"The world isn't run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money. It's run by little ones and zeros, little bits of data. It's all just electrons.... There’s a war out there... and it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think, it's all about information."(1)
It's all about who controls the information. When I first heard this quote, I immediately thought it was an overstatement. Daily news of conflict, natural disasters, continuing disputes over land and territory, and continuing struggles over energy resources remind us of "wars and rumors of wars" all around. Surely, the war is far more than simply controlling information.
But the way in which these news stories are told underlies the insidious perpetuation of conflict. The instant access to information and news as a result of the Internet makes every blogger a knowledge guru and every website a "purveyor" of the truth. Those "in the know" craft the news and spin their stories. Indeed, the more I see the way the world interacts with the wealth of information available through the power of the Internet, the more I become convinced of the truth of this statement: The world is run by information, and the world is embroiled in an information war.
A few examples might illuminate this point. After the horrible events of 9/11, media in this country began to report coverage of these events from the perspective of the Arabic-language broadcasting network. How different the events looked to those whose only access to information was this one source. To some, a "holy war" was underway, turning terrorists into heroes and the innocent into evildoers needing to be punished. This was not simply a war of guns or bombs, but a war of information, and the power of information to shape hearts and minds.
The same could be said about the crisis that involves Russia and Ukraine. The Russian government makes sure that media reports that they are the protectors of Crimea, and that the West—Europe and the U.S. are the provocateurs. Who is telling the truth, and who is winning this war?
Beyond these global examples, daily inquiries into a variety of issues, theological, apologetic, or otherwise—all brought to my attention because of information from a particular website, blog, or online article. Conspiracies abound, competing agendas jostle for influence and groups point the finger at each other with regards to the truth. Definitive conclusions are drawn from hearsay and very limited information. Rather than increasing knowledge and alleviating fears, the great sea of information seems more often to confine us to shallow waters. A civil war ensues in which we bite and devour one another and are consumed.(2) The war continues unabated, at times with fierceness that rivals real warfare.
I'm just as guilty of picking up these weapons, using my own selective memory to take ideas completely out of context in order to win my own wars of information. In fact, all of us are prone to picking and choosing the sources we will use for ammunition based on whether or not they confirm our own point of view, pacify our fears, or justify our smug sense of self-righteousness. But in the end, more often than not, we are submerged in an ocean of misinformation. Drowning in what appears to be knowledge, we accept "truths" devoid of historical context. We assume, for example, that our information on Christianity emerged straight out of the 20th century, and out of the Western World. We forget that we are but a small part of a much larger ocean of faithful followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, which can be traced from Noah to Abraham, from Deborah to Esther, and from those twelve humble disciples all the way through the history of the Christian Church.
As I reflect on this war of information, I am reminded of what Jesus said to those faithful Jews who had believed in him: If you abide in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31-32). Ultimately, the truth sets us free and liberates us from fear. Liberation can serve as our guidepost as we persevere against fear, divisiveness, and a propensity to judge first and listen later—especially towards those enlisted in the same battalion. The message of Jesus encouraged us to abide, remain, and rest in him because even the gates of hell—in whatever form they take—would not prevail. Some may rightly warn that abiding, liberating, and remaining in Christ seems a simple response to the onslaught of the information war. But perhaps it is necessary regardless, and somehow, by God's grace, it is corrective as well, especially for those who seek to follow Jesus. In the war of information, the truth of a person—that of Jesus Christ—cuts a clear path and issues a clarion call. Those who call themselves Christian find their confidence in Jesus. This is a confidence that liberates rather than wounds, and inspires us to speak the truth in love to a world warring over information.
Margaret Manning is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) Sneakers, Universal Pictures, 1992.
(2) See Galatians 5:15.