In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fictional language imposed upon the characters by the totalitarian government is Newspeak. This language consisted of specific vocabulary and simplified grammar approved by the government that met certain ideological requirements and was meant to limit not just the speech of the masses, but their very thoughts. Newspeak imposed itself upon every facet of self-expression and free will so much so that those who are familiar with the book will remember the eventual criminalizing of ideas as “thoughtcrime.” It’s no wonder books like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World are at the top of book sales in these past few months as we’ve seen an uptick in propaganda promoting the idea of limiting words, phrases, and yes even ideas. Thoughtcrime has become a recurring joke on social media, but it rings true in a terrifying way. Even big social media platforms like Twitter have begun indoctrinating the masses with Newspeak words and phrases that are meant to include, but in actuality hinder creativity, freedom of expression, and create and sow division among people groups of different ethnicities, religions, and ideologies.
Here enters the term misinformation which has been making the rounds for years, but especially in these last few months in regard to Covid-19 guidelines, protocols, and suggested treatments. Regrettably, it’s not just government officials and agencies using this term, it’s any left-wing progressive trying to beat the “real” information into the right-wing brains (physically or otherwise) alongside professing Christian publications and blogs like The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. I have serious issues with Christians using the term misinformation and for good reason. Christians are called at all times to use precise language, not mere Newspeak. This is part of obeying the eighth commandment at the very least. Our words matter, especially as followers of Christ. We are called not only to speak truth in all ways, but to demand truth in all ways, so words and what we say matter a very great deal.
When people use the term misinformation, what many would really like to be using is the word “lies” but because a word like lies is so final and accuses the offender of bearing false witness, a broader term that is disingenuous and manipulative works best. We can see the damaging implications of something like this when a word like “sin” is replaced by words like “mistake” and concepts of God’s “wrath” are replaced with concepts of a God who is only love all the time. I hope it’s clear what sort of destruction can occur when the Church fails to speak of sin as sin, its far reaching consequences, and the division it causes when we don’t repent. The same can be said and should be said of using terms like misinformation. If a brother or sister in Christ is speaking lies, by all means, call them to repentance through the proper channels given to us in scripture, but don’t label an egregious sin a mere mistake, gossip about it on social media, and then pretend like you did something gallant.
Unfortunately, as Christians, we don’t have the luxury of thinking this will go away. Jesus tells us that the world will hate us because of Him. We are given explicit exhortation that peace between the Bride of Christ and those who oppose God will not exist, not beyond anything superficial at least. Even our merciful freedoms in the U.S. may be coming to a close much faster and be more short-lived than we have previously hoped. How much longer before believing and teaching creation over evolution is labeled misinformation? What about if you hold to a Young Earth theory and believe that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time? How much longer before teaching this to our children is labeled child abuse and made illegal? Will we continue to stay faithful to Biblical teaching when homeschooling is no longer an option, or your children are subjected to government testing? Remember, misinformation implies not just that the information provided is wrong, but that it is the wrong sort of information. And if there are people spreading the wrong sort of information to the masses, well that must be stopped!
Reflecting on this, I’m reminded of the short story, “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in which the main characters are introduced to us from the year 2081 and “everybody is finally equal.” If you’re too smart, you’re required to wear a little mental handicap radio in your ear that blasts loud sounds to stop you from thinking elaborate thoughts, if you’re too beautiful, your face is masked, and if you’re too graceful your body is loaded down with bags of birdshot and heavy weights. In this way, those who aren’t graceful, or beautiful, or intelligent won’t feel less than. Each time I’ve read the story it has struck me with the absurdity of it all, but it’s not really all that absurd anymore. In fact, the year 2081 is looming over our heads like one of those great sashweights ready to drop, and it seems it may drop sooner rather than later. We can’t afford to wait until it drops to talk about how much we hate it, even if it’s as seemingly petty as a term like misinformation. This is because we don’t tolerate lies among believers but we also don’t tolerate censoring information either. We believe and speak the truth so that the truth shines light into the darkness around us. It should also be said that this doesn’t mean we don’t trust God to be Sovereign over all things, or that He wouldn’t be just to judge our nation by turning it over to itself. However, it does mean we should fight lies, and we should seek to teach other Christians about the importance of precise language.