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.