OXFORD — I had one thing right in a column I wrote a year ago about 2020.
After noting some things that would make headlines in the next 12 months, including a national election, I noted:
“The biggest news story for 2020 may actually turn out to be something totally unexpected, some natural or human calamity.”
COVID-19 certainly filled that bill. No question about what most defined the past year.
I’m making no predictions for 2021, and I’ll resist the temptation to say it can’t be a more stressful year. Things can always get worse, but topping the current pandemic is a high bar.
Another thing that was prevalent in 2020 — and is carrying over to this year — is the prevalence of conspiracy theories.
Questioning the generally accepted truth or the conventional wisdom about an event or topic isn’t necessarily bad. Some things need to be questioned.
But it can go too far, and it is, thanks in part to President Trump, who fans the flames of unsubstantiated allegations.
A recent NPR/Ipsos poll reported 40% of respondents said they believe the coronavirus was made in a lab in China, even though there is no evidence for this. One-third of Americans believe that voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election, despite the fact that courts, election officials and the U.S. Justice Department have found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome.
Chris Jackson, a pollster with Ipsos, says, “Increasingly, people are willing to say and believe stuff that fits in with their view of how the world should be, even if it doesn't have any basis in reality or fact."
Here’s something Christians might consider when weighing the latest conspiracy theory. Eddie Rester, one of the pastors at Oxford University United Methodist Church, wrote on Facebook shortly after Christmas:
“As I watch yet another round of conspiracy theories rise up around the suicide bomber in Nashville (a tomahawk missile attack? Really people?), many of them perpetuated by well-meaning Christians, I feel compelled to share again why I give zero credence to conspiracy theories that require grand deceit and secret-keeping.
“Here’s the reason: Humans.
“That’s right. Humans.
“In my work as a pastor for almost 25 years I’ve found that humans cannot keep secrets. Two people can’t keep a secret much less any vast network of people who would have to keep secrets in order to do some of the things people have suggested around 9/11, the moon landing, the pandemic, the election, or the bombing in Nashville. And once you poke gently beneath the surface of a conspiracy theory you find a web of untruth that is fairly simple to untangle.
“So, Christians, before you hit the forward or offer a ‘this will make you think’ maybe remember that we’re called to offer truth, not fear mongering, not untruth, and definitely not easily disprovable lies.
“The writer of the Book of Proverbs spends a lot of time talking about how we use our words. Maybe it’s time to remember some of those teachings (Proverbs 4:24): Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you.”
Well put, Rev. Rester.
I have known people who were skeptical about generally accepted facts but would tend to believe every wild rumor they heard and willingly pass it on.
As Pogo, a comic strip character created by cartoonist Walt Kelly and syndicated to American newspapers from 1948 until 1975, used to say: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
We should recall President Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” proverb he used in nuclear disarmament discussions with the Russians in the 1980s.
Reagan didn’t originate the saying. It was an English version of an old Russian proverb, “Doveryai, no proveryai” — meaning that a responsible person verifies things before committing himself.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.