Our former Vice-President from the term of George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, is not remembered as an intelligent or well-spoken man. One of his more infamous verbal gaffes is this one:
I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn’t study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people.
There’s no shortage of dumb things he really did say or do. He really did misspell “potato” in front of a roomful of school kids. He did lose an argument with a fictional character. Many of his bigger howlers can be found at the Snopes link above.
Why am I bringing up Dan Quayle, and specifically the “Latin” misquote? Because it was debunked contemporaneously, within months after it began appearing, but I know people who repeated it anyway, knowing it wasn’t true, because (I paraphrase), “Quayle is so dumb, it’s something he could have said.”
Zoom ahead to a few days ago. A Facebook friend of mine posted, for purposes of ridicule, the following image of a tweet:
Pretty outrageous, isn’t it? A little too outrageous, I thought, so I suspected it might be an example of Poe’s Law. I set to investigating.
That Twitter account, @GodsWordIsLaw, was suspended or banned a couple of years ago. Its apparent successor, @GodsWordIsLaws, hasn’t been used since late 2012, and based on some of the tweets there, was either always a parody site or was hacked early on and never brought home.
But regardless, when I brought up the idea that the tweet might be satire or parody, my friend said that doesn’t matter, because “there really are Christians who think that way.”
Maybe so, but it’s being a bad skeptic to say as much (and to act accordingly). Mocking politicians for things they didn’t actually say is easy, and lazy. I could string together random words, claim that Dan Quayle (or George W. Bush, or Joe Biden, or anyone else) said them, and then ridicule him for being stupid.
Similarly, I could project the reductio ad absurdum of something a fundamentalist Christian (or Muslim, or Orthodox Jew) might say, and then bash him or her for probably having such a ridiculous belief.
How much would either of those be worth?
Truth matters. I hope that’s an obvious point, but it seems to bear repeating. There is a plethora of satire and parody out there; I’d be outraged all the time if I took it all seriously, and I don’t ever want to be so cynical that I will assume the worst of humanity without verifying it first.
Truth matters. We should never forget that.