As far back as the 1950s, tobacco companies knew full well that research had linked their products to diseases which sickened and killed their customers. What was the industry response? Deny and discredit real science. Peddle alternative facts. Undermine the findings and reassure the public their products were safe. I still remember the ads for Kent cigarettes, and how doctors recommended them.
As scandalous as these tactics are, what boggles the mind is how eager we are to be led down a primrose path. The Surgeon General’s report on smoking came in 1964. No few defied its results by anecdotally spinning yarns about their great uncle in his 80s who had smoked since he was 16. And he was strong as an ox!
Of course, today almost no one sees smoking as benign due to a massive public education effort. But parallels still exist. Justin Farrell, a prof at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies writes, “It’s no accident that as scientists became more certain about climate change, the public was becoming more uncertain. A huge disinformation campaign has been funded by organizations with a lot to lose in a low-carbon economy.” Do you think history repeats itself?
Or maybe a better question is why do people have such an aversion to the truth? My answer is our very ambivalent relationship to transformation. The excitement of living lies in transformation, whether it is becoming a better golfer or a better parent or a more complete person. At the same time, we prefer doing things the way are already doing them. And we see those who suggest otherwise as threat. Outwardly and inwardly, we all have varieties of inertia that resist transformation.
So how does one combat misinformation or disinformation? The leading method is called “public inoculation.” What is that? It is exposing people to faulty thinking or disproven arguments before they hear them from propagandists, and to draw explicit attention to those perpetrating falsehood. It’s a preemptive strike for truth.
When Jesus came to speak the truth and to be Truth, he dealt with people like us, craving transformation but too wedded to the status quo. This is why he used parables, cute stories with a penetrating spiritual twist. He essentially snuck truth in after engaging his listeners with winsome tales or images. If he’d spoken more directly, he would have died in three weeks of his ministry instead of three years.
In Mark 4, Jesus explains his use of parables, telling the Parable of the Sower. Three times he urges “anyone with ears to hear,” to “listen”. For our children to live lives based on truth rather than fiction, we have our own preemptive strike for the truth. They go by names like Church School, youth ministry and Confirmation.
At FCC, we hold ourselves accountable to a standard of love in how we conduct our ministries. These times remind us FCC is no less a standard-bearer for truth.