The Religious Origins of Fake News and “Alternative Facts”

A good exploration, in the light of current interest in “fake news,” of the troubled relationship between conservative Christianity’s understanding of truth and secular experts’ understanding of facts. (Mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism have negotiated this difference much more smoothly.)

But it wasn’t Christianity, or religious faith itself in general, that helped make Republican voters more likely to be duped by fake news than their Democratic compatriots. (There were, and continue to be, lots of progressive or liberal people of faith.) Instead, susceptibility to fake news has its particular historical origin in Christian fundamentalism’s rejection of expert elites.

To see this connection, it bears recalling what it meant to be a Christian “fundamentalist” in the early 20th century. Christian fundamentalism was characterized in particular by its rejection of two theologically disturbing bodies of knowledge that emerged from the 19th century: the theory of evolution, and the historical-critical method of Bible scholarship. While mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches have had considerable success in coming to terms with these expert knowledge consensuses, Christian fundamentalism is defined primarily by its rejection of them. –Christopher Douglas, Religion Dispatches

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