Monday, November 28, 2011

A Plague of False Witness

(or How Technology Can Be Misused)

In 1971, Richard L. Evans said:
Among the many human faults and failings there is one that seems peculiarly persistent, and that is, gossiping—whispering; spreading rumors that travel like a windswept fire from ear to ear and sometimes destroy, without conscience, the good name of a man, the reputation of an institution, or even the pride and confidence of a country. To speak abusive words in public, to put libelous statements in print, and to bear false witness in court are offenses that can be traced to their source. But to let words loose on a whisper that sweeps from ear to ear and from lip to lip, and that suggests more than it says, is in some ways among the worst forms of bearing false witness. And because of our receptiveness to gossip and our eagerness to be the first to tell something, we perhaps involve ourselves in the spread of what is false and unfounded oftener than we would wish to admit. (emphasis added, "The Spoken Word," Ensign, Sept. 1971, 43)
Now, forty years later, technology has presented us with the means to spread falsehood to a thousand itching "eyes" via emails, forwards, blogs, and tweets, and from thence to a thousand itching ears.

How ready we seem to pass on information that has been passed to us, without the least effort at seeking to verify its truth or real application. And whether the news is "good" or bad does it make any difference, if it is false?

Perhaps we do not offend in the weightier matter of deliberately lying, but when we pass on a falsehood that has its origin in deliberate untruth, do we not become an accomplice to the act?

In this world of competitive markets and politics, why do we so often act as though we can implicitly trust what we see and hear from one side without fact-checking? Without running the claims of profit-seekers (of every stripe) through the prisms of skepticism and thoughtful questioning until the truth can be established?

We are all susceptible to varying degrees of false witness because of preconceptions, allegiances and biases, but with 21st Century ready access to verifiable data, why do we remain so vulnerable to propaganda? So ready to believe it? To pass it on? So ready to discount or ignore the disconnect between words and evidence? How relevant the words of Elder Evans for our technological age!

Friday, November 25, 2011

No Mistake?

From Wikimedia Commons
*Fotograf: Walter J. Pilsak, Waldsassen
 *Copyright Status:
 GNU Freie Dokumentationslizenz
On occasion I have had Christian visitors who sought to question my belief in the Bible. Sometimes I have tried to defend myself and sometimes I have listened. Let me give a virtual composite of what some Mormons experience.

"Now how can you say I am damned?" I asked my zealous visitor.

"Because, right here in Mark," she said, leafing through her well-used copy of the Bible, "it says that the unbeliever is damned. Right here, Mark 16:16, ... `he that believeth not shall be damned.'"

"Could I see that?" I asked and she showed me.

"But you didn't ask me that," I said. "I believe the Christian gospel—I truly do."

"The gospel is the Bible and you're damned for you don't believe it. You said you didn't."

"No, I didn't say that. I said, I didn't believe it was infallible."

"That is blasphemy," she said. She sounded deeply shocked.

"Do you mean to tell me that there is not one error in translation? That every word is gospel truth? That there are no inconsistencies?"

Her companion took up the answer. "This is God's book. He does not make mistakes. He does not allow mistakes."

"Pardon me," I said, "could we talk about the allow part. I thought He let us choose. From my point I see quite a few mistakes."

"You know what I mean," the companion said and her voice was cajoling. "This book does not have one untruth. And if you would let God soften your heart you could be saved."

"Then maybe you are the very people I need," I said, "for there is a lot I don't understand. Like could I ask you some questions?"

"We only have a few minutes," the zealous one said.

"You think my heart is hard?" I asked.

"Satan deceives many," she said and her voice was firm.

"But I am a truth seeker," I said. "Honest, I am."

"You must give yourself over to God," she said more gently, seeing a glimmer of hope. "Before it is too late. You must cast out of your life the one who hardens men's hearts."

"I do read the Bible," I said. "And I think my Bible is OK. It's the King James translation, so I think it should be all right?"

"Yes, that is a good Bible," they both said and nodded in unison.

"Well, from what you said—about hardened hearts?—I have to ask—it's this Pharaoh business that confuses me."

"This Pharaoh business?" the companion said and they glanced sideways at one another.

"Why would the LORD harden the heart of Pharaoh? That's what I wonder."

"Pharaoh was a wicked man. He is responsible for himself," the zealous one said. Her voice was even firmer and I watched her fingers tighten on the dark worn wood of her cane.

"So why does it say that the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh?" I asked.

"It doesn't say that," she said in a voice to end the discussion and she taped the knotted cane on the thick sole of her shoe.

I showed her the place. She mouthed the words of Exodus 9:12* and then she said in the same voice as before. "It means just what I said."

"Oh!" I said, as she tapped on the thick sole of her shoe. I was going to show her the other "hard" places, but decided to let the Pharaoh pass.

"There's also another question," I said and began turning to find Paul's accounts of his famous encounter on the road to Damascus.

"You see what you want to see," she said, "and we are not interested in your traps." She turned to her companion. "I'm ready," she said, rising upon the thick and thin soles of her adjusted stride. And then to me in a studied, pleasant voice, she said, "I'm sorry, but we have to go. And I hope that one day before it is too late that you will choose to hear the voice of God."

"But that's what I wanted to ask," I said. "Did they or didn't they? I just want to know."

"Who?" the companion said.

"We're going," the zealous one said.

"Paul's companions," I said. "Did they or didn't they?"

"Did they or didn't they what?" the companion said.

"We can't stay," the other said.

"Hear the voice," I said. "Did they or didn't they hear it?"

"Do you know?" the companion asked hesitantly turning to her colleague.

"Paul heard and that's what's important," the zealous one said and shut the screen door upon their departure and I heard the companion say again as they turned down the walk, "Do you know?"

And her colleague said, "My, I dislike this cold weather. Spring will be so nice."

I closed the heavy door against the brisk air and went to stand before the sofa which my two visitors had just vacated.

"You see," I said, holding my KJV Bible up before their absent faces. "One place it says they did (Acts 9:7) and another it says they didn't (Acts 22:9). Which is right?** Or does it make any difference? I just wanted to say that I think some things are allowed."

I heard again the tapping of the cane on the thick sole.

"Human things have happened to this book, too," I said. "It does not have to be perfect to be useful and good. That is all I wanted to say."

"Article of Faith 8: We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. (Joseph Smith, "The Wentworth Letter," March 1, 1842; see History of the Church, Vol. 4, pp. 535-541)

* Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of Exodus 9:12: "And Pharaoh hardened his heart, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD has spoken unto Moses." Other JST corrections at Exodus 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17.

** JST of Acts 9:7: "And they who were journeying with him saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him who spake to him."