The Religion of Conservative News

I met a woman this year who has the gift of personal prophecy. By that I mean that she’s genuinely very sensitive and able to offer wisdom and encouragement to people who benefit deeply from her words. We can argue over whether this is a real spiritual gift or whether she’s just good at reading people, but to me, it doesn’t matter, for both are the same thing. There’s no doubt that certain fundamentalists have taken this idea and used it for foolishness, but as a sensitive person myself, I can confirm that “reading” others isn’t a form of magic, nor is it all that unique. One can’t brag of specialness for self-centered purposes when such insight is spread around to many.

Nevertheless, a lot of gifted people simply keep their mouths shut, and this woman is a bit different in that sense. Rather than sharing publicly, however, she usually shares her thoughts only with the person to whom they’re intended. I like that. There’s a genuineness to it, and I respect her for that.

She’s very much a loving Christian and often provides uplifting posts on Facebook, but she also has a significant blindspot. She spreads false information about politics based on fake news sources that she consumes with regularity. When I pointed out to her recently that she was actually “bearing false witness” on one particular piece of delicious clickbait, she got angry and basically told me to keep my mouth shut. Fair enough, although I regrettably have no filter when it comes to such, so I’ve been known to really piss people off. I used to care, but I guess I just don’t anymore.

She actually pulled the post after a few days, and I appreciate that. We really don’t need stuff like that influencing others.

This woman is part of a large group of conservative Christians who struggle with my book, The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined The GOP, because they don’t like my position on so-called conservative news. I believe it’s propaganda, and I should know, since I was one of the people who helped create it. A full fifteen years before Fox News, there was The 700 Club and CBN News. We wrote the book on conservative propaganda as news, so any argument that attempts to validate it as real news isn’t really worth having. It’s a chasing of the wind, but it does reveal how far off the mark many of these Evangelicals have drifted. They honestly believe that the mainstream press openly supports a liberal agenda for the country and is their arch enemy in the flesh. They seem incapable of reason when it comes to certain things, and this is one of them.

Kaitlyn Scheiss

Some observers are beginning to see the ritual of nightly consuming Fox News as a solemn rite of worship, an idolatry so deceptive that it’s impacted most of Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Theological Seminary graduate student Kaitlyn Schiess offered such insight in an excellent New York Times article, How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism. It came in a discussion of Evangelicals leaping to the defense of Roy Moore, despite the nature and degree of his history with young girls and allegations of sexual contact.

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

This is a brilliant deduction, and I can verify that the devotion expressed by people such as my friend above borders on brainwashing, because it oversteps facts, truth, and logical thinking en route to its fallacious conclusions. Why not view it as a form of worship? After all, that’s what we did at The 700 Club. Here was a Christian talk show featuring Christian guests, Christian themes, and Christian prayers that was a bonafide substitution for church in the early days of the televangelist movement. When we began to weave news coverage into the mix, there was little question in our presentation that it was as much a part of being a Christian as prayer. When Fox News came into being in 1996, conservatives had already been nurtured and convinced of its necessity and its vision. We did that, and the worse thing we did was to believe our own hype. Pat Robertson is so lost today that he can’t separate the faith from his politics, and he’s still among the top influencers when it comes to the agenda of Evangelicals and the Republican Party.

God is judging this version of the church today, and I’m beginning to hear arguments to this effect from voices other than my own. We need to repent and turn from this wickedness, or the church has little hope for tomorrow. We steadfastly blame others – like those dirty liberals – for the sad state of our nation and the world today, when we should be examining our own hearts.

Ever evangelizing, we shake our fists up at those walking by, as we travel along the flow of the gutter toward the awaiting sewer. “Curse you, World,” is our cry. “You’re all going to hellllllllllllllll.”

Anatomy of a Fake News Story

At the height of yesterday’s scramble for information about the horrific breaking news scene in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a Neo-Nazi’s tweet was used by a Santa Monica news outlet to identify the shooter as a convert to Islam. Follow me here, because while it isn’t physics, the story is a bit confusing.

It begins for me with scrolling Facebook and finding a post from a friend – an outspoken Christian woman in Australia – with a link to the Santa Monica Observer and a headline: “Islamic Convert is Shooter in Church Shooting in Sutherland. He Left Online Manifesto.” I’ve been fighting Islamophobia for a great many years, and so this peaked my interest. I’d seen this nowhere else and had suspicions about its truthfulness.

The Santa Monica Observer has a questionable reputation. In fact, Santa Monica itself seems to have a lot of experience with fake news and fake news sites. It would be a great study for someone interested in the role of journalistic dishonesty in a single community. I’ve no wish to prove or disprove that this free newspaper is a source of fake news, only that it participated in this particular event.

Below is a screen grab of the same link today. Note two things. The company is partially backing away from the story, although the sub-headline still contains a reference to the Islamic connection. Most importantly, however, note the link displayed in the browser, as it contains the original headline. This happens often with content management software when a headline is changed in the copy, because the link is established based on the original headline.

The article sources the claim as follows:

Mustachio Tweeted: “#texaschurchshooting shooter is 29 year old US Airman turned Muslim convert, Samir Al-Hajeed. His manifesto is making its rounds on the web.”

The Arab name provided – Samir Al-Hajeed – has been used in other fake news stories about mass shootings, including Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock.

“Mustachio” is Millennial Matt™ Groyper, and the account has been active for a month. Ol’ Millennial Matt™ has a profile picture identifying himself as a Kekistani, a Reddit White Supremacist group that satirically worships a god with a frog head and Donald Trump’s hair. The group’s flag is a take-off on the Nazi flag and is often seen at Neo-Nazi, Alt-Right, and White Supremacy rallies. How and why the Santa Monica Observer would come across this tweet isn’t known, but the most obvious explanation is that the paper follows the account. Either that, or they were tipped and failed to follow through on the obvious conflict-of-interest.

The point is that the Santa Monica Observer article’s premise is utterly false.

Finally, to the woman who posted this link on Facebook (you know who you are), you are responsible for this and will be held accountable in the end for bearing a false witness, which I seem to recall is anathema to the God you say you serve. Christianity Today yesterday published an article about how gullible evangelicals are to this sort of thing based on activities by the Russians during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

“Army of Jesus” was among 470 Facebook pages created by the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg…
…the fake Christian account had over 217,000 likes. (For comparison, that’s more Facebook likes than some established, politically conservative evangelical media outlets, such as World or Charisma magazines.)

Let’s face it: Many Evangelical Christians are easily manipulated and believe many things that are false to be true, simply because they resonate with deeply-held beliefs. My friend in Australia is apparently one of them.