The Independent Press Standards Organisation has had to make a judgment against that scholar, statesman and all-round paragon of civic virtue, Boris Johnson. In a column for the Daily Telegraph (for which he receives £275,000 a year) Johnson referred to polling which indicated that a no-deal Brexit was increasingly and overwhelmingly becoming the favoured option of the British public. A statistician from Reading, obviously someone wholly and embarrassingly caught up in old-fashioned “reality-based” models of discourse, complained, saying that there was no evidence of such polling or shift in the public’s opinion at all.
The newspaper defended their columnist, completely justifiably, saying that:
…the article was clearly an opinion piece, and readers would understand that the statement was not invoking specific polling – no specific dates or polls were referenced. …the writer was entitled to make sweeping generalisations based on his opinions… it was clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters.https://www.ipso.co.uk/rulings-and-resolution-statements/ruling/?id=00154-19
Michael Stirling, the statistician, unreasonably told The Guardian: “a potential prime minister shouldn’t be able to make things up in a weekly column”.
You see, that’s where Mr Stirling is wrong. A potential prime minister should be able to make things up in a weekly column, in fact the British public expect him to make things up in a weekly column, and I have here numerous opinion polls which, satisfyingly, concur with my opinion. Opinion becomes fact, through the magical medium of wishful thinking.
Which makes me think about preaching. How often does preaching manifest itself as an opinion piece, with no connection to specific learning, chock full of sweeping generalisations based on sincerely but wishfully held opinions, and in no way confusable with “a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”? All we can hope for, infrequently, is that it might be “clearly comically polemical”, and by that I don’t mean a weak jokey story at the beginning, three paragraphs all beginning with the same letter in the middle, and a pun at the end.
How many times do we preach, as if our sermons have absolutely nothing to do with the truth?
(an unfashionable idea, I know, and certainly one that will never catch on).
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and “polemical opinion pieces.”
Preaching the Christian Gospel must never fall into any one of those categories.