Friday, September 6, 2013

Christians and the World Wide Gossip (Liars) Network

I woke up this morning to find the story, reproduced below, in my e-mail inbox, just another of the many “Forwards” I receive from friends who obviously think the things they send on are: 1) true, 2) meaningful, 3) urgent, 4) revealing, 5) humorous, 6) shocking, 7) heart wrenching, 8) morally uplifting, 9) morally reprehensible or 10) some combination of the above.

The e-mail in which this “clipping” was reproduced had the subject line: “Well written police report,” subtly suggesting that the police wrote the report in a manner that exonerated the Marines from any violence they did to the “assailant” while leaving the perceptive reader to draw the conclusion that they had beaten him to a pulp.

There are several problems with the purported “news story” reprinted above. The Snopes website presents a summary of the truth and fiction in the Internet/E-mail pass-along. Readers will find their  investigation instructive. They point out that the story has a basis in fact but that successive “reporters” of the incident have taken great liberties in embroidering the event with details that are totally false, even to the point, in one instance, of removing the story from its original context in Augusta, Georgia to Australia. Snopes has been able to identify three separate versions of the story.                     .

The original newspaper report gives a rather full report of the incident and includes a photo of the robber/assailant. The report of the Assailant’s trial and sentencing appeared in the August (GA) Chronicle, Tuesday, October 4, 2011.

However there are problems with the e-mail story, that Snopes does not clearly address. The name of the real robber/assailant was Tracy Attaway, a 39 year old ex-felon, not Tyrone Jackson. Tracy Attaway was from Waynesboro, Georgia, not Augusta, Georgia. The misplacement of the felon’s home address in the e-mail versions may just be a case of sloppy story telling. But the changing of his name has to be deliberate. The photo in the original story reveals that Attaway was a black man. However his name, Tracy, would not immediately identify him as a black person to most readers. Tyrone, however, is a name often associated with a black person, as is the surname, Jackson. So the author of the e-mail would appear to be signaling the reader that the assailant is a black criminal.

What would the author of the fictitious news account hope to accomplish by identifying the race of the perpetrator of this crime? It is impossible to know for sure. It is impossible, in most cases, to trace the origins, or definitively name the motive behind these e-mail fictions.

It is not, however, difficult to trace the origin of the “Forward” that brings it into one’s e-mail mailbox. Nearly all that arrive in my mailbox come from professing Christians. Since I am a professing Christian most of my correspondents are as well. So what am I to think of these messages from my Christian friends: some declared to be urgent revelations of impending evil, some testimonials to marvels, miracles, and triumphs over evil, some appeals for action, some advising steps to be taken to avoid disasters – but all based on fabricated stories or half-truths, and all circulated by people professing to be servants of truth.

Most Christians accept the Bible as an authoritative guide to Christian living so I am going to turn to it in making my case that Christians have no business dealing in falsehoods via these e-mail fairytales.
In Proverbs 6:16-19 we read a brutally direct statement of seven things the Lord (God) hates.
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Note that five of the seven things that are detestable to God are directly applicable to the creation of, or the passing on of, Internet gossip (lies):

1.         a lying tongue – things conveyed via e-mail are the equivalent of words spoken
2.         a heart that devises wicked schemes – shame on any Christian who invents these stories
3.         feet that are quick to rush into evil – or hands quick to hit the “Forward” button
4.         a false witness who pours out lies – passes on lies learned from others
5.         a person who stirs up conflict in the community – the primary goal of most e-mail stories

It is not hard to ascertain the truth or falseness of most of the information being circulated on the Internet and/or through e-mails. If a Christian feels strongly about an issue and wishes to circulate information about it he has a moral obligation to check the facts before circulating them. If he lacks the tools, or knowledge, or will to do that basic bit of research then he should refrain from circulating the information.

Was it Jesus who said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no?” Ah yes, in Matthew 5:37. And James the brother of Jesus repeated that admonition:
But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. (James 5:12)
There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of people who will support the World Wide Gossip (Liars) Network without the aid of Christians. Evil will not cease to exist just because Christians no longer choose to be a party to it. But the testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ will be more believable when Christians begin to be known as truth-tellers rather than gossip spreaders.

If the "Forward" button on your computer causes you to sin, smash your computer. It is better to arrive in heaven without a computer than to land in hell with your "Forward" button intact.


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