Summary of the discussion October 3rd 2019:
Zechariah talks about false prophets (13:4 to 6), people who wear hair shirts and beat themselves up to pretend they have a message from God. Our media and politics today are flooded with accusations of “Fake News”. In 1920s and 1930s Germany Joseph Goebbels knew the power of modern mass media (in his day newspapers and radio) to spread myths and propaganda which could build on a population’s fears and barely hidden hatreds to create real political power. For us television and the Internet have increased that potential. But have also, of course, increased the potential to spread truth and build justice.
But how do we tell the difference? If our own experience and daily life is limited, how can we evaluate stories and interpretations that purport to come to us from the wider world? One result of the confusion, and perhaps an intended result, is to silence many people- “If we cannot tell what is truth and which are lies, how can we do anything but keep to ourselves and not get involved?” we say. But that would mean the destruction of any viable democracy.
“Check it out”, said Marta Benavides, an activist from El Salvador back in the 1980s. But how? Jesus said “There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed” (Mark 4:22; Matthew 10:26; Luke 8:17 and 12:2), but does he mean by that “in the end”? It would be helpful if we had a test of truth or falsehood now. Perhaps the clue is to persist in asking questions, and never to be deterred if we meet with resistance.
One thing that is clear is that it is far easier to convey a message if it does not question the assumptions people already have fixed in their minds (Goebbels knew that). It is far more difficult to communicate something if it challenges people’s preconceived ideas. Development agencies know this dilemma well- it is easier to tell stories about wealthy Westerners helping incapable “third world” people (and this often raises more money), than to describe how communities gain the power and confidence to challenge the unjust structures that make them poor- and yet such stories are often much closer to the truth.
There is a constant temptation to avoid telling the whole truth, because we think it is too painful- we tell what we call “white lies” (which perhaps is a racist way of describing them!). Rather the truth must be told with care and respect, not bluntly handed out with no concern for its impact on the person hearing it. One local authority decided that in cases where children needed to be taken into care, it was important to be open and honest with the parents about the reasons. This appeared to be taking a great risk, but it was found that often such honesty could set families on the path to recognise that changes had to be made, and so could help them on the way to recovery. After all, Jesus said that “the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).