The Power of Spin

There are events, and then there is history.

Events are what they are.  History is the interpretation of those events – first and foremost as worthy of note in the first place.  We might not question that an event occurred, but the difficulty lies in determining who describes it accurately and why.

Two different issues caught my attention in browsing the news today.  The first is a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week.  Our local paper reported on his controversial linking of a Palestinian cleric during World War II with Hitler’s Final Solution to eradicate the Jews rather than just expel them from German territory.  More accurately, the local news story (which might have been a reprint from Associated Press or elsewhere) reported on the response to Netanyahu’s claim.  No attempt was made to address the accusation itself and whether there might be any merit to it.  The only thing of interest was how various groups – Israeli, Palestinian, German, Facebook – responded to his comments.

The Washington Post provided a much healthier analysis of the allegation and whether or not it was a reasonable one to make.  They acknowledge that a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Islamic leader in Jerusalem at the time and an outspoken opponent of the Zionist movement to create a new Israeli state.  A recent book is cited as the likely source for Netanyahu’s claim, but the article goes on to argue against such an interpretation of the event.  Apparently no documentation or notes of the meeting exist or have been discovered, so what happened there remains historical speculation.  But it’s interesting how much some people want to discredit Netanyahu’s assertion.  Are there reasons to suspect things aren’t as simple as Netanyahu states?  Certainly.  But questions will likely always remain.

The second article has to do with the Hungarian journalist who was reviled around the world for tripping a Syrian refugee as he carried his young son.  This journalist is now suing both the man she tripped and Facebook.  She claims the man changed his story to the police, which I assume means he accused her of things she didn’t do, or that at least weren’t verified on camera.  She’s suing Facebook for not removing threatening content directed at her.

Her husband believes that she is innocent.  She acknowledges tripping the man but claims she is the victim in the whole situation.  Film exists that clearly shows her doing what she is accused of, yet she feels she can somehow vindicate herself and demonstrate her innocence in the court of public opinion, as well as in an actual courtroom.

Even events on video are subject to a variety of interpretations.  In some cases, interpretations can be very convoluted and complex, depending on the presuppositions or needs of the interpreters.  Christianity deals with this in the primary historical event of Jesus’ resurrection.  The assertion that Jesus rose from the dead bodily after three days in the tomb is one that causes a lot of people a lot of difficulty, and with good reason.  Resurrections are pretty rare, if not otherwise almost unprecedented.  The inability to verify and validate the disciples eye-witness accounts also leaves many people skeptical.

The alternative is to determine a separate understanding of the event.  The event is defined as Jesus’ body no longer in the tomb, and an alternative explanation for that reality is sought.  Some skeptics might even doubt the empty tomb, but the burden of proof against that event itself seems almost insurmountable.  Clearly *something* happened wherein Jesus’ body was expected to lie dead in a tomb, and this expectation was not met.

Plenty of other explanations have been offered, but as with the reporter’s attempt to vindicate her actions, they suffer from a great deal of hoops in need of jumping through.  The resurrection is the simplest explanation, albeit one that has become counter-intuitive when our philosophical premise is that miracles – and particularly resurrections – are impossible.  Were this not the prevailing cultural assumption these days, if instead the assumption was – as it has been throughout almost all of human history except for the last century – that there is some form of divinity beyond us, then the resurrection would not be nearly as problematic as some people find it today.

We can attempt to spin history, but events are what they are.  Who are we going to believe, and just as importantly, why are we going to believe them, are the critical questions each one of us must answer for ourselves, whether the topic is a government e-mail server or a reporter’s crass treatment of another human being, or speculation on the content of a meeting 70 years ago, or reports of a resurrection 2000 years ago.  Ask yourself the who/what question in terms of what you believe, but don’t neglect to answer the why question as well.  Doing so goes a long way towards avoiding spin, or promulgating it.

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