Note: This is the first in a three-part series about living in a post-truth culture, a series that has come out of a number of discussions, teachings, and writings that have occurred lately on the very issue. Part one is simply the annotation of a continuing problem that has existed since the introduction of sin into our world.
In addition to creating headlines for their own paper, The New York Times is also making headlines by revealing its stance on truth. In conjunction with last year’s Academy Awards, editors published an ad that read “The truth is hard. The truth is hard to know. The truth is more important than ever.” Perhaps as a follow-up to last year’s stand, they continued that theme in conjunction with this year’s Golden Globe awards with a two-page ad that simply read, “He said. She said. He said. She Said. He said. She said.” followed by, “she said” another 144 times and then on the next page, “The truth has a voice.” Certainly, this was meant to draw attention to the #metoo movement, especially in light of the revelations of the Hollywood sexual scandals. Then, just a day later came yet another remark that read, “The truth has power. The truth will not be threatened. The truth has a voice” (1). It’s interesting to note that The New York Times calls for truth come at a time when public confidence in the reliability of newspapers remains considerably low. Most recently it was found to be at 27%, which is an increase from an all-time low 20% just a year prior (2) However, it’s hardly a number worth bragging about considering that it means that almost three-fourths of the population have limited confidence in newspapers and that confidence level is lower than the average approval rating of any president in the modern era (our current president is not yet accounted for in this statistic) (3). Regardless of who it comes from, the repeated reminder of the need to emphasize the truth underscores a severe crisis in today’s culture.
Such a battle is not confined by the limits of time. In 2016, Oxford chose as its word of the year, post-truth (4). The result is the characterization of the era in which we live as one that has a greater desire to choose emotions, opinions, and feelings over truth, logic, and rationalization and tells us the problem has been in place for several years. Yet, we can go back further. Throughout the Gospels, the interactions that Jesus had with many was one characterized by a constant rejection of truth. Consider especially the interaction between Jesus and Pilate just before Christ’s crucifixion in which Pilate asks, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This sarcastic question was an open rejection of truth (not even accounting how the crucifixion is the ultimate rejection of truth). Thus, the existence of a conflict redefining the truth is one that has existed for some time. However, go back even further and watch the serpent deceive Eve in the Garden of Eden in such a way that both denies and distorts the truth (Genesis 3). Thus, trying to escape the truth is something that has existed since the principal era of creation.
Not only is this battle not confined by time, but it is also not confined by physical borders.
The issue of post-truth became a hot topic for the United Kingdom when they pulled themselves from the European Union (5). Even The Times of India picked up the story noting similarities in the 2016 United States election and the Brexit campaign (6). Perhaps the most significant example is Open Doors annual World Watch List, which was released on Wednesday (7). The list contains 50 of the most dangerous places to be a Christian, detailing open persecution, oppression, and antagonism towards those who profess Christ that results in imprisonment, confinement, and even death. It is by far the most blatant suppression of truth because it suppresses Jesus Christ and His word, which are equated with truth (John 14:6; 17:17).
Finally, if the crisis of truth is not limited by borders, it certainly is not limited by cultures either. With fascination, I have observed how the issue of post-truth has infected the nation of Argentina, where I currently live. When a missing submarine made national headlines shortly before the Christmas season, most understood the severity of the crisis and recognized that something went wrong although details were limited. Those details that did exist pointed to some sort of mechanical failure (whether it be something beyond control or something that could have been minimized by proactively caring for the sub). The response that made its way through the headlines here was that England had fired a torpedo upon the submarine and it was their fault. Additionally, the government was at fault for not utilizing the right resources to search for the submarine, including a helicopter that should submerge an apparatus to pluck the submarine from the ocean floor, thus saving the lives of those on board. And thus, untruth thrived in an unchecked manner. Whether it be politics in the United States, the story of a missing submarine, or even issues of the Bible, I’ve watched people not only be mislead, but believe without question the deceit and untruth being spread. It has become such an issue here that Clarin (a newspaper read by one-fifth of the population) made it the primary topic of their weekly magazine distributed with the Sunday edition (much like The New York Times includes a short ‘culturally-oriented’ magazine in their Sunday edition) (8).
We exist in the midst of a crisis. It’s a crisis of truth. Few know what truth is and even fewer take a proactive approach to searching out the truth. Thus the era of post-truth, if we choose to use that as an adjective to define this era (personally, I prefer something different, but most understand this word better), is not bound by time, borders, or cultures. Instead, it is a crisis that transcends varying hurdles. However, simply identifying a crisis isn’t enough. We must look at some parameters behind it and how we as Christians must respond. Those topics will be dealt with in the forthcoming parts two and three of this series.
Photo “new york times” courtesy of user samchills and Flickr.
(1) For further discussion about The New York Times ads about truth, click here to read or listen to Dr. R. Albert Mohler’s analysis of some important points that come from the discussion.