Fake News and the church

fake-news

Since the beginning of time mankind has spun the truth to adhere to the rhetoric of its day. For example, in the first century Octavian lead a propaganda campaign (Fake News) against Mark Anthony in Rome. King Harold died by a lucky arrow through the eye (1066 Battle of Hastings), but in France the report was “William’s brave men slayed the King of England during the heat of the Battle”. The Historians job is then to grapple with the differing accounts of “truth” to actually find it.

We must then acknowledge that all accounts are weighted in the favour of whoever the sponsor/ benefactor maybe and such motives will never change. “Fake News” is here to stay, red top papers will continue to publish scandal and embellish the “truth” to sell more papers and online media will continue to do the same to battle for clicks and advert impressions.

Pope Benedict XVI checks the new Vatican web portal on an iPad device at the Vatican

President Trump’s “Fake News” claim is nothing new, but there has been one significant development in recent times that is worthy of the fuss. “Average Joe” can now broadcast their own versions of the “truth” to the masses, whether in the form of a styled Instagram picture (intended to fool the viewer on the credibility of your appearance), or an uploaded video reporting no seats on a train during rush hour! As a result the plebs view of the world has now been equated with the media elite.

Such constant exposure to endless versions of “truth” (from either the once trusted media  or from random strangers through a hashtag), has made us (the masses) naive, cynical and dismissive of reality.

For decades the West have feared the Orwellian (1984) view of an “information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state”[1] (a threat made real during the Cold war). But such fear has driven us to the Huxleyn view (Brave New World) of a “technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble”[2] .

This is all a result of such media saturation, increasingly consumed via image based mediums.

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It is often said that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” but are these words of truth? Does a picture really tell the entire story?

A picture can define a moment without context and thus it is more susceptible to manipulation (see above), but a “word” never stands alone! The word is always given in a context and can always be reviewed, critiqued, verified and once written the author is accountable.

As we continue to move away from ‘word based knowledge’ and embrace real-time graphic media consumption, credible broadsheets are going to be replaced by picture filled red tops and image based mediums such as TV or online video. As a result the quality of journalism will continue to decrease and we will have a society filled with people that make “informed” decisions based on the “Fake News” shared by celebrities on Twitter (a benefit of the 140 character limit).

Modern publishers and technology firms have created this Huxleyn predicted society, where questionable imaged based media not only resides in the corner of your front room, but follows you around all day on your handset or tablet. Because the truth is often boring this media saturation has driven journalists and production companies to get creative with reality in order to win more viewing figures,clicks,impressions,shares,likes,retweets etc. “Fake News” is simply an inevitable consequence to this “enlightened age” of technological advancement.

A social condition best described by Neil Portman (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, than a Huxleyan because everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us … [but] who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?”

Putting my Ministerial hat on for a minute…is the church not the answer to this “Fake News” catastrophe?

The church is a set apart (Holy) people, chosen by God to be a counter-culture from the world (more on this here “Dealing with change – thoughts on BEXIT”). Is it then our generations calling to fight against the sea of amusement, the “Fake News” and stand for truth?

As a church we should be offering an escape from such modernity, a ‘wifi free world’ where “Fake News” is left at the door and replaced by the unchanging word of God! A sanctuary against a world that defines you by what you can produce and consume, a world that at best offers you scandal, lies and death.

The church should be the place for people to unplug, switch off and come to meet the God of life, love and a truth, a place for people to come and make real meaningful relationships within a humble community of believers who are defined by their fresh start and future with Jesus?

Christian, is this not our calling today? and are we (the Reformed church) not the best equipped for such a task?

For centuries the privileged few manipulated God’s Word so the plebs would follow their agenda’s, they hid the truth behind an elite language (Latin) and supported their “Fake News” narrative behind image based media (stained glassed windows). All until the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago, where the word of truth got out and it was preached FREE from mans sinful agenda (warts and all)!

The reformed church rushed through Europe deposing the priests and began to empower and educate the people to read God’s Word for themselves and ensure those in the pulpit had no other motive than to stick to the Bible and save souls for Jesus!

Christian! In this media saturated world of “Fake News” are we not called to drive against the oppressive forces of modern, meaningless amusements and liberate the lost into the Kingdom of God? Are we not to stand as a counter-culture against such delusion and be ever more resolute to the eternal truth found only the Bible? A truth that does not hide from evil, but explains it, a word that does not hide from the inconvenient truths of immorality from its patriarchs but wilfully admits them, a word with only one agenda, to save souls and bring them into a loving fellowship with God so that they can be a force for good in this world of deceit, corruption and “Fake News”!

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

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[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley

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The Llanerch colliery disaster

On February 6th 1890 176 men and boys (fathers and sons) died in a tragic mining disaster at the Llanerch Colliery, Abersychan.

Since its 125th anniversary Councillor Giles Davies has organised a service at the pit head to remember the lost and I have had the honour of leading those gathered in prayer and worship.

An earlier methane explosion  (October 1889) that lead to two casualties, raised concerns about the colliery’s safety. Mine inspectors suggested the use of closed safety lamps, but the Managing Director of the pit approved the use of open flame lamps (December 1889) on the belief that the mine was “well ventilated”. Eight weeks later the explosion happened and 176 men were dead. So severe was the blast that it echoed down the valley and could be heard for miles around. Many of the casualties could not be identified.

The incident itself stripped the local community of an entire generation of men, leaving their widows and family desolate. You can read a list of the deceased here, many are buried in our graveyard at Noddfa.

The inquest ruled the explosion was caused by the men using “naked lights”.  No one in management was found responsible and no one was fined. The mine was reopened and back in business just 13 days after the incident.

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Survivors of the Llanerch Colliery Disaster – “Back to Work”!

At its peak (1918) the Llanerch, Havod Van and Blaenserchan pits that filled this little valley employed 2,060 people. It was a booming place of industry with several pits, furnaces, brickworks, roads, trains and other amenities.

Sadly it all closed shortly after Nationalisation in 1947. Nature has now reclaimed the fair country and all that is left of the pit head at Llanerch is the bottom of the girder that once held the shaft pully.

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During the short service, we prayed, the children, Mayor, MP and Councillors placed daffodils on the pit head and I spoke from the text 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

The men and boys of Llanerch left their wives and children in the early hours of February 6th 1890, fully expecting to be back for supper, but they never made it home. They were taken in an instant. As we remember their sudden deaths, we need to ask ourselves whether we are ready to face our own? As it could come as suddenly! Do you know peace with God? Do you have hope in the risen Saviour Jesus Christ?

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The Llanerch Colliery

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A drone image of the Llanarch Colliery site during today’s service (by Gwyn Jenkins)

 

After the service I then took a welcomed walk around the derelict and dismantled sites through the little valley with friends.

Chris Tew (the Sherriff of Abersychan) kindly guided me through the small valley and told me what went where. A forgotten past hidden amidst the rubble and thorns.

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This often unheard of tragedy is currently marked by a small memorial. The local community are fund raising to build something of more significance that will keep such a dark history in memory. You can find out more about the fund here

A big thanks once again to Giles Davies for organizing such a wonderful morning, including lunchboxes for all the children.

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