Have you ever heard or read something where part of you is exasperated but the other part of you isn’t really surprised at all? I’m sure we’ve all had those moments. It’s kind of like when Uncle Eddie is emptying his RV sewage into the street gutter. It’s disgusting. It’s not right. And it’s totally expected behavior.
I learned earlier this week that the good folks at the Oxford Dictionary have an annual tradition of choosing a word for Word of the Year. This word is chosen because it has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. So each year’s winner is essentially declared the most influential word of that year. For instance, in 2010, the winner was refudiate, which technically isn’t a word, but it was popularized because Sarah Palin used it in several tweets on her Twitter account.
Brace yourselves. The Oxford Dictionary has awarded the 2016 Word of the Year to post-truth.
Post-truth: [adjective] – relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief
So basically, Oxford has confirmed what many of us have known to be true for a long time. People are far more prone to base their opinions and beliefs on the subjectivity of emotions and personal feelings than on objective facts. The ramifications reach into every area of life. Many people have adopted a philosophy of don’t confuse me with the facts because truth would erode away at our comfortable understanding of the world. As long as we feel good about who we are and what we do, that will be our truth, regardless of objective facts.
This is how a person can simultaneously fight to end sex-trafficking and support the legal genocide of unborn children. Objectivity would call that a paradox of belief. One position values life while the other position devalues life, yet both are embraced because this person’s beliefs appeal to emotion and the subjectivity of feelings. Post-truth allows us to become walking, breathing contradictions yet still be seen as a rational individual – which itself isn’t rational.
But it’s not just the liberal person who is post-truth. Being post-truth isn’t just about believing base on appeals to emotion, but it’s also denial of objective facts. You can be in the post-truth camp simply by omission of fact. If a fact doesn’t support your worldview, ignoring that fact would make you just as post-truth as the person who is led by their feelings.
Take pro-life. I know many people who are pro-life who deny that oppressive racism still exists. Pro-life has traditionally been a phrase that describes a political ideology that defends lives of unborn babies from abortion. At its core is a desire to defend the ones who cannot defend themselves. But here’s the rub. Pro-life is hypocritical if it doesn’t take up the cause of all life that is oppressed. For that to happen, there would have to be an admission that systemic, institutional racism is still at work oppressing minorities and the poor. This would require taking a compassionate approach to policies and programs that help the poor. But to remain fiscally conservative, that might mean other programs would hit the chopping block or some taxes would be raised. Ignoring (or denying) systemic racism is more expedient.
We all are swimming in a pool of post-truth. Some are liberal, some are conservative, but all are wet with it. How should Christians live in this, but not become stained by it?
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Do justice. If you’re going to demand justice for the unborn, then also demand justice for the oppressed, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the slave. You can’t be a person of integrity if you only demand for justice for one group of humans. God is just, and as the Body of Christ, the very presence of Jesus on the earth today, we must also be just and work for the justice of all people, not just the ones to which we feel most emotionally attached.
Love kindness. There’s a million ways to apply this, but perhaps the most pertinent one for this day is that we need to respond to our opponents with kindness instead of anger. Jesus clearly teaches us to respond, not with anger and aggressiveness, but with kindness to the ones who oppose us. It’s hard. It’s not what the flesh wants to do. But it’s how we’ve been commanded to respond. It’s the way God has ordained his people to fight: through acts of kindness and mercy.
Walk humbly with God. You can’t do justice and love kindness if you aren’t walking in the light (1 John 1:7). God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). And perhaps herein is the core problem. We are surrounded by post-truth, and when we aren’t walking humbly with God, we are swayed. We become convinced of our own rightness. We allow our feelings to guide us. Then we can’t be distinguished from anyone else in the pool because that’s exactly how everyone else in the world lives. Walking humbly with God means you’ve given him all credit and control and kept none for yourself. You are directed by him. You are filled by his Spirit. You act as he would act. You say as he would say. That’s the only way you can truly do justice and love kindness, because it’s not you doing it – it’s Christ doing it through you.
Post-truth shouldn’t surprise us. The world has been post-truth from the moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Today’s manifestation of post-truth is just a repackaging of something very ancient. And the people of God are still being called to reject post-truth and have an integrity of belief and living that brings the kingdom of God to the earth every day.