Truth in a Post-Fact Culture (#316)

President-elect Donald Trump early next year will nominate President Barack Obama to serve on the Supreme Court. This is true because I read it on social media. But some will respond to this news by saying: “That can’t be true. How do you know it’s true?” My answer is simple: “A lot of people are saying that, and besides, it feels like it’s true to me. It’s the truth I choose to believe.”

Of course, it’s not true. It’s absurd. But it’s where we’re headed and we may have already arrived there. When a president-elect can assert that the Chinese government created the crisis of climate change as a hoax or that millions of people voted illegally in the November election and people accept this as a matter of fact, then it’s hard not to deny we’ve entered into a post-fact culture where just stating a wild thought that has passed through our heads makes it true. Of course, when it’s your crazy uncle spouting such stuff at the Thanksgiving table, it’s one thing. When it’s a person with a great deal of power, it’s another, much scarier, thing all together.

Recently, a North Carolina man was arrested after he walked into a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. carrying an assault rifle. The man told police he had come there to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread on social media during the presidential campaign. This week, a Florida woman was charged with making death threats against the parent of a child killed in the Sandy Hook school massacre because the woman thought the attack was a hoax and that the parent was using the hoax as an attempt to take away her gun rights. Both of these poor souls chose to believe something that was absurd. But it felt true to them, bless their hearts.

We didn’t arrive at this point in our culture without a lot of groundwork being laid. During the last half of the 20th Century we entered what has become known as “post-modernism,” where the very idea of truth existing apart from one’s experience or belief came into question. Jacques Derrida and other leading intellectuals challenged any truth claims that weren’t contextualized to a person’s or tribe’s experience. In theology, something called Situational Ethics became popular taking post-modern contextualism to its logical conclusion: that we must be flexible in applying moral laws based on a person’s circumstance; that there’s no moral law that exists beyond a person’s context.

The chickens have come home to roost on this liberal project and it’s highly ironic that white supremacists like Richard Spencer and other neo-fascists are using the language of post-modern contextualism to mainstream their convictions. After all, they contend they’re entitled to their version of the truth claiming “America belongs to white men.” In a culture where everyone gets to have their own truth, who’s to tell them they’re wrong?

Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus on Good Friday (“What is truth?”) resonates even more powerfully today. For Christians, the way ahead will be perilous. Still, no matter what, we must insist on the universal and timeless truth of God’s grace, mercy, and compassion for all people through the merits of Jesus Christ. No exceptions.



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