Among the world’s most effective marriage-enrichment tools, consider the humble GPS.
The smartphone app provides valuable, accurate information. It tells you not only where you are but also what you must do to get where you are going.
GPS has been a godsend to husbands like me, who instinctively think the answer to getting lost behind a steering wheel is not (a) stopping to ask directions or (b) pulling a map out of the glovebox but (c) driving faster.
By dispensing accurate information, GPS devices have helped millions of drivers arrive at their destinations safely. Blessedly, they also have restored harmony to countless marriages, offering a workaround to the age-old stop-and-ask-directions debate.
Unfortunately, millions of people do not accept basic, verifiable information as readily as drivers follow their GPS devices.
The result is society meandering in the wilderness at breakneck speed with its headlights off. Meanwhile, epic “Why-can’t-you-ask-for-directions?” arguments fill the soundtrack of our aimless journey.
Society wanders without direction, in large measure, because of broad-based attempts to undermine our most important set of communal directions – verifiable information we call facts.
We’ve heard obvious lies spun for political expediency. We’ve watched people with selfish ambitions demean others who dedicated their lives to gathering and disseminating facts.
We’ve been told bleach and bright lights can cure COVID-19. We’ve heard climate change is not real, and immigrants walked hundreds of miles over mountains and through deserts to take your job and rape your children.
We’ve read elections were “stolen” and people are dangerous because of the melanin in their skin.
Facts don’t matter if they get in the way of politics, power and TV ratings.
Not coincidentally, attacks on facts surged as American fact-checking waned.
Journalism has declined precipitously. Major newsrooms are smaller than they have been in generations, and hundreds of small- and medium-sized newspapers have closed completely.
Meanwhile, social media – unrestrained by professional ethics, standards of behavior and external guidelines – gluts the market with opinion untethered to facts.
Access to vetted, verified facts is vital to societies and cultures. Groups of any size – from nations to neighborhoods – thrive when they share access to accurate information about the important issues that confront them.
Accurate information particularly is important to democracies, which depend upon knowledgeable citizens to function effectively.
In a democracy, people “gather” through the conduit of polling booths to make important decisions that shape their lives together. This process only works well when voters base their decisions upon reliable news and honest opinion.
Similarly, truth-telling is deeply spiritual for Christians. We follow Jesus, who said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). This is capital-T Truth, divine knowledge, but the principle applies to all truth.
When we follow Jesus’ unselfish, sacrificial example, we desire for others what we want for ourselves. We advocate for a free flow of information and unhindered truth-telling because we strive for the freedom they offer – not only for ourselves but for others.
Baptists, of all people, should be strong advocates for bountiful access to accurate information and verified facts. Most of our congregations reflect pure democracy – everyone gets a vote, and majority rules.
Our shared futures depend upon gathering accurate, relevant information and discerning together. Because we rely on God’s leadership, we trust facts.
In the absence of facts, demagogues prevail. But knowledge is Kryptonite to lies. Transparency evaporates the mists of deceit and lifts the fog of falsehood.
When people know the truth, they resist manipulation. When people receive accurate information, they judge arguments wisely and determine their futures with clarity.
Journalism has been called the Fourth Estate – the unofficial fourth branch of government – with good reason. When journalism functions well, it keeps the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government honest.
Many people, particularly populist politicians, blame “the media” for society’s ills. To the contrary, our society has lost its way – has broken its moral GPS – precisely because the media is weak by historical standards.
But the good news is you – we – can make a difference and restore our cultural GPS.
Subscribe to the major newspapers that watch out for corruption and deceit, particularly at national and state levels. Read your local newspaper.
Follow news organizations governed by boards of directors whose members are known and trusted and which are guided by transparent ethical policies. Support public media that cover government, business, entertainment and religion, especially religion.
As we strengthen responsible, transparent media and demand access to verifiable facts, we can repair society’s GPS. We can find our way out of the wilderness and discover our way home.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series this week for World Press Freedom Day (May 3).
Coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, an intentionally ecumenical, multicultural, multiracial Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network, and a member of Good Faith Media’s strategic advisory board for news and opinion.