Even today the church’s media often tend to sound a hallelujah note, but it must be said that they no longer avoid all problems and all challenges the church is faces. Nonetheless, it remains advisable to consult various sources and non-official media such as Spectrum and Adventist Today are a welcome (and necessary) complement to the official news channels. For, unfortunately, it must be said that even today at times the church’s media remain silent about controversial issues and tendencies in the church, or paint such a one-sided picture that it can only be characterized as “fake” news.

Now, it is rather easy to point an accusing finger at others and to forget that most (or all?) of us may at times be guilty of spreading some “fake” news. We tend to be subjective in the stories we tell of what we have experienced and in the way we talk about individuals and groups of people. We all come with our own bagage, which colors our opinion, and we most often do not possess all the facts. That is why it is usually not wise to just listen to one version of a story. But it becomes a very nasty thing when we consciously give a story a certain twist in order to mislead others. It is good to once in a while give this serious thought and ask ourselves if we perhaps at times, either consciously or unwittingly, may have been guilty in passing on “fake” news.

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