In trying to determine what is true and what is false in the world, one need only to look at Jesus’ “self-giving love primarily turned to those who have no one to turn to,” said the Very Rev. Anders Gadegaard, dean of Copenhagen Cathedral. Addressing a gathering of Christian communicators April 10 in Helsinki, Gadegaard also said all kinds of hate speech contradict Christian principles and must be opposed.
The event, organized by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC)-Europe region and the Conference of European Churches, adopted the theme, “What makes us so angry? Hate speech, fake news, and communication rights.”
The world currently finds itself “in the Field of the Lord,” where there is confusion about what is false and what is true when it comes to news, said Gadegaard, who offered a theological reflection on “Fake Theology, Fake News.” Being “in the Field of the Lord” is a Danish expression, which means being “in a completely helpless and perplexed situation” and counting on “help from above,” explained Gadegaard. The good news, said Gadegaard, is that truth was revealed to humankind “precisely out there, in the Field of the Lord, in the shepherds’ field outside Bethlehem.”
The criterion for judging truth was given with the birth of Jesus, who as an adult said, “I am the truth,” said Gadegaard. “The little baby who was born outside marriage in rough poverty, who soon became a refugee…” The same one who, as an adult, experienced hatred and contempt from the powerful, admiration from the poor and outcast, and was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured and killed, he added.
“This son of man is truth to us, the incarnation of self-giving love as the truth,” said Gadegaard. “When you look at the world and try to decide what is fake and what is truth, use this criteria, the man on the cross.”
Christ’s words, deeds and examples as the criteria for truth enabled societies inspired by Christian values to create institutions and news media “truly critical” of ruling political elites, he said. The idea of Ombudsman has its roots in Western Protestant tradition, he added. Societies inspired by Christianity have also funded human rights organizations, he said, adding, “This is Christian social ethical values working at its best.” In the same vein, societies that claim to build on Christian values, “where a critical journalism is turned into biased or even purchased journalism…is a sign of decay in Christian moral,” said Gadegaard. The privatization of media has made this more and more possible, he added. Just as there are debates in the secular world over the criteria for determining what is true and false, there are also intense discussions among Christian theologians about “true theology and fake theology,” said Gadegaard.
“Truth is never unambiguous…We are living in a sinful, imperfect world where good and evil are intertwined and inseparable and not even always possible to distinguish one from the other,” he said. “What seems to be true actions or attitudes may be used as a cover up for exploitation or other evil intentions.”
A theology that claims “to possess the truth in its pure unambiguous form will always be fake,” he said. “All kinds of fundamentalist religion is fake – and basically an abuse of religion, primarily because it renounces criticism…and even labels it as infidelity.”
The truth of the reformation movement is derived from the principle of “continued uninterrupted reform,” whether in the church’s dogma and institutions, he said. “Ecclesia semper reformanda – which is as much true for the societies we live in – they must be renewed, to which purpose critical journalism is a prime tool, as critical theology is to the health of religious communities.”
Fake theology is one that believes that “God’s activity can be deciphered unambiguously in the world,” Gadegaard said. This can manifest in people who claim to be agents of God’s will, he said, citing George W. Bush, who described the 2001 war on terror as a crusade to fight the so-called “axis of evil.”
Another example of fake theology is “the nationalist theology that claims the right to a certain area of land in the name of God,” he said, citing Zionism and Nazi Germany’s philosophy of Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil).
“God’s chosen people are all believers wherever they may be and whoever they are,” said Gadegaard. “Believers are not directly recognizable. Consequently, a distinction between us and them is impossible in the name of Christianity.” Christian faith “is not national, nor international, but rather trans-national,” he added. “It transcends all ideas of nationalism.”
There is nothing wrong with establishing personal and national identities for as long as they are not used to exclude people, he added. Jesus himself was constantly “including foreigners and praising them for their faithfulness,” he said.