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"True knowledge lies in knowing how to live."
—Baltasar Gracian

31-Jan-03


What to Believe?

Occasionally, I receive Internet surveys from a reputable polling company. One of the questions that appears near the end of some of them runs something like this: "Do you a) feel that too much information is available or b) like having so much information available?" Invariably, I check the "b" box because checking "a" presupposes that someone will be censoring and/or tampering with the information I receive.

Now, with all the information and opinions at my fingertips, I am beginning to question my choice. The absolute flood of words available to digest every day can make us a little crazy, carried this way and that by persuasive rhetoric or a new fact or angle. Once we have been tossed like a dinghy on a boisterous sea among several differing viewpoints, our spinning heads cry out for calm and simplicity, but in this age of information overload, such havens are hard to find.

We are at the mercy of the information providers. Whom can we trust to report objectively? Which "facts" are true? Which ideology is right? What is the real cause of a reported effect? Who has our best interests at heart? Who is working for the long term and not just for some immediate political dividend? Is a cause righteous and just or is it base self-interest?

The looming war with Iraq provides a good example of the chaotic mass of information and opinion available, upon which we can attempt to base a conclusion. Every pundit and politician has an opinion and marshals various facts, probabilities, causes, and philosophies to support it. If we listen to just one source, we may agree or disagree, but perhaps not fully one way or the other. If we listen to a second source, our conclusion may be either refined or confused. As we add each additional source, the mass of information and opinion mounts, and unless we have the remarkable ability to keep everything straight and tidy, our chances of coming to a coherent conclusion are slim.

This is why President Bush has, for the most part, kept his rhetoric simple and consistent. His basic argument is that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, is a threat both to his own people as well as to his neighbors, has funded and supported terrorism in the past and has no qualms about doing so in the future, and thus needs to be removed from power. Further, the United States is resolved to obliterate terrorism wherever it is found, and only massive force will snuff it out.

Others, however, see things differently. Democrats, seeking political advantage, demand proof for every assertion and desire to pass the buck to the United Nations. Libertarians and Constitutionalists decry the loss of fundamental American freedoms the "War on Terror" has caused. Some European nations, fearful of American dominance, condemn U.S. unilateralism, aggressiveness, and arrogance. Human rights groups worry about civilian casualties, famine, and long-term effects of chemical, biological, and even nuclear weaponry that both sides might use. Arab nations denounce America as imperialistic, fearing their nations, listed as terrorist-sponsoring countries, may be in the U.S. military's crosshairs next. Conspiracy theorists and others warn that Bush's aims are personal—avenging Saddam's assassination attempt of his father—nefarious—the next step in building the New World Order—and greedy—as he and his cronies will rake in billions in oil profits.

What should we believe? Which side is right? Who knows what is really happening?

How accurately God describes our day in Daniel 12:4: "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase"! The phrase "run to and fro" depicts people, not just scurrying here and there as we do today, but also frantically and frenetically bouncing from pillar to post at their wit's end. It pictures many in the world today who are unsure about what to believe, perhaps unable to decide. An increase of knowledge beyond a person's limit can have such an effect.

Proverbs 29:18 provides a solution: "When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy" (New Living Translation). The glut of information can be countered by the steadying influence of God's law, His revelation of right and wrong, His standard for human conduct. By it, we can properly judge not just our own actions but also the actions of nations and governments. And instead of crazed uncertainty, the reward is true happiness.

- Richard T. Ritenbaugh


 


 
 

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