2018-01-09

Fake News

For a change I am not actually having a go at churches or religion on this post, but pondering how the recent apparent moves to clamp down on "fake news" could impact them...

Religion is fake news!

Sorry if this sounds like I am having a go, I am not. Religion is about presenting unverifiable information as fact. That is what it is - I am not saying if that is good or bad, or if there is a god or not, just that this is how religion works, simple as that. Even if I was religious, I would recognise that a church is expecting me to have "faith" to believe unverifiable facts, that is the point, I think.

Firstly, if the information was not presented "as fact", I seriously doubt a religion would continue. This is just my opinion, but if saying "you may go to heaven but nobody knows" is not going to cut it. I have been to churches (mostly for weddings and funerals) and been shocked by the unequivocal statements made, the "you can be certain he has gone to heaven and is with Jesus now", etc. Certainly the Christian churches I have ever been to make statements "as fact", and I suspect most religions do the same for obvious reasons. If not, then great, let me know.

Secondly, the statements are unverifiable. This has to be the case. If the statements were verifiable then they would not be a religion but a scientist or researcher or teacher and there would be no faith involved in accepting the statements made. We would not call such an organisation a church or a religion in such cases. Indeed, religions make a point of the fact that the statements are unverifiable as a positive thing - that you have to have "faith" to believe the unverifiable, and this is somehow a good thing.

To be a religion the statements have to be made "as fact" and be "unverifiable", which is pretty much the definition of "fake news", surely?

What is fake news?

To be news something has to be presented as "fact". That is what differentiates it from fiction and hence not news.

To be fake, it has to basically be unverifiable or has to be verifiably false. Religions make verifiably false statements too.

So what happens if fake news is banned?

Well, for a start, it can't really be banned anywhere that allows "freedom or expression" and "free speech" I expect, but maybe that can be curbed where "presented as fact" when unverifiable, perhaps? I can see that being hard to manage. It can however happen on private platforms like Facebook and twitter if they so wish.

There will have to be exceptions for satire. This is arguably not "presented as fact" though - it is "presented in the style of actual news" but from a source that is clearly stated as satirical. So probably OK. The tricky bit here is that a lot of recent "real" news is so whacky you cannot tell satire from reality these days, which is quite scary when you think about it.

But what of religions and churches? Will they have an exception to allow them to continue to push fake news. Will they want one, as it is admitting that they push "fake news" if they ask for one?

If that is the case, how long before newspapers, and even Facebook, register as a religion / church? That would allow publication of whatever the hell they like (worse than now) under the cover of religious freedom. Indeed, I am almost surprised that has not already happened.

P.S. I like the Pastafarians, and of all religions I have heard of, Buddhists seem the most sane... Though I like the Norse gods if I had to choose... Thankfully I can choose "none of the above", which is a right I have that so many did not for so many centuries.

8 comments:

  1. "Religion is about presenting unverifiable information as fact."
    Citation needed? :-)

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    Replies
    1. Completely expected, but I did cite my experience of some religions that clearly do present "as fact", and the point that if "verifiable" it would not be a religion, do you disagree / counter that in any way?

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    2. "Well it depends how you define "religion" - Collins says

      "Religion is belief in a god or gods and the activities that are connected with this belief, such as praying or worshipping in a building such as a church or temple."

      ...so using that, "I disagree" ... things presented as fact or not don' seem relevant to the definition of religion.

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    3. I thought Buddhism was a religion and not a belief in god? But do say which religions do not present "as fact" some unverifiable information, I am curious.

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  2. You say "Religions make verifiably false statements too." but to be fair they do this rather less often that many ISPs, Donald Trump or the May regime.

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  3. "the cover of religious freedom"

    Sadly the right of religious freedom in the UK and Europe is just as non-existent as the right to freedom of expression. Already there have been people investigated and punished for expressing certain religious beliefs, such as that homosexuality is a sin or that Halal butchery is inhumane.

    We might not necessarily agree with or wish to defend these sentiments, but in a country which actually valued freedom of religion they would be be legal to express.

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  4. I think the key difference is this.

    Fake news is something that is written and published with the intention and expectation that readers will treat it exactly like true, verifiable, real news, typically for the "clickbaity" purposes of making money from ads/traffic/etc, or to deliberately spread misinformation. Readers do not know the difference between the fake news and legitimate news - or at least, if they do, the publisher of the fake news has failed at their objective.

    Whereas religious speech is made *in a particular context*, whether that context is inferred from the location such as a church or other building or place intended for delivering religious speech, or a specifically religious website etc., or simply a group of people who know each other meeting in one of their lounges. The important thing is that the people who go to listen are doing so voluntarily, willingly, and know full well that it's in context of a particular religion.

    While I'm Christian, I would be rather disturbed if, say, the BBC news started telling me something I might hear in a church sermon as if it was fact - just as disturbed as if they published any other religion's views in the same way.

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  5. Missed a rather important word in my previous comment!

    s/as if it was fact/as if it was verifiable fact/

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