Post-truth, alternative-facts and fake news
What is truth? (John 18:38)
Those are famous words uttered by Pontius Pilate. Whether he meant them as a retort, a genuine question, or both has been debated, but his question has been echoed down through the centuries.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus as the Truth himself stood before him. Here was the man who brought truth and reality into being at creation. Here was the man who delineated the bounds of truth (morals) and told us to tell the truth because otherwise we would be acting contrary to His very nature. Here was the man who will judge all people by the truth and whether they knew the Truth at the end of time. It is a perennially good question to ask!
Truth, simply put, is “that which is in accordance with fact or reality.”
Sadly, we are living in an age that relativizes truth, pushes it to the corner, says it is in the eye of the beholder, that it is not relevant. Humanity has moved from knowing the Truth (pre-Gen 3) to a place where very often it is suppressed in favour of our version of the truth.
In 2016 Oxford Dictionary defined their word of the year as post-truth. Here “post” doesn’t mean “after” as in “post-war” but “beyond” or “irrelevant.” They define it as:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
Truly, this signifies that we’ve moved from being a theonomos culture (where the law of God or the law of nature is self-evident), to where we are not even a heteronomous culture (where someone else sets the law, like a king or a dictator) but have arrived at an ever increasingly autonomous culture where each person decides what truth is for them (the irony being that as soon as they disagree with another’s version of the truth they protest and cease to be autonomous but become heteronomous wishing to impose their view militantly on the other. Hence they operate under the guise of tolerance which is really selfishness).
Most recently we have seen post-truth at play in politics with the coining of another new term: “alternate facts.” This was poked fun at by countless people on social media including by this meme (or spoof) of the old children’s book series Little Golden Book, where a dog is a cat and an egg is soup. It seeks to make the point that post-truth is downright silly.
Fake news has also come into our vocabulary with trust in the mainstream media falling to 32% in the USA. Who are we to believe? Who is telling the truth? What is truth? While I believe in the freedom of speech I cannot help but see that many of those who are “crying wolf” have contributed to the epidemic. The reason why some are using “fake news” is not so much because news has been fake but because it has very often been highly biased and very often interpreted facts narrowly within one worldview (liberal). The very people who have often called evil good and good evil are now upset a similar tactic is being used against them.
It is my prayer all of this post-truth, alternate facts, and fake news nonsense will not drive people into their particular prejudices and result in ignorance but cause us to wake up and ask what is truth?
God asserts that truth is real and that it matters: “do not bear false witness” (Ex 20:16) and “abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Ro 12:9), and that the Bible is God’s standard of truth (Amos 7). Christianity is based on facts (Luke wrote “an orderly [eyewitness] account…that you may have certainty” about Jesus [Lk 1:3–4]). Jesus claimed to be the Truth (Jn 14:6), and that in knowing Him as the Truth would “set you free” (Jn 8:22). That upon believing in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins we would not only be reconciled to God (the greatest reality) but receive the “Spirit of Truth” who would “guide us into all truth” (Jn 16:13). This is not arrogance but a recognition that sin clouds our minds, and that when we have come to Christ and put on Christ we receive a new worldview, a new lens, a new way of looking at things.
It is my hope that as people react against post-truth it might lead them to consider the life giving truth claims of Christianity. The horrible alternate is that we truly are living in a time when people will “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into lies” (1 Ti 4:4).
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,