Sometimes a story will hit the news and cause untold levels or Internet Outrage… and be based not on proper journalism, but pretty much outright lies. This seems to be especially common when it comes to “I’m being religiously oppressed” tales. These yarns gin up the outrage among the Fellow Believers, but are very often found to be fraudulent stories. One such story that has popped up in the last day or so:
A very brave 7th-grade student decided to fight for her religious freedom last night as she stood before her Texas school board in Katy, Texas and explained to them how her teacher gave them an assignment to answer whether God is a fact, opinion or a myth. This 7th-grader, Jordan Wooley, said the teacher told them that any answer other than ‘God is a myth’ was wrong and they would get a failing grade if they answered otherwise.
Now, that’s certainly a Not At All Good story. A teacher threatening to flunk students for not proclaiming some particular belief system? Why, that’s shocking! That’s unConstitutional! That’s crazy! That’s illegal!
That’s also not what happened.
For starters, the other students in the class are saying that the claimed nastiness didn’t happen:
Secondly, it’s not what the lesson was about:
Note that the word “myth” doesn’t appear here, but instead “commonplace assertion.” A commonplace assertion may be factually accurate or it can be dead wrong or it can be unknown. For something to be a “fact,” it must be demonstratable. Thus “there is a God” is, from the position of “fact, opinion or commonplace assertion” would seem to be an assertion, since it cannot – so far – be factually verified, and since the existence of something is not a matter of opinion. “Chocolate tastes better than liver” is a matter of opinion; “chocolate exists” is a fact.
But by twisting the story into something it very clearly isn’t, a whole lot of people are able to generate a lot of misplaced outrage. Some of this is probably just the desire for clickbait… a lot of websites get ad revenue from visitors (sadly, I do not… say, why don;t you buy my stuff?). But a lot of it – in particular the majority of the people who read this stuff, don’t think too deeply about it (or do not make any effort to research it) – is a sort of catharsis. Their is a mode of thought that seems to be particularly common today that holds that victimhood impart moral superiority… if you suffer, that means you are right. Ideologies that hold that there is something good about martyrdom seem especially likely to trot out inflated tales of oppression. Of course, there are often direct benefits from making stuff up in school…
So, here’s my nugget of wisdom. If you read a news story that seems to put forward a suggestion that *your* cherished beliefs are being trampled by officialdom… do a little research before hulking out in the comments section. The more the story backs up your own biases, the more important it is for you to view the story with skepticism.