by Russell Pollitt SJ
A confrere of mine recently remarked that truth no longer matters in our world. This got me thinking about two events that have made news headlines in the last few weeks: the Synod on Synodality in Rome and the terrible conflict in the Middle East.
In the days after Pope Francis called the Synod on Synodality, Catholic media was flooded with people from various political and ideological positions. Some claimed that this was a sneaky way of the powers in Rome to undermine traditional Church teaching. Others contended that the Synod was part of the ongoing assimilation and implementation of Vatican II. Others claimed that this was a new way, led by the Holy Spirit, of the Church dialoguing with the contemporary world.
People became entrenched in what they read, so for some, the Synod seemed to be about two main things: homosexuality and the ordination of women.
High-profile clerics have been vociferous in condemning Pope Francis and the Synod. They claim to be the “faithful protectors” of the Church, implying that the Pope is out to wreck the Church. Many people believed them. Others thought that Francis genuinely wanted to further the reforms of Vatican II. Others thought it was Francis’ way of aligning the Church with the contemporary world.
And, so, through the eyes of political and ideological positions, a war of information emerged – and huge division. What is the truth?
In the weeks following Hamas’s horrid attack on Israeli citizens, accounts of the attacks have flooded the media in all forms. The information has given people insights into the ‘causes’ of the war. The problem is that not all we read and see is true – the same with the Synod!
When information is presented for public consumption and is a mix of falsehoods and truth, it makes it harder for everyone to tell fact from fiction.
There is a distinction between “disinformation” and “misinformation”. Disinformation is an intentional falsehood intended to deceive for a purpose. Misinformation is an accident – sharing a falsehood, believing it is true. This often happens on the social platform X (formerly Twitter) when we hit repost with no proof that what we are reposting is actually true.
Both are always at play when there is a global event – like the Synod or a war. However, disinformation can do permanent damage. In the case of a war, it can lead to further killing.
Lee McIntyre, a research fellow at Boston University’s Centre for Philosophy & History of Science, says that disinformation erodes your knowledge base and your trust in whether others are telling you the truth because sometimes disinformation comes in a neat package of conspiracy theory.
McIntyre says that truth and falsehood exist side-by-side, and it can be difficult to find trustworthy sources to discern true and false. It can make us cynical, which ultimately plays into the hands of those with death-dealing agendas.
Take the example of the so-called Dubia presented to Pope Francis before the Synod. Some claimed he did not answer them, the Vatican released his answers, and then it transpired that a second round of questions was sent to him as the group were not happy with his original answers. He did not ignore the questions – as some suggested.
The same is true in Gaza. A missile hit the Al Ahil Arab Hospital. Hamas blamed Israel. News networks said Israel was responsible. Then they backtracked and said it was a misfire from Hamas. The President of the USA supported this claim. However, further analysis refutes the claim that it was Hamas. Who was responsible? We don’t know.
Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:16). Truth is vital for Christians; it is our highest value. Before you take one political or ideological position, it might be essential to step back and ask yourself some questions – or read some opposing views.