The Babylon Bee is basically the conservative Christian version of The Onion. But the satirical site is now the subject of a strange sort of controversy because many Christians have been sharing stories from the site as if they were actual news. Sometimes, that’s the hallmark of good satire — you can’t even tell the difference between fact and fiction — but in this case, it’s led to an argument with the fact-checking website Snopes.
A few weeks ago, the Bee published a story with the title, “Georgia Lawmaker Claims Chick-Fil-A Employee Told Her To Go Back To Her Country, Later Clarifies He Actually Said ‘My Pleasure.’”
Instead of just calling that “satire” and moving on, Snopes said in the original version of its fact-check that the site was “fanning the flames of a controversy” and “muddying the details of a news story.”
To put it another way, it wasn’t satirical enough, which meant it was being accused of peddling actual false news, which meant it could be penalized by Facebook. Snopes has since revised its article about the Bee to say it’s satire without any further allegations.
But there’s another side to this issue as well. According to a study done by researchers at The Ohio State University, plenty of Christians believe the Bee‘s stories are real. Christianity Today explains:
Members of both parties failed to recognize that The Babylon Bee is satire, but Republicans were considerably more likely to do so. Of the 23 falsehoods that came from The Bee, eight were confidently believed by at least 15 percent of Republican respondents. One of the most widely believed falsehoods was based on a series of made-up quotes attributed to Rep. Ilhan Omar. A satirical article that suggested that Sen. Bernie Sanders had criticized the billionaire who paid off Morehouse College graduates’ student debt was another falsehood that Republicans fell for.
In a sense, then, Snopes was right to be worried. People aren’t sharing these articles because they’re funny, but because they believe they’re true.
These days, one can hardly be blamed for not being able to tell the difference between satire and reality, but I have a guess as to why Christians — particularly right-leaning, evangelical ones — are more prone to confusing the two: They have a tendency to take things literally, even when they’re not meant to be. It happens with Scripture; it’s not surprising to see that tendency spill over into other texts.
I would also argue that many conservative Christians lack the ability to poke fun at themselves, something the Babylon Bee does fairly well. While we may be used to Onion headlines, white evangelicals aren’t as used to seeing similar headlines mocking their own culture in a lighthearted way. Unfortunately, the publication has been known for sometimes pushing the envelope too far and crossing the line between satire and outright bullying — particularly when it comes to transgender people — so this is hardly the last time it’ll be involved in a scandal of its own making.