The Notre Dame Fire reveals how we find “the truth”

Fire destroys. But when a building burns, the fire also reveals: old art, former paint jobs, things hidden for centuries.

And the most striking thing the flames revealed was how we interpret events. It turns out that we are hardwired away from objectivity in our interpretations, that we will make snap judgments about who did what, who started the fight, who lied, based on what we already “know to be true.” I wrote about how the flood of social media in this century has made the situation incredibly worse, so that one despairs of finding the truth:

We are attracted to headlines that fit into our “confirmation bias”; that is, we tend to believe what they say if they confirm what we already believe, but reject them if they run contrary to our beliefs.

And so even while Notre Dame was in flames, people rushed to social media to interpret its meaning. As I said, while the firefighters were still hosing it down. That is – and let’s underscore this – before a single investigator was able to open the case.

The assumption is: “I know what I know, and therefore I am more capable than some so-called “expert” in fires to tell you what’s what.”

I was on a break from social media at the time, but “dipped in” a bit and found these theories that purported to reveal the truth behind the fire:

  • Notre Dame burned, because it was a place where people worshiped Mary
  • Notre Dame burned, because it is decorated with “demonic-looking” gargoyles
  • Notre Dame burned, because Muslims terrorists ignited it
  • Notre Dame burned, because ecumenists want to unite Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants (against a common enemy, the Muslims)
  • Notre Dame burned, because gays are angry at the Catholic church
  • Notre Dame burned, because it was a Masonic Fire Ritual or done by the New World Order
  • Notre Dame burned, but only Alt Right conspiracy theorists imagine it might be arson
  • The Government of France will lie about it, because governments always lie.
  • According to one source, Pat Robertson blamed it on the “Gay Illuminati” (!); people who are inclined to think Robertson is a crank (and I count myself one of them) will probable take that report at face value. But it seems to be fake news, I cannot find Robertson saying this anywhere, and so I will not post the link where I found it
  • Of course, as always happens in such events, some blamed the “Zionists” or “the Jews” or the Rothschilds
  • One rabbi called it divine judgment for a book burning in Paris. In the 13th century
  • God torched Notre Dame because it was named for “Our Lady” Mary. This from the article “What Holy Spirit Told Me About Notre Dame Burning” (in Charisma News from yesterday, which is the site of many such revelations)
  • God torched Notre Dame, as a warning to the European Union
  • And finally: “There Is No Profound Meaning to the Notre Dame Fire” runs a New Republic headline yesterday

SO: Read any event, any day, through your own glasses, and the right answer will pop out! At least, the answer that fits in with your cognitive bias and thus feels right to you. You resonate with one theory more than another. And we tend to label those with other lenses with being sheeple or naïve.

Before closing, let me point out that some are being deceptive about the fire. Here is a headline that trumpets, “ISIS Supporters Cheer As Fire Rips Through Notre Dame Cathedral In Paris.” But there’s a bit of a problem! The photo was taken way back in 2014.


A (now former) FB friend of mine posted an article from The Telegraph on his page while the fire was still burning:

The problem? This is an article, headline, and picture from 2016, not 2019! When I criticized him for his “deception” he told me No, no deception! When I pointed out that, when a building is burning and you post that, gasoline and Arabic books were found on the site, and don’t bother to mention that the dates were off by three years, then it’s deception. He disagreed, mainly because he “knew” the Muslims torched Notre Dame this week, and so, apparently, posting an old headline without any qualification was “the truth”.

So, maybe Muslim terrorists will be found to be the culprits, who knows at this stage (I’ll update this article later when the facts come in). But just as an exercise, what if I posted a picture of Notre Dame with a headline that goes like this?

In fact, my caption is as “true” as The Telegraph one that others are posting from 2016, true in the US at least: White Nationalist “Christians” are the culprits of the great majority of church (and mosque, and synagogue) attacks. But people will find that such a post was shockingly unfair and deceptive! And of course, I agree. But, isn’t it also true that loving our neighbor means that we don’t do to them, what we don’t want done to us? So let’s none of us do it!

The Bible tells us to believe the truth, not what we feel sounds like the truth.

Also just in: the chatter that Muslims in Paris where screaming “Alluhu Akbar!” while watching fire raging in the Cathedral of Notre Dame is still unfounded rumor, as is the one about the Muslim standing in the steeping and shouting “Alluhu Akbar” during the fire.

“The Notre Dame Fire reveals how we find ‘the truth'”, by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

5 thoughts on “The Notre Dame Fire reveals how we find “the truth”

  1. On my feed, I saw a post with pictures of the “demonic” gargoyles, suggesting that that was the cause.

  2. Gary, I fully expected to see FB posts in my feed along the lines of what you have described above. Mercifully, none of my FB friend speculated on causes (human or divine). In general, my FB friends mourned the loss of art and history and testimony to human work. Whether we agree or disagree with the motivation that prompted the human work that went into constructing Notre Dame, surely we cannot be so hateful that we disparage the physical labor that our fellow human beings expended, or the very real physical benefits that may have accrued from that labor. Who would deny a man the satisfaction of feeding his family as the result of a hard day of toil? And now, perhaps, we will see the positive side of human nature as people rally to rebuild a national treasure, regardless of secular or sacred preferences. Thanks, as always, for posting thought-provoking commentary on contemporary issues.

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