“Say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction’. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips’” (Jeremiah 7:28)
These are the words of the prophet Jeremiah speaking to the nation of Israel about 2,600 years ago, but they may just as well have been spoken to the nations of the world now.
Tell me honestly; do you know what is true any more when it comes to the news, political utterances, and social media?
I don’t! It disappoints me, but I have to admit that I have become sceptical to the point of cynicism. When it comes to most politicians and most news media, I have moved from ‘not easily convinced’ towards ‘distrustful of human sincerity and integrity’.
The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016 is ‘post-truth’. They define this composite word as describing ‘circumstances where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Perhaps I would not have taken this too seriously if I had not been closely following both the Brexit bruhaha and the US elections rumpus. I watched with amazement as internationally recognised news anchors and political commentators displayed the most blatant bias in their reporting. They rephrased items of ‘fact’ and added an obvious spin accompanied by sneers, smirks and dismissive gestures. My amazement turned to outrage, and finally to sadness.
The first of the ‘post’ words that demanded my attention some years ago was the word ‘post-modern’, commonly referring to the last quarter of the twentieth century. Post-modern would at least mean ‘an era after the modern one’, however, we seldom use it in this way. More often, we refer to post-modern as an era of radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, religions, and so on. During this period philosophers, and even some church leaders, sowed the poisonous seed of what would later grow into a post-Christian worldview. For at least the last 20 years there has been a definite shift away from the predominance of Christian beliefs and ethics in politics, economics, and sociology. This erosion has resulted in the loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in political affairs in favour of secularism and nationalism. The result is what some social commentators have labelled a ‘post-Christian’ worldview.
During the 20th century, some church leaders tried to ‘save’ the Bible from scorn and disuse by attempting to de-supernaturalise it. People, like Bishop Spong, believed that only a scientifically validated faith could survive the times. I remember attending a faculty meeting of the theological department of a public university where some of the professors were arguing that for Christian theology to survive we would need to align it closely with the sciences. Later came the seeker-sensitive substitute for the Gospel, emergent church liberalism on the one hand, and a warmed up version of dominionism going under the label of the New Apostolic Reformation.
From these post-modern seeds grew the weeds of relative truth and individualistic or group norms for belief and righteousness.
It isn’t hard to see how this would grow into what is now termed the post-truth era. If truth is relative to circumstances and subordinate to expediencies then the lines between right and wrong, moral and immoral, true and false, become so feint that they all but disappear.
‘Fake news’ inundates the media and the internet and social media are replete with irrational and often mischievous announcements and ‘revelations’.
The American Intelligence chiefs use uncorroborated information as part of their presidential briefings, newspapers publish it, TV hosts discuss it with panels of so-called experts, and the public believes it… Well not all of us. In addition, this morass of half-truth, untruth and misinformation even extends its swampy reach to the church. Ministers of the Gospel pull people’s legs and claim that they are thus healed (pull the other one), self-serving teachings abound, and truth is relative to a plethora of personal interpretations.
Standing in stark contrast to all this is Jesus, the one who repeatedly said, “I tell you the truth”, and who defined Himself as THE truth. Surely, the only antidote to the post-truth poison of our times is a radical return to the primacy of Jesus, His teachings, His way, and His revelation of the God of Truth. Moreover, if we are to stem the dark tide of post-modern, post-truth untruth, then we need to hold others to account. As ambassadors of the truth, we should challenge our politicians and the news media and politely demand that they back up their claims and rumours with hard evidence and logical deductions. One of the ways we can demonstrate our dissatisfaction is by withdrawing our support. We can stop paying for fallacious news services, we can vote only for truthful politicians and their parties, and we can demand explanations when disinformation comes our way, in whatever forms it comes.
More than this, we need to commit ourselves to speaking and living out the truth and thus BE people of Truth in a post-truth world.