Saving Truth: Finding Meaning & Clarity in a Post-Truth World
by Abdu Murray
At the end of 2016, the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary selected “post-truth” as the Word of the Year. To qualify for that distinction, a word needs to capture the culture’s fascinations and behaviors. The post-truth mentality is one that elevates feelings and preferences over facts and truth. With what has been going on socially, religiously, and politically in the West, it’s hard to think of a more fitting word to describe our culture.
Post-truth is different than postmodernism and, I might add, more difficult to deal with. Postmoderns denied that objective truth existed. Everything is a matter of opinions and “subjective truth.” That kind of thinking can actually be reasoned with. The moment a postmodern says, “There are no objective truths,” one question can expose how self-defeating that claim is: “Is it objectively true that there are no objective truths?” If the answer is yes, then there are objective truths and postmodernism is wrong. If the answer is no, then the fundamental claim of postmodernism is false. This kind of question gets the conversation focused on what is true instead of whether anything is true.
Someone with a post-truth mindset, on the other hand, doesn’t deny that objective truth exists, which means that the question above won’t have any force. He merely subordinates objective truth to his preferences and desires. If the truth happens to line up with those preferences and desires, then he’s fine with the truth. But if it doesn’t, he merely ignores it. He has sacrificed truth on the altar of his autonomy. How can we reason with someone who has this kind of thinking?
Before I continue, it’s important to point out that I say this not from a sense of superiority, but from a sense of kinship. I was not born into a Christian background, yet today I follow Christ. In many ways, like the famous atheist convert C. S. Lewis, I desperately didn’t want to meet the Jesus of the Bible. But as I engaged with Christians about Jesus’ claims, I had the discomfort of uncovering what former U.S. Vice President Al Gore might call “an inconvenient truth.” History, logic, and science pointed to the credibility of the Bible in general and to the claims of Christ in particular. Despite mounting evidence in favor of the Christian faith, I held out against it because I preferred my side opinions and comforts over the truth. Coming to embrace the truth about Jesus took me nine long years. It did not take me nine years to find the truth. It took me nine years to accept it. The truth wasn’t hard to find, but it was hard to embrace. When I see today’s post-truth snare, I recognize that I was once caught in something similar.
There are two ways to approach the post-truth mindset that might at first seem contradictory. The first is to point out the terrible consequences of the post-truth elevation of preferences and feelings over facts and truth. The second is a little more difficult. It involves winsomely offering the credibility and hope of the gospel—a message that marries both our feelings and the truth together.
Undergirding all of this is a Christ-like attitude. Our current cultural dialogue on big topics is divisive and corrosive. Those who disagree with us are “them.” And if someone takes a stand we disagree with on a particular issue, we label them in the most uncharitable way possible. They become what Susan Harding called the “repugnant cultural other” easily dismissed as our enemies. But a Christ-like attitude provides truth-based answers full of both conviction and compassion. The culture needs answers, not just clever sound bites. In follow-up articles to come, we’ll explore those two avenues (I’ve covered this issue more extensively in my book, Saving Truth). It’s my hope that we’ll thoughtfully and compassionately understand today’s post-truth culture of confusion.
About Abdu Murray: Abdu Murray is North American Director with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and is the author of three books, including his latest, Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World. www.abdumurray.com
Watch for a new apologetics series by Abdu Murray starting in City Light News next month.