A few months ago, I posed a question on Facebook: “How does one stay informed without completely losing her mind?” I had grown weary of discouraging headlines about our country’s political climate, yet I didn’t want to disengage. One friend suggested reading CNN’s daily news digest “5 Things.” A woman replied, “You’re kidding! CNN? With their leftist agenda and fake news?”
Fake news. I like how the response I received made me feel what I was trying to avoid: losing my mind. It’s not enough that fake news is shared, but we can’t even agree which news is fake, or if all facts are suddenly subjective.
As I’ve observed — and fallen prey to — the spread of fake news, I see comparisons with another area of my life that requires a posture of skepticism and a practice of regular questioning: faith.
I was born into the evangelical world. My father is a pastor and so, in a way, I inherited Christianity. This does not mean I inherited a steady faith. Ever since exit polls revealed that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, I have feared for my religious affiliation’s reputation.
Many evangelicals supported Trump based on the premise that he will uphold our Christian values, but in his comments about and toward women, in his proposed travel ban that isolated a specific group of refugees, and in his relentless social-media bullying, I have seen him do nothing but the opposite.
The Christian faith is centered around the life of Jesus Christ, a man who embraced the outcast, loved everyone and preached a message of peace. I fear many Christians are not asking enough questions, and are blindly following an authority figure who should instead be challenged.
Questioning, doubting, believing and then starting that cycle all over again — to me, that better represents the Christian faith than certainty in a political ideology I have seen many fellow evangelicals cling to as if it is the gospel itself.
From a young age, I’ve always felt the need to ask questions and be skeptical of what I am taught about the Bible and Christianity. By adolescence, I resigned to the title of “doubter” when it came to describing my religious self.
The doubt has come in many forms over the years. I’ve doubted God’s existence. I’ve doubted what the scriptures say about Jesus. I’ve doubted if God really is good, as the Bible describes him.
It’s tempting for Christians to push doubts like these aside. We confuse doubt with heresy, as if being honest about our questions would delegitimize the faith and weaken our Christian “witness.” But I don’t believe this is the case. Especially right now, when truth and lies are blurred by prominent voices, I wonder if the Christian doubter is needed now more than ever, if the doubter’s voice among the other Christians would be a better representation of what faith is.
The Old and New testaments are filled with stories of doubters and question-askers. There is “Doubting Thomas,” the disciple who, after hearing the rumor of Jesus’ resurrection, said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:24).
And there are others, such as Jeremiah — the prophet who had doubts when God appointed him to be his messenger to the people of Israel. “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” said Jeremiah, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” (Jeremiah 1:6).
According to the Bible, God did not turn these doubters away. In fact, he used them to share his words to the people. Even with Thomas, Jesus did not scold him for his doubts. He responded to his skepticism and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).
It’s interesting to note that Jesus says “stop doubting and believe” after he gives Thomas the proof he is asking for.
The year I finally confronted some of my deepest doubts — a year I was living abroad in Oxford — is the year I look back on as one of the most formative of my faith. I dug deeper than I ever had into why I believed what I had been taught to believe. I demanded proof.
I attended apologetics lectures and visited a student organization called the Oxford Atheist Society. I examined both sides. It was difficult but necessary. As the early 20th-century evangelist Oswald Chambers said, “Always make it a practice to stir your own mind thoroughly to think through what you have easily believed. Your position is not really yours until you make it yours through suffering and study.”
Suffering and study is what eventually led me to understand my faith and believe it more deeply. Suffering and study is what uncovers truth in a world of lies and fake news.
I recently listened to an episode of The Liturgists podcast where the hosts discussed the fake news phenomenon. Co-host Mike McHargue laid out a framework by which to test a news story. A news report is credible, he said, if it…
- lists author’s and contributors’ names.
- comes from an established publication that has an editorial review board and a reputation for publishing trustworthy content.
- was either recently published or recently edited and updated — not a recycled story circulating online that was originally written in 2011 using facts that have since been proven not true.
- cites specific sources instead of stating “facts” with no source or data to back it up.
- Is this method not the same one that faith doubters have used for centuries?
When looking at scripture, we ask, who wrote this and when and why? When reading a news story, we must ask the same. When listening to a sermon, we wonder what the teacher studied to prepare and how he drew his conclusions. When listening to a news source or listening to a politician, we do the same.
The mark of the doubter is his refusal to accept something at face value, and in demanding proof and reason, he usually gets it.
The pervasiveness of fake news is irritating and infuriating (and has made me very wary of my Facebook feed), but I wonder if the era of fake news is not also an opportunity for a new Christian voice to arise, the voice that is often not asked to lead or does not want to lead due to lack of faith — the voice of the doubter.
Perhaps this era of fake news is an open doorway for the doubter to use her natural bent toward question-asking for the greater good.