A multitude of counselors
Unable to sleep, in the wee hours this morning, a Facebook red square blinked across the room at me: An old friend and former employee was concerned about a YouTube video he had been trying to process. Issues of history and family and salvation were at stake, so I hit the play button and chatted with him. I had been through this particular crisis of denominational faith decades ago, but, at the time, the flow of information was a very small trickle. The weight of the institution being questioned was vastly larger than the number of voices able to say anything in response. You waited for an obscure book to arrive in the mail, or a VHS tape, and even those spare exchanges of information were, in turn, greater than what was available two decades before my period of doubt. I don’t think we yet fully realize the consequences of being able to weigh all claims to truth more or less instantly.
When thousands of internet users pounced on Dan Rather years ago, for failing to examine a forged document that, if accepted, could have spelled the political death of George W. Bush, it became apparent that there really is profound truth to the Biblical notion, “there is safety in a multitude of counselors.” In the old days, when one of three network anchors read the news, there may have been 10,000 cranky voices out there, adding perspective in their living rooms, and questioning the news, but there was no way to amplify their voice, to speed it through the body politic so the falsehood antibodies could multiply — or, conversely, allow their iconoclastic voice to be silenced by the same examination in turn.
A friend told me the other day I was a restless “content provider.” I think that was a compliment. We need all the cranky voices out there in the global living room, those of us who can’t seem to stop speaking or writing. But I think the greatest asset of this new age is the audience itself — the steady, critical, questioning sea of eyes out there, the ones who say, “did they even have proportional fonts back then?” I’ve noticed, among young internet power users, they seem to be more critical than the preceding generation. Their fake news sense of smell is much stronger than their parents. Take comfort in this, people.
I know from experience that the guy who owns the theater—and the good will of an audience in regular, paying attendance—can give the veneer of truth to almost any production. The monolithic church, with a thousand chapels, or the television network, or the mega streaming platform can make an idea seem truthful, and if the audience has no real access to each other, they might even pull it off, but if the audience can get together, effectively, across the world, to talk about the idea, falsehood has no chance.
I had been praying last night, and frustrated that I couldn’t sleep. The world seemed so full of fire and smoke and corruption, and then a little red light began blinking across the room.
Someone wanted to talk.