The 2016 word of the year award has been given to ‘post truth’ apparently. A definition of post truth being:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:
‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’.
The philosopher AC Grayling in http://www.bbc.com/news/education-38557838 warns of the “corruption of intellectual integrity” and damage to “the whole fabric of democracy” that results from post truth. The connectability through social media and the power of ‘fake news’ is opening up a new world, one which many warn is not too dissimilar to that of the 1930s. In the article on the BBC Grayling does just this saying ‘the international landscape is more like the volatile, intolerant era before World War Two.’ If the thesis of Strauss-Howe (The Fourth Turning) holds then there is a more-or-less 100 year cycle which would also point to the dangers of the coming era.
Michael Shermer, author of The Believing Brain says that any challenge to one’s beliefs activates the same area of the brain that is involved in giving us our personal identity and raising an emotional response to threat. To consider an alternative belief is to be pushed to considering an alternative version of oneself. The power then of post-truth and of fake news plays into this. We all to readily accept what is said – and those in power are exploiting this – to believe something that resonates with our identity rather than question it. If it resonates then the ‘truth’ of it is secondary.
We are not yet fully to the end of the 100 year cycle, we are not quite at 1930, but the stage is set. The end of 50 years of peace in Western Europe seems unthinkable. Yet to suggest some 10 years ago that a post truth era would become established and politicians could run campaigns so blatantly based on that would have been equally unthinkable.
The power of the Gospel is that it challenges our identity. It challenges all belief systems, for it is foolishness to the Greek. It is contrary to what motivates our world system. It is a call to lose one’s life not find it. It is a call to believe in a God who will not bail us out but who will be crucified. We have an opportunity to sow now for the future, so that the 30s of the 21st century might not repeat the 30s of the 20th century. A handful of modest suggestions for the followers of Christ might be along these lines:
- We do not swear allegiance to any power other than God. Surely by doing so we are taking on a measure of blindness. I appreciate that this could be viewed differently depending on one’s national background, however by being a member of the body of Christ I am by definition trans-national before any other national identity, and as Rowan Williams recently wrote about baptism that it does not set us apart from humanity but immerses us even deeper within it.
- That whatever our political preferences we do not believe that the truth lies on the right or the left. That we are able to honour those who are politically of a different persuasion to us with genuine honour. If we do not then we are inviting powers to shape us that will exploit us.
- That we are slow to believe everything critical, and refuse to tar all people of a certain category with the same brush.
- That we listen to the opposite of what simply confirms us in our beliefs. If our identity is being renewed then there is likely to be something in the voice of others that God will use to help shape us. The Spirit works incarnationally.
- We carry a generosity of spirit, and a passionate belief that God is at work on the big canvas and that we do not elevate our few pixels to being the whole image.