The issue of truth has been in the news a lot lately. Whether people are referring to the ascendancy of fake news or lies on the campaign trail, the issue of what is truth and what is false have come to the center of our cultural conversation. The contemporary concern for truth and truthfulness represents something of an irony since university elites have proclaimed for decades that there is no such thing as truth.
The apparent subversion of truth on numerous fronts has come to the point that Oxford Dictionaries has named “post-truth” their Word of the Year. They define post-truth as
relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotional and personal belief.
We cannot deny that far too often political views are shaped by emotional appeals. However, this is nothing new.
2016 is not the first election in which something besides “objective facts” has played a determining role in elections. For decades, candidates have understood that one of the key factors to the election is how they the public perceives them, i.e. are they trustworthy, likable, etc. In fact, for many this probably plays a more determinant role than any other factor. And yet these perceptions are not based on objective fact. We form them through observation, and we make our subjective interpretations based on our personal values. So emotion and personal beliefs have always been foundational to the political process.
What is perhaps more telling is part of the explanation they provide:
Oxford shows the word spiking in frequency this ear in the context of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the UK, and becoming associated overwhelmingly with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics.
The rise of post-truth in the media appears to be directly correlated to the nationalistic backlash that has pushed many progressives from the center of political power. Thus, the term demonstrates a contempt for those who do not hold a particular political leaning and does so in two ways.
First, calling another’s political engagement is a sleight that claims they have no concern for the truth. By doing so, those using this term hope to discredit the candidate or position that stands opposed to having no grounds in reality. Such an insinuation stands as the height of intellectual snobbery. To insinuate that another is not concerned with truth undercuts responsible and helpful dialogue, which should be the cornerstone of a healthy society.
Second, it exalts as the side reason and intellect while belittling the other to the side of emotion. Saying that proponents of Brexit and Trump engage in post-truth politics miss their appeals to emotional and personal beliefs. Those on the remaining side and those who supported Hillary Clinton were just as swayed by this type of political appeal, whether or not they are willing to admit such. No party is immune to emotional appeals, and it is dishonest to claim otherwise.
As Christians, we cannot deny that events have raised the issue of truth to the center of our cultural conversation. We may be tempted to use a term like post-truth to point out flaws in other systems, but we must refrain from doing so. We who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ cannot label others’ religious beliefs post-truth religion. Others are very concerned with the truth; our commission is to take the truth to them.