Some say there is no such thing. Others say it’s no big deal as it happens all the time and people have always sorted things out. No matter what one’s opinion, one of the most impacting themes of the past year is the presence of “fake news.” Turn on the TV or radio and you will hear the expression almost every day.
Governments have often engaged in fake news. But it generally comes under another name — propaganda. We’ve heard it throughout the 20th century. The Jews want to take over the world. The Tonkin Gulf incident. Land for peace. Communism works. The fake news produced by governments frequently ends in war.
Scientists often engage in faked reports. Some go as far as fabricating data while others ignore data that contradicts the goal of the published work. Add to this list AGW and other similar models. And remember that your insurance rates will drop, from 2009 — that was the economic model presented.
But the problem extends further and fabrications can take on a life of their own. Here’s an example: “The Thirty-Years’ War was caused by religion.” This argument was key to the rise of the secular state in the late 18th century. The idea was, after all, the the bloodshed of religious violence had to be stopped and it could only be stopped by the use of reason. Some soft of logical imperative that might encompass the whole of life and society was needed to fix the situation.
The first question is to look at the Thirty Years’ War. Was it a war for religious domination? It was not. No credible historian would say so. The rulers who vied for power were also vying for some of that Renaissance capital. It was the quest for power and money that led to the deaths of millions.
Yet this piece of fake history remains in the social conscience as a cause for rejecting any working relationship between Christianity and government.
Around the same time came the Age of Exploration. Europeans send ships around the world. Sometimes it was for trade. Sometimes it was for conquest. And sometimes it was a missionary venture. But in most all instances it was some combination of the three.
The resulting challenge is: Christianity is responsible for colonial conquests.
But is that really the case? The challenge can be answered with one simple query: Who owned the ships, who financed the explorations? Yes, Rome was behind the missionary ventures and funded those. But when it comes to the ships and the colonialism, that’s a secular matter. That’s the monies of the Renaissance once again leading to global conquest.
In this instance the Roman church was far from being an innocent bystander. But it is also true that Rome was not the cause of the situation. The relationships were complex and Rome bears responsibility for its wrongs. But the cause — that belongs to the secularism of the Renaissance. Rome went long for the ride.
“Religion is the cause of violence.” You may have heard this from some of the New Atheists. It builds on the assumptions of the first two examples. But the argument is not that Christians are innocent of committing wrong violent actions but rather that the generalized assumption that Christianity is generally responsible is a myth. To this principle William Cavanaugh wrote “The Myth of Religious Violence” to deal with the question. Arguing from history beginning with Augustine and going forward he shows how the assumption was created when the Rationalists created the false dichotomy of church v state.
What was a piece of anti-Christian propaganda 500 or so years ago has become a framework for false history.
Many more books could be written to correct “fake history.” It is worthy of exploration if to correct bad history. Good history is necessary because bad history exists.