Mandatory Disclaimer: This is just my personal take on some of the passages and may or may not pull from academic sources. In other words, this is just my interpretation of things. Take it or leave it.
“O you who are over the old one who came forth from Imau, I have not made terror.” -translation by R.O. Faulkner
I chose the passage I did about terror when the topic is about misinformation for a couple of reasons. I feel anyone who lives long enough will know of the common ways to inflict terror: intimidation, threats, several forms of violence just to name a few. Violence, however, isn’t the only way to terrorize people. The only thing people need to feel terrorized is a threatening situation. This situation can come in by playing off one’s fears in any way, including propaganda.
This type of fear is where misinformation comes in. A case in point is a recent news article where someone (I won’t even use the word “scholar”) claims he has evidence that Jesus was a composite figure created by Roman aristocrats. While there is a theory Jesus was a composite figure, that isn’t what bothered me. It’s the fact there seems to be a documentary behind it. My personal experience with such sensationalist hypotheses is when someone presents one there’s usually misinformation or something to sell, sometimes both. This is one of the cases where misinformation abounds, and at least one person is tired of it. So why is this misinformation harmful? This article was brought to my attention by Pagans and Kemeticists, who believed the article wholesale and used it as an example to delegitimize Christianity. I wish I made screenshots of all the “See? I knew Jesus wasn’t real” and “Proof at last,” comments. It didn’t take much for me to find out the alleged discovery was bunk. The sad part is I found a link to that review on the r/Atheism subreddit. Yes, atheist Redditors are more willing to put aside their bias than Pagans and Kemeticists to find the truth of a matter. Perhaps it’s more concerning for me because it comes off as an attempt to bash Christians on the part of Pagans and Kemeticists.
Using misinformation to prove someone’s religion isn’t real is harmful because it is usually what perpetuates stereotypes. One study, while not focused on religion, found misinformation led to stereotyping in children. The same scenario easily applies to spouting misinformation about Christianity. When we say “Jesus was really created by Roman aristocrats” we’re implying the poor scholarship is not only true, but Christians are gullible, nebbishy people if they disagree with it. If you don’t believe me I suggest reading this blog post. I wish it could be dismissed as just the case of one forum. Like I said before, though, the comments I saw belittling Christianity on my facebook feed. I’ve even seen groups that continuously assert how Christianity borrows from the Maxims of Amenope while ignoring all the times the Ancient Egyptians borrowed from other religions. The aim of the person who does such things is to insinuate Christianity isn’t a real religion by asserting combining various beliefs and practices isn’t a legitimate form of belief structure.
I’m sure at this point many readers are asking what any of this has to do with causing terror. All too often I’ve found fear mongering and hate mongering are bedfellows. One doesn’t have to look up even the Holocaust to find how mass murder was fueled by perpetuating stereotypes and misinformation, which in turn fueled bigotry and hated. Practitioners of Falun Dafa are systematically persecuted in China with the Chinese government spreading misinformation about the practice in order to fuel animosity towards it and justify horrific acts towards the practitioners. Where there is misinformation, bigotry and hatred are nearby. If nothing else a bias against something is easy to spot. The misinformation is meant to scare people into believing a targeted group is a threat. When someone feels like a group is a threat horrific actions seem justifiable in order to remove it.
If one extrapolates a fearful message from misinformation renders the individual responsible for their actions of instilling terror or harm, even if it’s only the individual in question. If several people attempt to spread misinformation with the intent of causing fear or harm that group is responsible for their actions. Before sharing something that could cause fear or harm to a group, consider the following:
What are your current biases? Consider both positive and negative biases, meaning things you are more inclined to believe because you favor and disfavor them. In the case of misinformation that Christian bashes people I found people will find any information that confirms the bias without digging further into the information. A big clue that a bias is occurring is if someone utters the phrase, “I knew Christianity was bunk,” or something similar.
Does it come in a sensationalist package? It helps to learn to recognize sensationalist media tactics for this one. While mostly made for Canadian media, I believe this site is a great place to learn how to identify media sensationalism.
Practice the “hateful sounding” test. I’m sure there’s an actual term for it, but since it’s something I use to monitor my thinking I gave it the rather uncreative name. What I tend to do is put a marginalized group in place of the group of which I’m speaking. If it sounds like propaganda, it probably is. Here’s how it works: as an example take the phrase, “Christianity isn’t legitimate because it borrows from other religions.” Replace “Christianity” with “Neo-Wicca” and you’ll see what I mean.
Put a bias up to full scrutiny. In other words, research it. Look at why such a bias exists. I have a bias against mega churches due to my views of mega churches and my unpleasant experience with one, as an example. I understand this and try to keep it in check when I see something about a mega church.
Read the counter-arguments to a bias. This is good practice to being a well-rounded person, anyway. It adds perspective and will broaden one’s understanding of a topic. As with any source check for accuracy, reliability, or outdated information. While I dislike mega churches due to how I feel the inherent design of such things deters from the church’s purpose or message, others can eloquently describe how it enhances their experience and helps them feel closer to God through community.
Where possible ask for a clarification of a statement. It’s possible because of a bias something or someone may be purporting misinformation. It’s also possible to give out misinformation which could be fear-inducing for other reasons that aren’t nefarious. Some people simply don’t know they’re putting out misinformation, and some are inarticulate and say something which ends up misconstrued. Asking for clarification of a point made, or asking for a source for that matter (if it’s not given), can clear up things and open dialogue at times.
If called out for a bias or misinformation understand it’s not personal, and vice versa. Don’t poison the well, use bias as an ad hominem, et cetera. Don’t be a jerk if called out, and don’t use a person’s bias or misinformation to vilify a person. When in doubt see the previous tip.
Some of my readers will note this is part of basic critical thinking and manners. I agree wholeheartedly, which is my point. The best way to fight propaganda and misinformation in general is through critically thinking about our views and whatever information we use to support that idea. When we don’t let our emotions guide our thoughts with abandon it also connects to dialogue. If we let emotions get the better of us, those trying to inflict terror will triumph.