As this year grows to a close, my mind in muddled in the confusion and mystery of the past twelve months. Of course, the US election dominates any review. The question is how do we frame it? There are many perspectives and sidebars to this political year, each deserving a well thought out discussion. However, one could get lost in the particulars. If you are an American you have heard the discussions, ad nauseam. What did the Clinton campaign do wrong? Why were the blue-collar workers ignored by the Democrats? How did the Republicans, Trump specifically, use the media to their advantage? What about the great principles that divide the two major parties? One principle, you might say, is pro-social programs and bigger government. The other is in favor for less government, stronger military, and less social welfare. Did the Republicans win because Americans want less government and a bigger military? Why did Evangelicals vote for Trump, who personally violate all their ideals of morality?
What I think is the much bigger issue, is the fact that 2016 will be the year when the concept of real truth, was met with demise. Politics are always dishonest. However, as far as I know, there has never been more lies told during an election than this year. This will be a lasting impact from this year. Not only was there a totally reckless disregard for truth and accuracy, but those who lied the most (per Politico ratings) did the best. This will most likely set a precedent for years, if not decades to come. This model will not only influence political endeavors but, I expect, all of life.
This loss of truth has been coming for a very long time. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when reason was at its height, the pursuit of truth was taken to an art form. The only problem was, the view of reason was based on the Aristotlean view of reason being infallible. Then that view was taken to the extreme position that; 1) reason can lead you to pure truth every time (if done well), and 2) the ultimate source of reason is taken from the senses (empirical). This became the birth of modern atheism. Under this new understanding of Aristotelian philosophy, if reason is built only on empirical evidence, then, if something cannot be observed, it cannot be true.
This form of pure (unfallen) reason could not be sustained. It resulted in the great disillusionment of the twentieth centuries, being ushered in by the first and second world wars. The optimism of the 1800s suggested that reason would take us into a better and better world. When that did not happen (based on moral failures and the fact that reason does have its limits) there was a great disillusionment about reason. Both the secular and Christian worlds started to give up on reason by 1900. This surrendering of hope only worsened during WWI and WWII. It came to the Christians in the form of irrational faith through mysticism and the consideration of reason as faith’s nemesis. It came to the secular world through what is generally labeled as Post-Modernism.
We, Christians, were warned by the futurists and prophets (I use that last term lightly, not seriously) such as Francis Schaeffer, that we must stand guard against the loss of reason. His most famous book, Escape from Reason, was his first shot across this bow. However, he saw the source of the loss of truth within the secular world. In the early part of the twentieth century, the period Schaeffer was most familiar with, there was already experimentation among the secularists of the world of the absurdity (were “truth” was extraneous to life and the only thing that mattered was experience).
What neither Schaeffer (or myself) didn’t see coming. was that this post-reason culture would find its best home within Evangelicalism. It has never been clearer than this year, when you were more likely to get a ridiculous conspiracy theory video link from a Christian than a non-Christian. But how did this happen?
I believe the roots of this loss of truth were sewed during the first decade of the twentieth century. Corresponding to the secular movement into the post-modern absurdity, there was a so-called revival starting within Evangelicalism that was based on irrationality. This movement evolved into the charismatic movement of the 1960s through the present. I was part of some of those groups in the seventies and clearly, reason was strongly discouraged as “worldly.”
Stemming from this movement came the TV evangelists (many from the different variations of the “Churches of God.”) They were charismatics who had adopted a prosperity Gospel approach to getting personal wealth (at all cost). Jim and Tammy Bakker were examples of this movement. It is within this environment that they all entered this factitious world of christo-show business. In this world, not only was reason devalued but where lies highly appraised. Those lies were the means to money, fame, and manipulation.
Frank Schaeffer tells the story (in Crazy for God) about when he and his father first came to America to promote their films. They spent the night with Pat Robertson and the next morning they were going to appear on his talk show. They all got up together, had breakfast, and headed to the studio. While sitting in the makeup room together, Pat started to tell his makeup artist an amazing story. He said that morning, when he came out to the garage, it was full of poisonous snakes. He had never seen anything like it before and thought of it as a message from God. Francis looked over at Frank in amazement because none of what he was saying was true. Not only did Pat not care about lying, but he lied right in front of witnesses who knew it wasn’t true. Frank said that his father whispered, “We are working with a bunch of fools.” It was part of the total divorce between truth, real truth, and showmanship.
One time I was thumbing through the channels and came across a syndicated TV evangelist with a guest. That guest was someone I had known in my personal life a long time ago, who had been part of the same Navigator group I was with. They had written a book and were on TV sharing his profound testimony (he had done some horrible murders after his years with the Navigators). The only problem, the testimony was a total fabrication. During the years he was working with our local Navigator ministry, he said in his book and on TV, that he was a practicing Satanist. Then he claimed (this was years after going through all our intense Bible study programs) that he had never seen a Bible until he was thirty years old. I called the station because I was so concerned. I was surprised when the host of the show (a well-known Christian talk-show host) sent me an e-mail telling me to basically shut up. That she didn’t care if what the guy was saying was true, because “God was using his testimony.” This is a profound philosophical development and I won’t even start to explore the ramifications of that type of thinking.
