At his trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “I was born and came into the world for one purpose – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice.”
In response, Pilate asked,”Truth? What is truth?”
That’s the question before us now in this “post-truth” era.
Although it’s not a new phenomenon. As Hannah Arendt, trying to make sense of Hitler’s Germany, wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism:
Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda
is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends
entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.
In more recent times, we’ve seen a more playful attitude towards our political scene. In 2006, Merriam-Webster chose ‘truthiness’ – coined by comedian Stephen Colbert – as the word of the year.
But now, in the era of “alternative facts,” we’re not laughing. In 2016, ‘post-truth’ was chosen by the Oxford English Dictionary as the word of the year, defining 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.”
What can we do in the face of the willingness of an over-whelming number of people to abandon factual truth in favor of something that fits their own worldview or addresses their particular fears? A recent article in The Christian Century, Fascism can’t be stopped by fact-checking, advises that “Neo-fascism can only be ‘fact-checked’ by active resistance. It cannot be met halfway but must be opposed by people who are willing to take a courageous stand for an alternative political vision anchored in inclusion and justice.”
This doesn’t mean that we abandon trying to engage those with different views from ours in conversation – as difficult as it may be. But as people of faith, if we truly believe that the Divine rests in each and every one of us, we can dismiss no one from our care and concern.When it comes to talking with individuals about why they voted for #45, we may find it helpful to seek an understanding of their truth: the emotion and personal beliefs that informed their decision.
But when it comes to our elected leaders, it’s a different story. We must hold them to a higher standard – to truth. And when they do not meet that standard, then they will be ‘fact-checked’ by active resistance. When the empire strikes back by calling truth “fake news,” we must resist. And we must demand that the media call out those who propagate lies and ‘alternative facts.’
And we must hold ourselves to a commitment to truth:
- accessing reliable news sources
- fact-checking information, especially on social media sites (please, please, please use TruthorFiction.com or Snopes before you send around that post about schools handing out donuts with Muslim writing in icing, etc.)
- calling out false information shared on social media
We must not allow post-truthiness to become normalized.
We must, like Jesus, bear witness to the truth.