If you’re not familiar with an urban myth let me enlighten you. Urban myths are really just a modern form of folklore. They are stories that do the rounds and those telling them usually (but not always) believe them to be true. Sometimes the stories have an element of shock or revulsion that is generally taken as quite believable. These stories tend to do the rounds for a while, often recede from prominence, only to take on a new lease of life as another generation picks up the story.
A classic example of an urban myth was the story that was circulated back in the 1980s about the American company Procter and Gamble supporting Satanism. The company vehemently denied the truth of this urban myth but the story persisted. On one occasion I wrote about this particular story in our denominational periodical with the upshot that I had a visit from the company’s Australian lawyer who was trying to trace where the story came from. Obviously the story was hurting the company. I pointed out in my article at that time that we as Christian should not “bear false witness”.
Our migrants from South Africa will be aware of another example of urban myths. During the Boer War the English imprisoned many Boers in concentration camps. The story began to do the rounds that the English were putting crushed glass in the food. The result was that some inmates died of starvation rather than risk a painful death by ingesting crushed glass. No amount of denial by the British authorities could lay the story to rest.
Yet another example of an urban myth is the story of a man who supposedly spent several days inside a large fish. He is said to have survived although his skin was permanently marked by the stomach acids of the fish. This story was often told by people who wanted to defend the Biblical story of Jonah. However, it turns out that no one ever actually knew this man personally.
Today the Internet and especially social media (Facebook & Twitter for e.g.) have only increased the problem of the circulation of urban myths. Questionable stories go viral very quickly. But the Internet also provides a resource for checking the validity of urban myths. There are helpful websites (like Snopes) where you can check the validity or otherwise of a story that you read.
In recent weeks many Christians have passed on a story about Rick Warren supporting a Chrislam conference. Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church and author of number of books that have been widely used in evangelical churches (Forty days of Purpose). Chrislam is supposed to be a new movement that blends Christianity and Islam. Rick Warren has strongly denied any such involvement and has stated that Christians and
Muslims do not worship the same God. However that hasn’t stopped this urban myth from spreading.
Let me say two things about these kinds of stories.
First of all we Christians are often far too gullible. We read a story that seems credible and that shocks us and we right away pass the story on. I was guilty of that a couple of days ago too. I read in the social media that Disney are making a move called, ‘Princes’. It’s supposed to be a homosexual love story of two princes who go out looking for a princess but fall in love with each other and get married in a same-sex marriage ceremony. I talked to my wife about the way the movie industry was degenerating only to find, when I checked up, that the story is a hoax – although Disney has indeed become increasingly pro-homosexual. Christians know that we live in a world
where the Enemy is always trying to spoil the work of God. That makes us vulnerable to conspiracy theories and urban myths. We need, however, to be more discerning and less gullible. Do the hard work of checking out a story before passing it on.
That raises a second and more important point. Christians ought to be strong supporters of truth. We must love the truth and speak the truth… always. Here great care is needed. I remember once catching myself out. I had a certain experience at one point in my ministry where God’s special leading in my life was very vivid and clear. It’s a story I’ve often shared with colleagues and parishioners over the years. But there was an element in the story I told that at one point troubled my conscience so I did some checking only to find that an embellishment had crept into my story. It was a relatively minor matter but it brought home to me that I had come to believe my own “lie”. We who follow the One who called Himself “the Truth” ought to make every effort to be as truthful as we possibly can be – even if that prevents us from passing on the latest juicy urban myth.