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Tabloid Thinking and Clickbait Christianity

Thursday, July 25, 2019

I have made it a rule never to read news articles in which one word is unnecessarily written in block capitals. Invariably, I find that, if I do break my rule, the headline is, at best, a bending of the truth or a slight misinterpretation of the facts. At worst, it is a downright lie designed to get people to read the article - it is apparently called clickbait.

I was told that an Anglican priest posted an article with a headline that appeared to accuse Continuing Anglicanism of seeking the approval of the American religious right and was thus doomed to failure.
Obviously, this is certainly not true in our little archipelago as the church most aligned to the ambient politics is the established church which is broadly heretical in her teaching.
When pressed on this accusation, the priest who posted said that he had done so to get people to read and discuss the article. He thought that it was better to post something controversial and then "clarify" in further dialogue. He had resorted to clickbait.

Of course, explaining the truth takes some time. This is why the bodies of work of great theologians are large and often unfinished. For once, I actually have to.agree with the CofE's Archbishop of York when he says that Christianity cannot be reduced to soundbites. The proclamation of the Truth of Christianity must be done in one's living it out.

Perhaps I should sympathise with this clickbait priest in trying to get his post noted. I would, but my problem is that in order to do so, he has made an accusation which he then says he hasn't made; he has stated a fact that isn't true without sufficient grounds: that's not a commitment to the truth.

This is tabloid thinking. On one level, it's like the most annoying adverts breaking in on a video you're watching or the unwanted flyers that turn up on your doormat rather than the important letter you're waiting for.  On another, more serious level, it brings us to the problem of fake news.

Things that are designed to mislead in order to grab your attention contribute to the swathes misinformation that is floating around. It makes the internet a more confusing and spiritually more dangerous. There are so many people who use the internet not only to publish the classic heresies in a modern form, but go overboard in their efforts to get you to read them.
Continuing Anglicanism is a commitment to the truth - a position enshrined in the Affirmation of St Louis. It is why Continuing Anglican churches stopped walking with the Episcopal Church of the USA in the 1970s and 1990s in the UK. Our sole commitment is (or at least should be) the truth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and reigning.

If we seek to mislead in order to get people to hear our message then we present no reason for people to believe us. Telling the truth is not easy; it takes time; people's attention falter. Yes, there is always a process of clarification as the truth is examined, but we must follow the rule of backing up claims with evidence rather than allowing misinformation deliberately to spread through careless soundbite.

It is better for the message to be heard in people's own good time than for them to be bombarded with rubbish and be expected to root the truth from it. Given that there will always be those who are irresponsible, it is also better for those who seek the truth honestly to sharpen the mind against falsehood.

Broadsheets may be difficult to read, but they have greater integrity than the cheap tabloids.

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