Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Getting The Facts Right

During the recent floods in Queensland there were many reports of loss and devastation. In all likelihood some of these reports understated the extent of the disaster. But in at least one case the extent of the flood was not quite as bad as first determined. One newspaper article explained the terrible loss of animal life in the area of Baralaba in central Queensland. The account noted the fact that 30,000 pigs had been washed away from one farm – and that quite naturally, the farmer was devastated by the terrible loss.
Now if you think about that story for a moment you might be a little suspicious of the numbers. Baralaba has a human population of about 259, so it seems a little unlikely that the total pig population in the area would be anywhere near 30,000. Pigs are pretty big animals and take up a reasonable about of space. Sure, intensive farming has reduced the space needed but 30,000 seems a huge number of pigs in one district, let alone on one farm.
Eventually the story was corrected and the error was admitted. The journalist had in fact misheard the farmer. We all know that Australians tend to mumble quite a bit and north Queenslanders are not known for their crisp diction, but the journalist can hardly be excused for his error. What actually happened was the farmer had told the journalist that he had lost 30 sows and pigs in the floods. And so 30 'sows and pigs' became the lead story of the loss of 30,000 pigs.
Many people wonder whether the stories we find in the Bible are, accidently or on purpose, based on the same sort of exaggeration or misreporting. It is widely believed by many skeptics that the Bible’s message was stretched a little to enhance its teaching and elevate its message.
The problem with this theory is that the Bible’s message is so over the top it is obviously beyond exaggeration. The idea of God coming in human form in the person of Jesus, born of a virgin, performing the most incredible miracles and then being raised from the dead is much more than poor reporting or exaggeration. The Bible’s extravagant message of God’s love is not in any way easy to accept, because it is so far beyond our experience or understanding. But it is clearly not a mistake or exaggeration.
Jesus was not just a decent man who did okay things - He is presented as God come in the flesh with power over nature, with the divine right to forgive our sins and all the time holding the keys to life and death.
Journalists make all sorts of mistakes all the time and we all ought to be a little more skeptical about what we read. By contrast we may, as a society, be a little better off if we were less skeptical of the Bible's extraordinary message.
““But what about you?” he asked.  “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied,  “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”  Matthew 16: 15-17

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