“You are a King, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a King. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.
John 18: 37, 38
In a recent article in the Spectator (31st March) entitled the “Democracy Delusion,” Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas, raise many important and disturbing issues. Focussing on the work of Andres Sepulveda one of the world’s most infamous election-rigging specialists, the article demonstrates very clearly the challenge that democracy faces in our contemporary world through manipulation of the digital revolution. Sepulveda states “When I realised that people believe what the internet says more than reality, I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything.” The recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook brings this to light in a vivid way. The article states the problem clearly - “The greatest challenge to 21st-century democracy is that uniformed voters are being replaced by misinformed ones.” The reason is that the former often stay at home whereas the latter turn out because they have been motivated into action by false information.
The internet is a tremendous thing but anyone who is passionate about any subject can come away from surfing that topic online angry, frustrated and depressed by the mass of confused information that is found there, and by the attitude of those who love to post comments! Since the general public seem to love conspiracy theories, anti-establishment rhetoric and anything that seems to be novel and radical (however we define that word), followers of any form of traditional orthodoxy (e.g. Christians) will have an uphill task in having their voice heard. Remember Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code!
So what does this situation mean for us? I think there are two responses we can make.
1 The challenge although daunting also brings opportunity. I remember all too well the feeling of despair I initially felt during the Dan Brown days when the media and the internet were in full flow over the alleged conspiracy by the Christian Church to suppress the Gnostic Gospels then (historically) and cover it up now. Of course at one level it could have been easy to laugh it all away until one encountered people influenced by this nonsense even in the church! On the other hand some of the Christian response to this at the time was robust, vigorous and effective. The same is surely true of our response to the New Atheists. At first it was difficult to deal with the media obsession with the celebrity superstars of Atheism, but slowly over several years the Church’s response was, and still is, quietly effective. The God Question trilogy and the work of Grasping the Nettle testify to that. Therefore, despite the difficulties of getting our voice heard above the “noise” and “chatter” of the internet, we must keep our nerve, and in the words of the great meditation Desiderata, “speak our truth quietly and clearly.” In doing this we must remember that it is the work of the Holy Spirit who convinces and convicts the world of the need of the Gospel; the truth of the Gospel; and the power of the Gospel (John 16:5-16).
2 Interestingly, in the same edition of the Spectator noted above is a book review by Tom Holland on Barth Erhman’s latest work “The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World.” The review also brings in the work of Larry Hurtardo’s “Christianity: Destroyer of Gods.” But what really caught my eye was the sub-title of the review which had the statement “It wasn’t crusading zeal that made Christianity a universal religion but its appeal to the poor and vulnerable.” This is a helpful reminder to us that whilst we need to engage publicly as followers of Jesus there is also the background work of “living out” the Gospel in the footsteps of Jesus and in the spirit of Micah 6:8. Outside of the confusion of the Internet there are real people in real communities who need to be loved.
Of course we need both approaches to have a balanced and nuanced mission to the world. Truth is communicated in both word and deed.by Rev Dr Russel Moffat
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