The Christian Fake News Problem

Easter is a reminder that the church's founding event was first labeled "fake news" by Jesus' followers. Luke's Gospel says the women who discovered the empty tomb dashed off to tell the apostles but that "it seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." Only when the risen Christ shows up in their circle, as he does in that and other accounts, do they grasp the astonishing claim.

Christianity has run into this kind of accusation from its beginnings. Some believe the report of the Resurrection on its face, others scoff, still others interpret it in such ways that reconcile supernatural miracles with their daily grounding in cause and effect. 

Those who reject the astounding claim may believe the news has been faked, but for the cluster of women who first reported it, including Mary Magdalene, there isn't the slightest hint that they conjured or concocted it in order to manipulate the apostles for a predetermined end. No, they just blurted it out as stupendous, unanticipated truth. By contrast, fake news requires trickery and deliberate deceit in order to fool others or to do them harm. Some claim those cited for bad motives actually believe what they say. That climate change deniers, accusers of wiretapping by Obama against Trump, anti-evolutionists, etc., press their claims without guile. Even if they do, there is good reason to believe they refuse to open their minds to the whole array of evidence.

The ecstatic, brave women at the empty tomb were rejoicing from the heart on what they'd seen; it was the most honest report of what they'd seen and felt and exulted in together imaginable, taking in the whole realm of tangible and intangible at once.  Yet to a group of preoccupied disciples, it verged on being fake news.

St. Paul says the faith itself depends on belief in the Resurrection, but what that means has troubled Christianity for these many centuries. Is it trust in a literal, physical return from the dead, a spiritualized version of that or something in between, a metaphor or sign perhaps. Does it matter, so long as it affirms in some sense that Jesus continues to exist among us? If you think Scripture and tradition require a certain kind of Resurrection does that consign all other interpretations to attempts to evade the hard choice, perhaps fake news?

The conundrums have posed the toughest challenge to Christianity. The lynch-pin of the faith becomes a stumbling block to the unconvinced who either conclude that the news is "an idle tale," harmless or connived, or a fake account to rope them in.

At the outset of the church, the parameters of credibility were presumably wider than they are now. The realm of angels, miraculous events and divine healers was alive and well. That world entertained otherworldliness to a far greater degree than exists not. Yet Jesus' healing and his intimations that his ministry was a function of God's own visitation on earth were constantly met by doubt and suspicion. Thaw which we might assume to have been rather self-evident to eyes that accepted larger realities became impenetrable. There was blindness instead of light. Part of the mystery.

For the past four centuries, skepticism has thickened with the advance of science and reason that has greatly narrowed the place for supernaturalism. The empirical, secular mind has become the dominant measure of deciding truth and error. Reports of miracles and divine intervention still draw faith and curiosity, but they run against the grain. Skeptics regard them, of course, as wishful thinking and attention getting events. Fake news.

Christians across the denominational board are increasingly aware of the Resurrection's tough sell but some see an opportunity within the popularity of fantasy and magic. Harry Potter and that sort of thing. The Resurrection can be woven into this skein as an exercise in imagination apart from the real coordinates of everyday life. But as the grand philosopher Charles Taylor charts in his groundbreaking book, A Secular Age, it has become almost impossible for moderns to embrace the supernatural they way their ancestors did a couple centuries ago.

Inspiration and creativity are called for to overcome the presumption of fake news that causes widespread dismissal of the Resurrection. Somewhere at this moment a revelation has illuminated the souls of those like the women at the empty tomb. They can't wait to deliver the news. But to whom? And how? Will anyone believe them?

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