I’ve been hearing for years from Christian podcasters about our “post-truth culture” and I’ve silently nodded in agreement without giving a lot of thought to what that term actually means. That saddens me because far too often Christians like me occasionally sign on to ideas that we’ve not thought through all that well. We just think if smart, spiritual people say it, it must be true.
So what is a Post Truth Culture? It does not mean there is no truth anymore. Or that our leaders or news sources are just telling us lies they know are untrue. (Although that is sometimes true.) Most of the Christian thought leaders I respect think of “post-truth” this way; Until roughly 60 years ago, the general population almost universally understood that the source of absolute spiritual, moral, and ethical truth existed outside of ourselves. Individual humans did not determine what was true!
In 2016 Oxford Dictionary named “Post Truth” word of the year. Their definition was; “Relating to, or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In other words, facts have become less important than opinion. But the truly scary part about post-truth is that everyone believes they are basing their truth on facts and it’s only the opposition who are not.
If you were a Christian, God and the Bible defined those moral, spiritual, and ethical truths. If you were a child your parents understood it was their duty to teach you these truths, live by these truths and tell you the truth. (Santa was an exception!) Your parents and members of your church may not have always lived out those truths consistently, but almost everyone agreed on them because the Bible said so.
Even if you weren’t a Christian most individuals generally understood some things were always right and other things always wrong. Adultery, divorce, stealing, telling lies, hateful talk, disrespecting your elders, and disobeying the law were wrong. And the society you grew up in determined which truths would govern your communal life. Their ideas weren’t always true, but because everyone accepted them they became the communal truth the community lived by. Virtue was celebrated. Violating the community’s rules was frowned upon. These universally accepted ideas “glued” societies together.
And we generally trusted our leaders. I grew up listening to Walter Cronkite read the news on TV. No editorializing. Just the facts. Published books and newspapers all were facts checked. We may not agree with the writer but if he/she quoted another person we could trust that quote to be accurate. Today, very few bloggers, or podcasters have editors, or fact checkers who can call them out before they blurt out some half-truths.
When Time Magazine on its cover in 1966 asked, Is God Dead? they weren't asking a question. Many in educational circles had already concluded God and his truth were no longer needed or wanted. Humans and each person individually had the right to determine for themself what was morally, ethically, and spiritually “true.” There is no absolute moral truth they declared. And heaven forbid if any religious person tried to impose their truth on anyone else! They arrogantly declared we are “past” being governed by truth outside of ourselves and the terms “my truth,” and “your truth” found their way into our language, thinking, and culture.
The ’60s ushered in the greatest era of counter-cultural thinking and behavior the world had ever experienced. No-fault divorce was introduced because a “fault” was no longer needed. “I just don’t love you anymore,” was good enough. And millions of married people took the offer! “Trust No One Over 30” bumper stickers appeared on college students' cars. Hippies gave up on society. We found out the government had lied to us about the war in Vietnam. Race riots, student riots, and the sexual revolution became everyday news. The nudity at Woodstock shocked older people, but students were thrilled by it. Societal norms were unraveling. Every truth was being tested, questioned, and rejected by millions who loved being free of absolute truths.
The Internet didn’t cause this breakdown in truth, but it accelerated it. Every day we are bombarded with someone’s “truth.” And even those of us who are serious about obeying God often spend more hours listening and reading someone’s opinion of truth rather than studying the Bible. Having said that, the Bible isn’t always clear on every contemporary issue that we are faced with. So how do we find discover truth and tune out falsehoods on current social, ethical issues?
First, here’s what not to do. Do not look to news, opinion sources, bloggers, or politicians for living out moral truth . Don’t trust FOX, or CNN, Republicans, or Democrats, or any source trying to make you angry and identifying those who disagree with them as your enemy. Their primary objective is not to instruct you on a biblical worldview. They are trying to persuade you to follow them and distrust everyone else. They need your clicks and votes to stay in business and office so they are going to tell you what your itching ears want to hear. Hoping to get moral and ethical wisdom from any secular source is just lazy Christianity.
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but have itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teaches to suit their passions.” 2Timothy 4:3
(And by the way, every Christian I know believes this verse is true of others, but not of themselves! “Confirmation bias” tempts all of us to look for sources who agree with us and dismiss those that do not. We all need Holy Spirit wisdom to discern the truth.)
My second suggestion is to pray about identifying two or three pastors, or teachers who you do trust to teach you truth from God’s perspective with no other objective than that. Your pastor will hopefully be on that list. I listen regularly to Tim Keller, The Gospel Coalition, Alistair Begg and Chip Ingram podcasts. They start with the Word of God and then often apply it to current issues. The only anger they encourage you to have is over your sin not other people. They and others can be depended on to teach you the truth, even if it hurts. And each of these people, or their organizations have staff and boards who hopefully are providing feedback and warnings if a teacher wanders into questionable territory.
My third suggestion is to begin listening to or watching your regular secular news sources with more discernment. It’s common media wisdom the best way to build an audience is by making people afraid, then providing a solution to their fears so your audience begins to trust them as the only source they can trust for “facts-based journalism.” As you watch, or listen pay careful attention to three things:
1. Are they giving you all the facts? In court, we require witnesses to tell “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” In other words, the court understands it is not enough to simply not lie. But is there any additional information you have that the court should know to come to a just decision? Most secular new sources are not lying to us. But rarely do I hear the whole story- a balanced story. What you often hear are selected quotes from the opposition coupled with the worst possible interpretations that many times bear no relationship to the intent of the person making them.
2. Do your homework and investigate these claims yourself before you pass them on to others. I’m still shocked that smart spiritual people keep sending me videos and blogs that can be fact-checked in a few minutes and found either outright wrong or misleading. Confirmation bias on steroids is “oxygen” for a post-truth culture.
3. Here’s where it’s going to get uncomfortable. I urge you to listen regularly to a news source you do not agree with. How else would you know if you’re getting “the whole truth?” I listen to NPR every day. I want to know what liberals believe and why. They also report news that conservative news sources downplay. Then I try to form in my mind what the "whole truth" is. Then I practice what I would say to those who believe things I do not. That exercise prepares me for thoughtful, biblical conversations with non-Christians, or even Christians who may not hold a biblical worldview.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17
You may be thinking, “Clare, I think you’re expecting too much from these news sources. They aren’t the Church or Christian.” Exactly! Yet for hours each day, Christians expose themselves to their teaching and how can you not be affected by it? When computers became part of our lives this motto came into vogue, “Garbage in garbage out!” But before that, every Christian kid learned this line from a song in Sunday School, “Be careful little ears what you hear…”
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom…” I Corinthians 1:25