Living in a Post-Truth World (Part 1)
by Matt Hunt
The Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 is ‘post-truth’. It is defined as “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016.
The judges commented on how the concept of post-truth has been around for the last decade, but that there has been a spike in its use during 2016, particularly using the Brexit poll in June and the run up to the US Presidential election in October, as it has been closely aligned to the noun “post-truth politics”.
There has been much commentary on the Christian response to post-truth, particularly as it regards the rejection of one of the basic tenets of a stable, truly tolerant society – objective truth. Ravi Zachrias has written,
“It is interesting that the media, which flirts with untruths, and the academy, which never hesitates to replace absolutes by postmodern relativism, have come together to give our culture a new word,” said Ravi Zacharias. “Their explanation was not so much that they were coining a new word as that they were affirming a reality—a truth about the way we coddle the lie, the ultimate self-defeating statement.”
That webpage is a worthwhile read!!
But I want to raise another issue regarding truth that Christians should consider – an issue not to contradict Zacharias and others, but to consider alongside. The challenge of post-modernity is not merely towards the concept of ‘objective truth’. It also challenged how modernity understood we engaged with truth. Modernity, deeply steeped in the scientific method of the Enlightenment, narrowed our engagement with ‘objective truth’ to the ‘proveable, evidenced’ testing of what is true and what is not. This was a great step forward of the scientific method, it challenged us to understand truth from an objective sense, outside of our own personal feelings or sense about what is true. Post-truth, as defined and as Zacharias and his team argue, is a movement away from this modernist foundation of how to define what is true and what is not, thus leaving society opened up to the challenge that Abdu Murray writes on www.rzim.org page,
“The problem comes when we elevate feelings over facts, believing that personal preferences are what determine meaning and fulfilment. Objective truth is jettisoned. The transcendent is jettisoned. We no longer just elevate personal preferences over truth. We elevate our own personal preferences over the preferences of others. When that happens, freedom will die the most ironic of deaths under individual autonomy’s machete.”
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