Religious Tolerance and the Internet

The internet is a great resource of information on all kinds of topics, including religion. Unfortunately, there is also no shortage of religious intolerance and just plain bad information on the internet as well.

Of course, even generally trusted sources of information such as dicitonaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks contain some errors.

As an example, I have a Dictionary of Christianity which says that Lutherans believe in consubstantiation. However, if you ask a Lutheran pastor, he will say this is not true.

Newspapers are presumably more likely to contain errors due to the fact that news stories develop quickly and they don't always have time to verify all of the information being presented before press time.

With the internet, it is even more important to be discerning in what you read. Afterall, anybody with no training or credentials of any kind can self-publish on the internet. As a result, you will find all kinds of opinions on the internet, and lots of information being published with little or no effort to verify sources.

As they say, "You can't believe everything you read." There's a supposedly Japanese version that goes like this: "If you believe everything you read, better not read." Of course, in our modern society it would be hard to get along without reading. So, it obviously would make more sense to adopt a few guidelines for reading in a discerning way to avoid being "taken in" by bad information. Below is an attempt at a few such guidelines with a particular focus on evaluating information regarding religious topics.

1) Consider the source.

a. Is the author hostile toward the religion they are discussing? If so, they are probably not an unbiased and trustworthy source of information.

b. Does the author go in for conspiracy theories? If so, they are probably easily duped by false information which they may then pass on to others.

c. Is the author an apparently unbiased outsider? If so, much of their information may be from other outsiders, some of whom may be hostile, so they may be unknowingly spreading false information.

d. Is the author a zealous insider? If so, they may be trying very hard to promote their own point of view with little regard to checking facts.

e. Is the author an apparently unbiased insider? If so, the author may attempt to be unbiased, but may be influenced by information from other biased sources.

2) Check sources.

a. Does the author tell you the source of his information? In most cases, the author is not the originator (primary source) of the information. If they don't give their sources, how can you verify that their sources are trustworthy?

b. If the author has listed sources, who are those sources? Are they likely to be biased or unbiased?

c. Some authors may include a very long list of sources in order to impress the reader, which also makes it harder to check all of them. Who has the time? If this is the case, try to determine which sources are the most important and check them first.

3) Verify accuracy.

a. If possible, verify that the author has not misquoted his sources or taken them out of context.

b. As much as possible, verify dates, facts, and figures.

The author, Greg Bonney, is the owner of Bonney Information and E-Commerce and founder of Scoutcamping.com (http://www.scoutcamping.com).

Copyright © 2005 Bonney Information and E-Commerce.

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