The bar for truth among evangelicals became very, very low over time. The historical word for truth (going back to the Greeks) was replaced by the word truth, that only meant consistent with the theological or political position that the person subscribed to. If a lie furthers the kingdom of God (the thinking goes) then it is okay. If a lie furthers my candidate’s possibilities of winning, then that lie is okay.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not attacking one political party or the other. Both sewed lies. I will let the reader decide who sewed the most
But the real issue is this total lack of candor and real truth. The problem with this detour around truth is that if God is really there, then he dwells within reality. The boundaries of reality are marked by truth (not talking doctrine or political views here but simply what is real). The more we disengage with truth, the fainter the face of God becomes.
It is imperative that we repent of the path, which we are on. Maybe this will be the beginning of the demise of American Evangelicalism. One would only hope. But the hope springs to a new Christianity in which real truth, matters. Where candor replaces a fake spirituality, which I was taught along with my peers. Where Christianity is not blended with different political systems, or national cultures creating an unholy marriage. That is the dream. The dream where our pursuit is for justice, kindness and walking humbly with God is the essence of our spirituality. Long live truth, real, factual truth.
Once again, I had to type this as fast as I could type as I only had ten minutes to put my thoughts together. Please over-look the typos. If I have time I will come back later to proof-read.
4 responses to “2016 The Year Truth Died”
Guy was trying to out-Warnke Mike Warnke?
Again, just like Mike Warnke’s fanboy defenders when Cornerstone exposed him as a total fraud. “AND HOW MANY SOULS HAVE *YOU* SAVED? HUH? HUH? HUH?”
To many, Donald Trump Can Do No Wrong because He’s Rich.
Souls(TM) are just the Heavenly version of Dollars, and It’s All About The Benjamins.
The spread of lies and false news this political cycle is the, perhaps, invertible result of an overall very good process. We are no longer living in a society where information comes through a select few gatekeepers. Information is becoming decentralized or democratized. Our source of Official Truth is no longer limited to three broadcast networks, we can get information from any blogger or individual, without the need for a million-dollar printing press or news studio. The traditional curators have been cut out of the loop.
On net, this is a good thing. It means that censorship of ideas is no longer practical. It means that Chelsea Manning can share evidence of war crimes on Wikileaks, even though the New York Times and Washington Post refuse to publish it. It means that Drudge Report can share evidence of a presidential sex scandal even though Newsweek didn’t find it credible enough. The flip side is that any story, even if completely fabricated, can gain widespread attention if it at least sounds plausible. That doesn’t justify making up lies, but I think people will lie. Now that their lies can gain widespread appeal (and ad revenue), there is a stronger incentive to make up stuff.
I don’t believe that Trump is working for the Kremlin, or that the Clintons and Comet Ping Pong are involved with a child sex ring, but I’m glad these ideas are entertained. Crazier conspiracies have turned out to be true (like CIA illegally selling weapons Iran and cocaine to illegally support the Contra rebels, or the military making up a sea battle in the Gulf of Tonkin to get the US into a war, or that the Hoover had leaders of the black power movement assassinated, or that the NSA is secretly spying on basically everybody). In the good ‘ol days when (official) Truth was all that could be published, none of these outlandish conspiracies would have seen the light of day. I think we’re a lot better off today with the model of publish everything and let the reader and history sort it out.
If too much value is put on (official) Truth, then you end up with censorship. (Official) Truth was so important that has a long sorted history of being needed to be protected from dangerous ideas, like those expressed by everyone from Galileo to Snowden.
Removing the censors means there is a lot more noise. We do need to become better at filtering out the noise. But that’s on us. And I’m optimistic that the younger generation that is more accustomed to the noise will be more skeptical of everything they read and watch. You don’t have to buy into one narrative. You can entertain lots of even contradictory ideas and news without committing to any of it. The swatch of published lies becomes most dangerous when people come to accept that they are The Truth.
HUG, it was a lot like Warnke. I guess being a Satanist has a sensational value within Christendom. I would be tempted to name the person here, but it was the principle.
Bryan, I see your point but somewhere discernment must be taught if it is on us . . . otherwise, we drift back into the Dark Ages, but this time darker.The best course I ever took (as a psychology major) was a course on the psychology of media manipulation. At that time, it was all about advertising (magazines and TV) . If everyone had these tools of discernment, I would not be so concerned. But the easy access to media now, is a double-edged sword.
I’m optimistic that that discernment will come as a generational shift. My feeling is that the younger generation that grew up with the internet is a lot less willing to believe things that they read than older generations who grew up on few media sources that you had to trust because they were the only option.
I’d be interested to see what the demographic trends are for believing/sharing fake news and the like. Older people are much more likely to loose money to phishing scams, which seems related, but might just be because older people have more money to be taken. (source: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/about-scamwatch/scam-statistics)