By Norris Burkes
Posted Apr 21, 2017

On my first column after Easter, I ask, “Did Jesus really rise from the dead? How do you know it wasn’t fake news?” Those are the questions Thomas had when told that Jesus rose from the dead.

On my first column after Easter, I ask, “Did Jesus really rise from the dead? How do you know it wasn’t fake news?” Those are the questions Thomas had when told that Jesus rose from the dead.

Thomas, you’ll recall, is the disciple the church bestowed with the moniker “Doubting Thomas.” He saw the resurrection as fake news in its basic form — selling the gullible on the news they most wanted to hear.

As part journalist, part clergy, I identify best with the unconvinced Thomas. He showed the kind of healthy skepticism I was taught in my double major in Journalism and Religion at Baylor University.

Today, I want to share some skills from my journalism training. They are much the same skills the disciples used to cope.

And my hope is that they might help you navigate the world of fake news and conspiracy theories. These skills were recently highlighted in a poster printed by the library of the University of Delaware to ”… ensure that the campus community is not duped by fake news ….”

Here are few highlights from the poster:
‒ First, “Consider the Source.” My mom taught this long before journalism school. If I repeated a story from the known church gossip, my mom would say, “Well, you should really consider the source.”

In the resurrection story, the chief priests instructed the tomb guards to circulate the fake news that the disciples stole Jesus’ body during the night. Consider what the priests had to lose if Jesus rose from the dead and you know they couldn’t be trusted.
Today, when people quote the ravings of talk radio or TV pundits, I consider the source and then search the quiet reflections of serious journalists.

‒ Next, “Check your Biases.” The disciples first heard the resurrection story from women, but they had a bias that women couldn’t be trusted. Gospel writers later reported the story, but it reads differently as told by Luke the physician than it does from Mathew the tax collector or Mark the fisherman.

Now, as I retell the Easter story in this column, some of you will see a bias in my syntax or my use of the active or passive voice. Page editors will show their bias as they choose between placing it on the church page or the opinion page. Headline writers will interpret my meaning by labeling the column with a headline.

My favorite tool to expose the bias in stories is a news-aggregating app called News360. The app allows me to read the same story as written from the perspective of dozens of different news outlets like BBC, Gannett, FOX or even the San Francisco Chronicle, Politico or Daily Beast.

‒ “Use Supporting Sources.” In writing my first college research paper, my professor required original sources to support our suppositions. For example, folks often quote John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, but the quotes don’t actually support the points being made in association with their names.

The biblical Thomas said he’d not believe the resurrection reports until he spoke to the original source. When he found that source, Thomas proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”
‒ “Ask the Experts.” Occasionally, readers will forward to me an urban legend that explains why military chaplains can’t say “in Jesus’ name,” or some such concoction. I patiently reply with a fact-based web site or send them to the library. We don’t have to believe everything we are told. Ask an expert.

‒ Finally, “Read Beyond the Headlines.” Headlines are written to get your attention. They are short, biased interpretations of the story. If you’re depending on headlines for your news, you’re eating intellectual junk food. Easter would’ve become a very different story if Christians had stopped reading after the resurrection headline.

As you contemplate today’s news, may your doubts be answered and your hope restored. And may you know the truth that will set you free.

— Read Norris’ past columns at Write him at [email protected] or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759. Twitter @chaplain or call (843) 608-9715.

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