September 18, 2020

What If Truth Mattered?

"...You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth..."

John 16:13

"...our press secretary, gave alternative facts."

Kellyanne Conway, Presidential Advisor

There was a day when Christians valued “truth” – almost to an unhealthy level. Those days seemingly are gone, now, however, as Christians appear more than willing to accept “alternative facts” from their side of the political aisle. Conway introduced the term into our cultural lexicon in 2017 while attempting to defend President Trump’s outrageous claims of his inaugural ceremony crowd being “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” This despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary. Conway’s display of her legendary ability to say to say easily disprovable things with the seriousness of an assassin signaled to all that we were living in a “post-truth era” where facts were now in the eye – or ear – of the beholder.

Right-wing Evangelical Christians not only believed what Conway was spinning out, they seemed to prefer her “facts.” This is odd to me since my evangelical youth group training often centered on the importance of “absolute truth.”

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“That’s a brown chair, right?” Said the evangelical youth minister of my childhood as he loudly and emphatically placed an office chair in the middle of our circle. “If I told you it was a ‘blue seagull’ that would be untrue, wouldn’t it?” The question brought chuckles from the group.

“If I told you it was not a solid, that would be untrue, wouldn’t it?” he stated while rapping his knuckles on the chair. “Any other explanation of the chair would be untrue, correct?”

“Actually, it’s mostly made of air,” I said, raising my hand. The youth minister gave me a stern glance and continued on.

“That this is a solid, brown chair is an absolute truth and it will always be a solid brown chair, no matter what anyone else might say,” he stated with a serious look.

“Well, the Bible says all of these things will pass away and what is unseen will last forever…” The youth minister held up his palm to stop my statement as he closed his eyes in exasperation.

“Despite Paul’s technicalities,” he said after a deep breath, “we must believe in absolute truth so the ‘relativists’ don’t deceive us in these last days.”

The youth minister’s attempted demonstration was to highlight that “elite thinkers,” who dabbled in questioning the stalwart message taught to us in church were threats not only to truth, but to our very souls and to the Christian values that made America a great country. “Truth matters” we were told.

That was then, however, this is now.

Today, Christians are willing to put away belief in truth to follow our pragmatic hope that political alliances and victories can bring a hoped-for Christian takeover of government and an implementation of conservative Christian political causes.

Avoiding Truth in Order to Not See Truth

Example: The recent Atlantic story highlighting President Trump’s lack of respect for military personnel hardly made a blip on the social media pages of my Christian friends. That Trump called soldiers who fought in American wars “suckers” and “losers” was met with relative Christian indifference. My friends chose to believe the “alternative fact” that the use of anonymous sources made the story “fake news” with a complete blindness to the irony that many of these same people regularly follow and believe anonymous conspiracy website sources, such as QAnon.

Whether the story’s details are completely accurate, we already know this tone was already publicly set by the president’s refusal to acknowledge John McCain as a war hero because McCain “had been captured” and Trump only liked soldiers “who weren’t captured.” In normal times, such statements would be deal-breakers for Christians (who despise NFL players for taking a knee during the National Anthem, an act evangelicals and conservatives claim to be disrespectful to our military personnel.)

Example: Immediately following the Atlantic report came the recorded voice of the president saying, in February, that he knew the Coronavirus was dangerous, was airborne and could seriously infect even young children while admitting that he was publicly downplaying the virus. Surely, the president’s recorded words would be enough to prove to fervent conservative Christians that their beliefs the Coronavirus was a hoax – or at least a Democratic concoction – would melt away.

Not so, however. The evangelical community is too invested in their own narrative on the virus. Too needful of defending their own position that only another simple fib from the president is needed for the “absolutely truth” of the president’s own voice to be drown out by “alternative facts.” Believing truth is no longer the mark of a true American Christian. “Nothing to see here” pragmatism for political purposes is the new rule of the day.

Intellectual Dis-Honesty

Not only is “absolute truth” at a low ebb, but so is intellectual honesty. This was highlighted in a recent post that was cut-and-paste material on the walls of several Christian acquaintances:

The assertions in many lines of this “reasons list” misses that nearly every line has a partisan spin equating conservative ideals to a morally superior level than anyone who might think differently. This intellectual twisting shows that re-posters of this content are either gravely deceived or willfully dishonest. Either way, “absolute truth” is taking it on the chin and is down for the count.

The Dire Consequences of Alternate Facts

As of the writing of this blog we’re nearing 200,000 deaths for Covid-19. That’s 66 times the number people who died on 9/11. The cognitive dissonance of “alternate facts” has taken away the ability to grieve this horrific fact for a people commanded to “mourn with those who mourn.”

This desire for alternative facts has other dire consequences.

George Orwell wrote his book 1984 describing a day when a country would no longer be able to understand facts and, thus, would readily give over control of their government and lives to despotic leaders. Orwell called it “doublethink.” Today, we call it “alternative facts.”

Throughout history dictatorial leaders have sought to undermine media outlets and start their own propaganda agencies in order to manipulate truth to their own benefit.

When a democracy depends on a learned electorate, a lack of accountability to truth for our elected leaders is a danger to that democracy.

Our country is in grave danger of reaching this point today, if we haven’t already. Let’s face it – even most the fervent supporter of this president has to admit he at least plays a bit loose with details and willingly shares what seems reasonable in his own mind, even if it’s not true.

Truth must matter to us. “Facts are stubborn things” an elected leader once said – let’s make facts stubborn again. Securing a Supreme Court majority isn’t worth losing our ability to communicate in truth with one another. We have to let the Spirit of Truth guide us and not be afraid for public scorn for those who would try to make facts “alternate” – particularly our country’s enemies who wish to divide us against one another – can’t succeed.

Let me recommend tips on how to Avoid Sharing Fake News and this article from the Fresno State Institute of Media and Public Trust. Let’s repent of political expediency and, once again, ask God to show us his ways, which are higher than ours, so we can get a heavens-eye view of our world today and turn from our own. It’s not too late that yet God might heal our land if we do.

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