Distrust and verify

Recent events cause me to think, and then write, about the trustworthiness of what we read or what we are told or what we see. Thus, my post title’s twist on the slogan, “trust but verify.”

A simple example is the nonexistent G.K. Chesterton quote I wrote about a few days ago. I read the quote in the preliminary pages of a mystery novel and it piqued my interest. I then began to wonder where the quote came from and because many of G.K. Chesterton’s works are in the public domain, I figured that it would be a pretty simple matter of tracking down where he wrote those words. It wasn’t, because they don’t exist. And yet the quote has taken on a life of its own as a result perhaps of repeatedly sloppy or non-existent research. Distrust and verify.

Of course, there are more complex and substantive examples in our current world of rampant, weaponized disinformation. The fact that disinformation exists is not at all new, although its level of sophistication and reach probably is. Particularly troubling is its use by democratically elected officials and various sociopolitical movements, not just by authoritarians.

Another example: when the current leader of the U.S. made comments that seemed in favor of injecting disinfectant or bleach as a way to combat COVID-19. News media went crazy with reports of a spike in medical cases of poisoning and injury due to swallowing disinfectant or bleach following this person’s ludicrous statement. I should mention, nothing would surprise me here including the gullibility of some people. However, more recently, it was reported that the peak of this phenomenon actually occurred well before those remarks were reported. (See an Ars Technica report for more detail and specifics.) Distrust and verify.

What am I proposing, then? A cynical, distrustful perception of everything? No, not really, although I admit that it takes effort for me not to see the world through that kind of viewpoint given current difficult realities. Instead, what I think about quite a lot is the word “discernment” and what it means to discern things rightly. And then when I think about discernment, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 2:13-15. I particularly like the way the Darby translation expresses it:

“…we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]. But [the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned; but the spiritual discerns all things, and he is discerned of no one.”

I don’t pretend to grasp or understand everything about these verses, but they point to something very important. Ultimately, discernment and understanding are divinely communicated through the Holy Spirit, and what we are told, what we see, what we read are all to be filtered through that lens.

Another scripture verse comes to mind in conclusion: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20: 7 NIV)

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