Watching the news recently, I have become increasingly discouraged by the manner in which people disagree. It’s one thing to disagree. It’s another to refuse to consider alternative viewpoints. And it’s yet another to vilify the opposition by using derogatory names and making threats of intimidation and even violence as a means to silence and subdue them.
I’ve often wondered, how did we ever come to embody this kind of immature and unproductive public and private discourse? Then a friend recently called my attention to a Bible Gateway blog post from May 17, 2018 that helped make some sense of all this quarrelsome showmanship. Part of the reason we now disagree in such disagreeable and unreasonable ways is because we have now entered into the next “logical” phase of postmodern thought—the “post-truth” phase.
In the blog entitled, “What Does It Mean to Live in a Post-Truth World?”, Jonathan Petersen interviews Abdu Murray about his recent book, Saving Truth. Murray notes, “post-truth relates or denotes circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs. In other words, feelings and preferences matter more than facts and truth.”
My personal desires and feelings have not merely become “my truth” (as they were in postmodernity), they have become more important than truth. They trump truth. Even if someone could be adequately shown that something was true, all that would really matter to them would be whether or not they want it to be true.
There are many ways this manifests itself in contemporary life. I have already noted the stubborn refusal to disagree in a constructive way. If all that matters is how I feel about it, facts are either desire-confirming plusses or irrelevant irritants to be dismissed or derided. Murray articulates another post-truth era effect this way:“Confusion has now morphed into a virtue. Those who are confused sexually are labeled heroes. Those who see morality as a fuzzy category are considered progressive. And those who are confused about religious claims—saying that all paths are equally valid roads to God—are considered ‘tolerant.’”
On the other hand, “If someone is certain or clear on sexual boundaries, that person is a bigot. If a person is clear on the existence of objective moral values and boundaries, that person is regressive. And if someone clearly understands that different religious paths can’t possibly all lead to God, that person is considered intolerant. In other words, confusion has become a virtue and clarity has become a sin.”
Finally, Murray concludes that a post-truth thinker might concede that there is objective truth but would still insist, “I don’t care because my personal feelings and preferences matter more.” Consequently, “Anyone who brings facts that challenge those feelings or preferences is labeled as a ‘hater’ or something similarly derogatory.”
This kind of labelling and name-calling doesn’t boost the potential for having productive interactions between those who disagree. It also makes our job as Christians harder, not only because we still affirm that truth and moral standards are inherent to the fabric of God’s universe, but because we must continue to love and show kindness to those with whom we (even strongly) disagree in a way that still grants them honor and respect. Why? Because they, like us, are still made in and reflect, no matter how dimly, the image of God.
As Christians, we should also exhibit a deep conviction and confidence in the goodness and wisdom of God, a wisdom that sometimes goes against our natural dreams and desires. And this means that some of the things that we and others want to be true and pursue are, by God’s design, false and detrimental to our personal flourishing. In a world still under the curse of sin, we are not designed to ignore reality for the fulfillment of our often-distorted cravings and yearnings.
No doubt, desires and preferences matter, but when they matter more than truth and are allowed to determine reality, we set ourselves up for wide-ranging psychological insecurity, disappointment, and dysfunction. But far more tragically, in subservience to our fickle feelings, we ignore and separate ourselves from the One who created us, loves us, and is goodness, truth, and life itself.