“This is amazing…It is no wonder there are scriptural references to the eagle!”
Thus began an email forwarded to me. An inspirational message about pain being necessary for change stated that an eagle must go through a painful process of ripping out its beak and talons when it is forty years old so that new ones will grow. Then the majestic bird is allotted another 30 years; able to reach the age of seventy. And when it rains this mighty bird soars above the clouds—just as we should. Photographs worthy of National Geographic were spaced between words of encouragement that ended with a command to “forward this message to others.”
The goal of this email was not to inspire. It was to dupe. Eagles only live 30 years, they don’t rip out beaks or talons, and there is no tradition of their flying above the clouds when it rains.
Who would do such a thing? The same sort of people who have perpetuated some of the top urban legends such as the claim that Mr. Rogers had a former secret career as a trained assassin, and that ATM users can quickly contact police in the event of an attempted robbery by entering their PIN in reverse. Cyberspace is full of lies disguised as inspiration, political alerts, health warnings, and prayers. Many come complete with enhanced photographs. The ones that are especially ironic are those stating that “even Snopes has confirmed this,” along with a link to Snopes that attributes it as false. People who forward such emails obviously do not check the link themselves.
A popular forward among Christians are prayers promising something wonderful if the email gets forwarded to ten people in the next ten minutes. I’ve had devout Catholics send me prayers and words of inspirations about angels or saints (sometimes prefaced with “I don’t usually forward these but…”) with big promises attached if I forward quickly and to many.
There are the anti-Obama emails that claim he and Michelle surrendered their law licenses and another story that college transcripts reveal that Obama received a Fulbright Scholarship only awarded to foreign-born students. There are so many disturbing stories about the current administration which are true that the totally made-up ones easily get passed into email traffic.
So what’s the harm? I don’t like Obama anyways and it won’t hurt people to read a prayer and forward it to 10 friends. The problem is that such emails discredit the cause that the sender supports. When people against the president’s actions send out these emails, they end up looking like scaremongers. It has the opposite effect than the sender intended.
Do you support Catholic prayers? If so, then attaching a superstitious formula denigrates true faith. God will answer according to what is best for us. Some accuse Catholics of following formulas when we pray novenas for nine days. The first novena began when the Blessed Mother and the Apostles prayed together for nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost. It is a tradition, not a magic formula. How did the first email forward promising results begin? Not within our Catholic tradition or authority.
Prayer involves trust and faith, not forwards with demands attached. Recipients of such emails either think the sender is foolish or they also forward and thereby perpetuate the notion that prayers are superstitious. The person forwarding did not stop to ask: “By whose authority will I get what I want if I forward to ten people in ten minutes?”
-Pause before hitting the forward button and ask, “Can I trust the content?”
-Be wary of stories that don’t include names of people and cities where events supposedly took place. Can the story be verified?
-Do you like the prayer and find it inspiring? In such a case, go ahead and forward, but first remove the demands to send to a particular number of people within a set time.
-Check the message at sites that investigate email claims:
-Follow up. If you discover the email is a hoax, let the person who sent it to you know and ask that the correction get sent back up the chain.
-Rely on credible news sources. Avoid messages with no author or news source.
It is sometimes hard to know what and whom you can believe, but the bottom line is that forwarding false or scandalous information does not build up the Body of Christ. We can’t completely hoax proof our emails, but by using good judgment we can at least slow down the traffic. In the meantime, we can pray that the hoaxers find a better hobby.