What is meant by ‘Post-truth’?
The Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of 2016, “post-truth” points to a society or situation “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.
While “post truth” has many political implications, commonly functioning as an expression thrown around by opposing political groups in attempts to discredit one another, the concept goes far beyond politics. London, England—where I have lived and served for 16 years—and Angel, Islington—my local centre and borough within London are said to be post-truth environments. Indeed Great Britain (note: this is a specific geographic indicator that excludes Northern Ireland) as a whole can quite accurately be described as a post-truth society.
My goal over the course of several posts is to highlight what ministry in such an environment looks like and to present some practical guidance that may help readers’ in a similar environment serve well. If you are not in a post-truth environment, but you see post-truth mentalities creeping in, I pray that these posts will help you effectively in your spiritual warfare.
What is a “post-truth society”?
A post-truth society doesn’t necessarily deny that truth exists. It simply doesn’t feel like seeking and finding truth is overly important. There is little knowledge or appreciation for objective facts or lessons from history in a post-truth world. Indeed, when concrete truths are clearly presented every attempt is made to suppress, discredit, deflect, or minimise any claim to exclusive, objective truth (ala Romans 1). Speaking or believing “your truth” is more important than speaking and believing “the truth”.
Within a post truth society exists a toxic soup of ideologies that major in self-absorption, entitlement, and constant questioning of proven and credible facts, finding truth primarily in emotional reactions. Clinging to such ideologies are:
- Secularists living in the now and rejecting all forms of religious faith and worship.
- Humanists emphasizing reason, “scientific” inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world while rejecting the importance of belief in God.
- Postmodernists claiming that realities are plural, subjective, and dependent on worldview.
- Relativists proposing that points of view have no absolute truth or validity within themselves, but rather only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.
- Pluralists accepting two or more religious worldviews as equally valid or acceptable as paths to God or gods.
- Universalists believing that there are no mitigating factors against salvation – all will be right with God.
Despite the presence of people who consciously align with one of the above ideologies, I find that many in post-truth Britain have never considered whether they should believe much of anything, what to believe, or why to believe. Truth doesn’t really matter. Existence and purpose in being is just a day to day routine. Nothing really matters that much to think too much about. Practically this has led to a range of challenges:
- Identity crisis
At even the most basic, tangible, physical level people do not know who they are. Without any mooring in truth and with widespread embrace of the idea that truth is relative or subjective this should come as no surprise. Previous indisputable human attributes of personhood acknowledging difference between the sexes are for many now disputable. Where “gender confusion” was once a concern, now many celebrate “gender acceptance”. You can be born male and yet identify as female or vice-versa. Confusion in sexuality and questioning personal identity and purpose are extremely prevalent in a post-truth society if not in practice, in acceptance.
- Dysfunctionality in relationships
While post-truth London, England (and I imagine most post-truth environments) takes pride in multicultural pluralism (the view that all beliefs and cultural behaviours are equally acceptable and right), it is a lonely city. A post-truth society lacks moral objectivity. As such, without a clear framework that values morality and honest interaction, it should come as no surprise when trust is eroded. The consequence is that normal, open, transparent human interaction is hard to find and loneliness increases.
- Suppression of freedom
A post-truth society does not get on well with any claim to objective truth. Believing something that may exclude others (eg. “salvation is in Christ alone”) or that denies another’s claim of reality (eg. “someone with male body parts is male”) is bad enough, saying it amounts to discrimination and prejudice. Freedom of belief and speech is protected, unless your belief and speech offends, upsets, or excludes. But of course that isn’t free speech at all.
- Distorted narratives
A post-truth society sets up its own standard of presenting facts. Both sides of the left/right political spectrum (however that is defined) are guilty of such distortion. Truths are withheld, exaggerated, or spun. Post truth society condemns fake news, but enables, endorses, and embraces it at the same time as it has no standard or basis on which to judge truth. This also gives rise to increased obsession with and acceptance of ludicrous conspiracy theories that have no foundation in fact.
- Selfish ambition
In a place where people lack identity, are dysfunctional in relationships, suppress freedom, and distort narratives, the prevalence of selfish ambition should be no surprise. Indeed, this sin issue is at the root of many of the other issues we have addressed. A post-truth society is narcissistic and entitled. It believes itself to be superior to other societies and its members view themselves as far more intelligent than those who dare disagree with them. The impact of this, if unarrested will be catastrophic.
A society where such features are common-place is undeniably sick. As with any sickness, treatment is needed. But is a cure available? If so, how is it administered? Will it even be accepted? This is what I will deal with in an upcoming post.
Regan King is the pastor of the Angel Church, in the Angel, Islington, area of London, England. He has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, growing up in Tumbling Shoals, AR. He travels regularly to teach, preach, and train others from the Bible and holds a degree in theological studies from Highland Theological College at the University of Highlands and Islands.