Have You Heard?

Wayne Turner, Gospel Herald, September, 1999

Have you heard that the president of Proctor and Gamble appeared on the Sally Jesse Raphael show and told a nationwide audience that the company was owned and managed by Satanists? Has anyone informed you about the person who was fatally poisoned when they licked the envelope at an automatic teller machine at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto or the cases of AIDS infected needles planted in movie theatre seats and pay phone coin slots? How about the report that Canada Post and the U.S. Postal Service are planning to implement a surcharge on email? Are you aware of the reports that companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, the Gap, Old Navy, IBM, Miller beer, Microsoft, Disney, M&M's candy, and others are offering cash prizes, merchandise, vacations and gift certificates for participation in email tracking system tests or programs? Have you heard the heart-rending story of Jessica Mydek (or one of seemingly countless other similar stories) who is dying of cancer and who will receive financial assistance from the American Cancer Society for every email sent on her behalf? Are you familiar with the widely circulated warning about the dangers of Aspartame which attributes increased cases of systematic lupus, multiple sclerosis, blindness, birth defects, seizures, increased fat, memory loss, Alzheimers, birth tumors in lab animals and other health problems? If you answered "yes" to any of the questions above, there is one more question for you to answer. Have you passed that information on to anyone else?

All of the items listed above are hoaxes, myths, and urban legends that are being widely disseminated around the world through email and the internet. Many of them have been around for years. The Proctor and Gamble "Satanism" item first claimed the president of the company appeared on the Donahue Show in 1994. Such an appearance has never taken place on any program. Proctor and Gamble is a publicly owned company which is governed, like any large corporation, by a board of directors that is elected by its stockholders.

Email users regularly receive copies of these or similar messages which have been passed on by well meaning people. These email chain letters ask the recipients to help spread the message by sending it to everyone they know. We cannot even begin to imagine how quickly these spread around the world! Unfortunately, such messages slow down the internet and tie up valuable resources of the companies and organizations who are targeted or involved. There have been so many emails about children with cancer receiving assistance that the American Cancer Society has set up a web page just to disavow any such involvement (http://www.cancer.org/letter.html). Similarly, the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on Sally Jesse Raphael's web page leads off with the question about Proctor & Gamble (http://www.sallyjr.com/faq.html).

Even more troubling is the fact that well meaning people are passing on allegations or charges against individuals or corporations without verifying the source, validity or the facts involved. People who would not think of gossiping in a personal way sometimes suspend their normal ethics and participate in electronic gossip or slander. Unfortunately, sometimes even Christians get involved.

Part of the problem is the immediacy afforded by email and the internet. Information passes around the globe at the speed of light. Sometimes, these messages hit our hearts, either stirring great compassion or moral outrage. We sense a need for action. The keyboard and internet are at hand, and without even a further thought, the message is forwarded. However, before we pass on anything, whether received by email, letter, phone call, or direct communication, we need to consider whether we have checked to see if the information is true. (For email, this can be done by contacting the people or organizations named in the email or web sites like http://urbanlegends.miningco.com/library/blhoax.html). Once we have verified it, we should ask ourselves if passing it on would be gossip, spreading something harmful or malicious to another person.

Christians often speak about the search for truth, by which we usually mean learning what God has really said in His word. But the concept of truth encompasses more. When Paul identified the focus of a Christian's thinking in Philippians 4:8, in addition to thinking about things that are honorable, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy, he includes things that are true and right. Truth, in all its forms, is a personal value that should be dear to each Christian. Just as we would not pass on false information about God, Christ, salvation, or any other Biblical theme, neither should we pass on misinformation about anyone or anything else. Gossip and slander should be as foreign to us as false teaching. (Perhaps one of the great ironies about electronic gossip is that there is no secrecy. It is clearly possible to see the names of everyone who forwarded this information.)

The internet and email offer great opportunities for the promotion of good and evil. There are certainly many opportunities to pass on information that will be helpful for the cause of Christ and for helping those in need. Let us use this wonderful tool for the glory of God and not participate in spreading those things which would discredit our ministry.

We would like to add some other hoaxes, myths and urban legends to Wayne Turner's list. The myth that Madalyn O'Hair (even though she is dead) is getting all religious programing taken off TV and radio by the FCC continues to be circulated.  The fable that NASA ran a computer backward and found the missing day of Joshua has been around the web twice during the past year.  The urban legend that the air force has a UFO in the hanger at Wright Paterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and has aliens found at a crash site in a frozen food locker is also high on the list of false claims.  There has not been a monster found in Lock Ness; there was not a pleisiosaur found by a Japanese fishing boat in the Pacific; no brontosaurus has been seen in the Amazon; no big foot has been documented in the Cascade Mountains; and no hidden writings of Jesus Christ have been discovered.  These are all claims that we have personally checked out and have found to be false, but nearly every day we get some kind of a panic stricken message from someone about a great catastrophe that is about to take place. By the time you read this, the Y2K thing has played out.  Was it what the religious and political etremists are predicting as I write this on October 24, 1999?  That may be the best example of all of what Wayne Turner is saying.

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