I have had a lot of run-ins lately with Christian half-truth and some outright lies. I wanted to share some examples of what I’ve found (without linking to them, because good riddance). In no particular order:
- While helping a student of mine research a Christian movie they wanted to write about, I stumbled across a website where an author claimed that it was not necessarily ungodly for men to look at pornography (although, somehow, it was ungodly for women to rebuke their husbands for looking at pornography). The website said that this belief was based on correct Biblical portrayals of gender roles.
- I was halfway through an article about a particular Bible verse when a general sense of unease and some confusing/inaccurate statements in the analysis led me to research the group writing the article. I found out they were part of a group that refuses to recognize the holy Trinity, which explained some of those confusing statements!
- I have run across any number of inaccurate statements conflating church practices (things like small groups or accountability groups) as Biblical mandates. The Bible certainly espouses principles about fellowship, accountability, and spiritual growth, but the practices that stem from these principles are a different creature altogether.
- I also encounter fairly regularly series of small “minor” errors in the details of Biblical stories being shared. Seems small on the surface, but a small error can shift meaning in subtle and dangerous ways.
Because of those issues, I’ve been thinking a lot about skepticism lately.
A lot of Christians are taught that skepticism is inherently bad. That it is the enemy of faith, and the operating tool of secularists and atheists. Develop a skeptical mindset, the thinking goes, and you’ll talk yourself right out of faith. That fear of skepticism isn’t entirely unfounded. Many self-proclaimed “skeptics” dismiss Christianity because it doesn’t provide enough answers, or at least enough of the demanded ones, without recognizing that Christianity never promised to do so. Following Christ is faith-based; one must, at some inevitable point, make the necessary leap that says simply I believe. People who approach Christianity through the lens of full-throated skepticism (i.e., I doubt everything about this, and will continue to doubt unless everything is made clear to me and explained to my satisfaction) will struggle to get to that leap.
But skepticism can also be a great friend to the Christian. It is worthwhile to cultivate a skeptical Christian mind, at least in the sense that you are willing to question, investigate, scrutinize, and examine what others are saying about Scripture, about Jesus, and about the faith. This is because at its heart, skepticism is critical thinking. It is a doubtful mindset that is not always willing to believe everything presented to it. And it is enormously useful in this, our great age of information.
More and more, people are getting most of their news and knowledge from the Internet, via their phones and computers. For some people, this means consulting various versions of Scripture online – and that’s great! For others, it means consulting blogs, analyses, articles, and webpages…and that is a pretty mixed bag. A cat can pretend to be a reverend or an M.Div online. Laypeople can write whatever they want, whenever they want. There are no theological standards or strictures guiding many of the people who write about faith matters online, and even less information about who they actually are and what their agenda might be. Christian celebrities and authors can espouse ideas and beliefs that sometimes do and sometimes do not dovetail with what Christianity actually teaches. Oh, and there are sound and true teachers and writers and pastors out there, too.
The result is that when people go to look up an analysis on a Bible verse or for guidance on a spiritual matter, they are slammed by an enormous heap of results that mixes up the good, the bad, the ugly, and the patently untrue altogether. And it’s easy, so easy, to give in to the siren song of quick information. That first blog you read sounds right and feels true, so it probably is, right? (Not necessarily. In fact, our inherent biases can lead us to gloss right over falsehoods because we want to believe what we are reading). That author or speaker you like wrote this one really great thing, and there’s no need to look it up because they’re pretty Biblically sound, right? (Look it up. Everyone, even the greatest and the soundest, make mistakes. Plus, even if the verse is right, the interpretation may not be sensible).
The scariest thing for me is that these sources of (mis)information are the most dangerous for those newest and most vulnerable in Christ. There are a good many people who simply don’t know what they don’t know: new to the faith, new to Scriptural understanding, they may swallow abject lies outright because they don’t yet have enough Biblical wisdom to examine or contradict them. And in fairness, I must admit it’s not just a problem for newbies. I was two pages in to the analysis I mentioned in #2 above before my Scriptural radar started pinging to tell me that something was off; I was embarrassed I didn’t realize it sooner. And I’m a longtime scholar and believer!
So please, save your leap of faith for Jesus, and give yourself permission to be skeptical about what you read or consume online about your faith. There’s an awful lot of misinformation, Scriptural cherry-picking, and outright lies swirling around – and you don’t want those crumbling sands to become the foundation of your faith. Ask yourself the important questions (I cover some of those here). And don’t be afraid to teach other believers, if you have the chance, the importance of consuming what they read on the internet with a grain of salt, or two, or twenty.
We all need them, and it’s important to stay vigilant.