OF RELIGION Field Guide to the

Religious Urban Legends

The email inboxes of most people are regularly stuffed with a variety of "chain letter" emails sent by well-meaning friends. They receive an email themselves that seems to have extremely important, even startling information or warnings. So they forward it by “CC Mail” (the CC stands for the digital version of “carbon copy”) it to everyone in their email address book.

The emails may hysterically warn about some unusual threat to health or safety, insist that readers sign some email petition protesting some alleged Congressional bill that is to go into effect within days that will strip secular or religious freedoms from Americans, or trumpet that secular scientists have made some amazing find that “proves” the Bible to be true. The common factor in all of these emails is that they are often full of inaccurate or garbled facts at best, and totally false--and perhaps even maliciously so--at worst.

After a certain amount of time on the Web, many newcomers to the online world seem to mature out of the temptation to indiscriminately pass along such Urban Legends. Unfortunately, many more never do catch on to the fact that they are spreading false information, and they continue to do so year after year.

More unfortunately still, it is often sincere religious people who are particularly gullible when it comes to passing on what might be termed "Religious Urban Legends." These include inspirational stories that hype the astoundingly miraculous, allegations that Government is planning to curtail religious broadcasting in America at any moment if email readers don't sign some petition and pass it on to large numbers of people, and tales of amazing incidents such as Russian well drillers dropping a microphone down a deep well shaft and hearing "screams of tormented people"--purportedly in Hell.

Christians seem particularly prone to passing on sensational stories which seem to confirm the Bible or aspects of their Faith. What they do not realize is that, when the stories are refuted by the cold, hard facts, they have done a disservice to the cause of the Gospel by making the Christian Faith seem foolish. Here are two such Urban Legends that have made the rounds of the Internet over and over in recent years.


Giants in the Earth

Have archaeologists unearthed gigantic human skeletons in recent years, confirming the Genesis account of “giants in the Earth” before the time of Noah?


NASA and the "Missing Day"

Have NASA scientists "confirmed" the Bible stories of Joshua's Long Day and Hezekiah's Sundial?


If you are tempted to pass on such stories, stop and take a deep breath first ... and then don't hit the "forward" button on your email program. Instead, visit one of the websites described below, and do a little research to find out whether the "almost too good to be true" material you were about to pass on really is the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth ... or a Religious Urban Legend.



Personal from the  Webauthor

I have been on the Internet since 1996, and very actively participating on a number of email forums for most of that time. Throughout the intervening years I have received thousand  of such chain letter emails, on topics both secular and religious. They ranged from hysterical computer virus warnings to hysterical warnings about threats to my religious liberty.

Very early on, I came to understand how stories could take on a life of their own once they hit the Internet, and that many of them were indeed Urban Legends. I discovered how to check out such stories before choosing to pass them on. And the result has been that I can count on the fingers of two hands (and MAYBE add the toes on two feet) how many of all of those thousands of emails actually turned out to be legitimate!  It has been years since I've passed one on. This is not to say that, some time, one that you receive may not be legitimate. But I highly recommend taking the few moments necessary to investigate the reliability of a story before passing it on.


There are two keys to doing such investigation. The very first thing I do when I receive such a CCMail is to use the Google Search Engine to search for copies of the material on the Web.


To do this, I merely pick a distinctive long phrase or sentence out of the email, perhaps with a person's name in it, and enter that into the Google Search Box.

I put the words between quotation marks so that the search will only yield those places where that exact wording is found.

This inevitably brings up a large number of spots on the Web where the same exact material I got in the email is posted. By glancing down the list of locations, it will very quickly become obvious if the email is a common Urban Legend. The top return on such a search is often to an Urban Legend research site such as Hoax-Slayer  or the Urban Legend Reference Pages.  Clicking on any of those entries will usually give you an overview of the status of the story as Truth or Urban Legend.

If it still isn’t clear if the email is an Urban Legend, and if the topic is related to religion or inspiration, I would go directly to one of the sites listed in the Weblinks below and look around.










The website of Christians United for the Truth.

This is an extensive site, updated regularly, which gives information on many specific legends and hoaxes. It also provides sensible advice and commentary about the problem of the gullibility of Christians who pass along these legends and hoaxes without any effort to check on their validity.


Introductory comments from the site:

Did you know that much of the email we receive on a daily basis is based upon lies, rumors, myths, and urban legends?  The following types of messages usually contain lies:

inspirational stories presented as true stories

 virus warnings

 pleas to help sick or dying children by forwarding email

 messages that say that you can get money or gift certificates for forwarding email

 email petitions

 cautionary tales of kidnappings or abductions

 health scares or caution about using particular products

 tales of vast conspiracies

Many well-meaning people forward these type of messages on a daily basis without a second thought.  So, what's wrong with that?  Plenty.

This site is aimed specifically at Christians - those who proclaim that Christ Jesus is their Lord, Boss & Master.  Jesus said that He is "The Way, The Truth, and The Life."  (John 14:6).  Shouldn't knowing THE TRUTH make us 100% truthful people?

Some people might still say, "oh, but this is just a small thing."  Most of these "small" lies can actually hurt real people, real companies, or real organizations.  Whatever happened to bearing false witness?  Many of those calling themselves by the name of Christ are doing this on a daily basis while they are online.

Christians are not only the main sources for spreading internet lies, but they are frequently the target of them.  One 25 year old hoax is specifically aimed at making Christians look stupid and uninformed.  It has worked for 25 years and shows no signs of stopping.  No wonder others think that we are gullible fools who will believe anything we are told without bothering to question it (including our faith in God!).   We must learn to be 100% truthful and learn how to discern the truth from lies.  



From the "About Us" section of the TruthOrFiction website:

TruthOrFiction.com is a web site where Internet users can quickly and easily get information about eRumors, warnings, offers, requests for help, myths, hoaxes, virus warnings, and humorous or inspirational stories that are circulated by email. 

TruthOrFiction.com is designed to be of value to the ordinary user of the Internet who wants to make sure that an email story contains information, not misinformation.

Our focus tends to be on stories that are the most widely-circulated on the Internet.  

Every story on TruthOrFiction.com has either been personally researched by the TruthOrFiction.com staff or, in some cases, is known to be a classic rumor or urban legend that has stood the test of time.  As much as possible, the sources of our information are included in the stories.

This site has a very comprehensive menu of categories that makes finding information on specific topics easy. Field Guide readers may find the category of "Religious-Spiritual" of particular interest.





Unless otherwise noted, all original material on this Field Guide website
is © 2001-2011 by Pamela Starr Dewey.

Careful effort has been made to give credit as clearly as possible to any specific material quoted or ideas extensively adapted from any one resource. Corrections and clarifications regarding citations for any source material are welcome, and will be promptly added to any sections which are found to be inadequately documented as to source.



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