The Political Popularity of Rumors and Disinformation 

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And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people – for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. (Luke 20:19-20)

The Four Evangelists portray the religious leaders of Israel as being people not of sound moral character, but rather, duplicitous, driven by concern for how others judge them. Several times the religious leaders allow appearance and peer pressure to govern their behavior.  They even send ‘spies’ to secretly try to trap Jesus – they are too afraid of Jesus’ popularity to directly confront Him. They try to hide their intentions by couching statements in false praise of Jesus.  They fear Jesus might turn the crowds against them for they know their own position is based on appearance which is very shaky ground, especially because people’s opinions and moods can change quickly and unpredictably.

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From the desert fathers, we encounter a story of a monk who also is concerned about appearance and fitting in, so he allows his behavior to be shaped by those around him. When he is alone again after being around people, he is troubled that his behavior is so guided by what others do and think.

Abba Poemen said that a brother asked Abba Simon: “If I come out of my cell and, finding a brother diverting himself, I divert myself together with him; Or if I find him laughing and I laugh together with him, then I am unable to experience repose if I go into my cell.” The elder said to him: “If you come out of your cell, find people laughing and you laugh with them or talking and you talk [too] then you go into your cell, do you expect to find yourself as you were?” The brother said: “What am I to do?” and the elder replied: “Keep your guard up, inside and outside.” (GIVE ME A WORD, p 250)

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Poemen wisely reminds the troubled monk: if you hang out with others, doing and saying what they do and say, why do you imagine that you will not be changed by their behavior?  For us the story is the same. We may think we can keep reading or listening to political railing and not be affected by it because we somehow believe ourselves capable of arising above the fray.  You would be wrong – your heart and mind are also corrupted by the disinformation, ‘truthiness’ and attitudes you absorb from others. If you don’t want to be like them, then you have to be different and not go along with everything they say and do. It is not an easy task as we often crave being liked and so try to fit in with whatever others are doing or talking about.  Poemen says you need to know yourself and your values, whether you are alone or whether with others.  When you realize you are being corrupted by them, time to separate yourself from them.  Rumors and disinformation feed your fears and phobias as well. You are feeding a monster in yourself and others when you spread rumors.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

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Poemen further warns against another way we try to fit in or be popular: by engaging in gossip and rumormongering.

Abba Poemen said: “If you see things or hear rumors, do not tell them to your neighbor, for it is the stirring up of war.”   (Abba Poemen, GIVE ME A WORD, p 250)

This advice is especially pertinent to the political situation of today in which all types of fake news and disinformation is pedaled by our favorite politicians and political commentators. We are too often eager to spread the things they say to others because it is so tantalizing to do so.  Often, we don’t know if what they say is true, but it delights us and so we spread their stories.  The Christian way, Poemen says, is if you aren’t sure about the truth of something, then don’t spread it. In spreading rumors and disinformation, you feed hatred and stir up war.  True, you will find a lot less joy in not spreading negative stories about the political opposition, and you might find you are not as popular with your political allies because you don’t spread tantalizing rumors and false stories.  You will only gain the favor and approval of God.  Spreading disinformation and rumors is just another pandemic that sickens our society. In Christ, we are hoping to be healed.

We are to be peacemakers not warmongers. Spreading rumors and disinformation, even if only because we find it entertaining, as Poemen says, stirs up war.  The Lord Jesus said: “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

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But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8; emphasis added)

Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)

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