December 18, 2017

Why Do You Think So?

Don Johnson

I came across a fascinating article in the New York Times this week. Why Movie ‘Facts’ Prevail discusses movies based on factual or historical incidents and their frequent inaccuracy. We all know this to be true, even movies adapted from books frequently change the “facts” to facilitate the dramatic presentation of the basic story. To literary purists, this is troubling enough, but when we are dealing with real events, the effect is even more startling and profound.

The article notes that when movies adjust the facts of historical events, this adjustment imprints itself very strongly on the minds of viewers. So strongly, in fact, that the new facts of the dramatized story become the real facts in the minds of viewers more often than not.

For example, a 2009 study on the subject is cited:

In one study, published in the journal Psychological Science in 2009, a team of researchers had college students read historical essays and then watch clips from historical movies containing information that was inaccurate and inconsistent with the essays. Despite being warned that the movies might contain factual distortions, the students produced about a third of the fake facts from the movies on a subsequent test.

This is not an isolated phenomenon, a 2012 study reports similar findings:

In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2012, another team of researchers, repeating the experiment, tried to eliminate the “misinformation effect” by explicitly asking the students to monitor the clips for inaccuracies. It didn’t work. If anything, the students were more prone to accept the untruths. The more engaged the students were by the clips, the more their memories were contaminated.

The article goes on to discuss a problem we have retaining “source information,” anything we see and hear (experience with our senses, as it were) becomes true to us, we forget that the source is fictional. The author concludes:

The research described above did reveal one technique that helps: Having the misinformation explicitly pointed out and corrected at the time it was encountered substantially reduced its influence. But actually implementing this strategy — creating fact-checking commentary tracks that play during movies? always bringing a historian to the theater with you? — could be a challenge.

He’s probably right in that last observation. But I want to make some spiritual observations.

We live in a media saturated culture – it is more than just movies, as such, it is movies, music videos, YouTube clips, Facebook posts and on and on and on. I am often amazed at how ignorant people are, not only of the Bible, but of basic facts of history. In casual conversations you find yourself confronted by distorted facts that people sincerely believe about what happened in the past or even on the news last week. They often get very important facts critically wrong and sometimes make life-changing decisions based on these beliefs of the “true facts” of the situation. “I saw it myself,” is the authoritative statement.

According to Experian Marketing Services, in a 2010 article, over a quarter of the adult population will make at least one trip to the movie theater in any given month. Younger people will attend more frequently, but people over 50 are the largest segment of all viewers. More frequent viewers are most likely to be influenced by product placements in movies – they are called “Emulators”, people who “notice, remember and are driven to buy products placed into the context of a film.” A British study says the average Briton in 2011 watches 87 movies a year. I am not sure what is included in that study, but when you consider that there are only 52 Sundays in a year, it is not hard to discover where the notoriously shrunken British congregations are.

In conversations with various people I meet, I am well aware how much movies form the context of what they think about. Some real life event or some phrase or expression will remind them of a scene or a line in a movie. Or they attempt to communicate with you about something some music group said or did. One fellow I spoke to a few days ago couldn’t believe I had no idea what he was talking about — some famous musical reference that totally escapes me now. It isn’t only people outside the church whose thinking is shaped by media — countless professing Christians are full of knowledge of movies and music and videos and so on.

There are a number of directions my mind goes in thinking about all of this:

  • We should not be surprised that people challenge the authority of the Bible or the witness of the preacher – we are competing with a world of people who have seen and heard things differently.
  • We should be aware that overcoming the vast amount of misinformation in the minds of our hearers will require more work than we can possibly accomplish on our own, we have to depend on the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of the truth of the message we preach.
  • We should be mindful of the need to constantly reeducate ourselves concerning “true truth”, that is, the content of the Bible, the theological framework of our belief system, the appropriate application of truth to life. (We must do this through regular, faithful church attendance at a Bible preaching local church as active participants, not just as a passive audience.)

There are probably more applications that could be made, but I think it is true that our technologically advanced population is becoming increasingly detached from reality (and they are sure their reality is the real one). As Christians, we need to guard our minds and fill it with the truth of the Bible. Admonitions like these from the Scriptures are ever more relevant to the modern Christian:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Ps 1.1)

Do not enter the path of the wicked And do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. (Pr 4.14-15)

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. (Pr 13.20)

Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. (Eph 5.6-7)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 Jn 2.15-17)

Remember, we serve the One who is True!


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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