Lesson 2: Truth and Facts

TruthAt first, I was taken aback when people read last week’s lesson as a political statement. My intention was simply to point out that a healthy society depends on being able to trust that people are telling the truth. The political examples were meant to show ours is ailing. This week, I wanted to suggest another frightening symptom– that we cannot even agree on what is a fact.

At the risk of the example again overpowering the message, let me suggest we can best understand how we have descended into an “alternative fact world” by examining the similarity between televangelists and modern politicians. TV preachers have done to Christianity what politicians have done to democracy. Both have used the dark side of technology to pervert our most precious values.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first suggest one way to understand the relationship between truth and fact. I think language is humanity’s greatest gift. We have used words and narratives to make common sense of the sense experiences that continually bombard us. The search for truth could be considered an ongoing conversation in which the community agrees on what will be considered fact, and then together, discusses what that says about the meaning and purpose of life. The community constructs truth from facts. The individual has a voice that could be considered an opinion but that voice alone cannot define either fact or truth. In other words, the breakdown of community has a great deal to do with the breakdown of both truth and fact. Christianity simply adds God’s voice, God’s Word, to the conversation, and of course that makes all the difference.

People point to multiple causes for our present situation, perhaps the dominant one being the dark side of our Enlightenment heritage. I simply want to focus on the role played by modern technology. With the loss of community and with it cultural values, technology has become by default society’s standard bearer, and technology is based solely on techniques that will enable us to get what we want in the most efficient manner. The goal is not truth but getting my way, and facts can get in my way. Language becomes a power tool rather than a means for seeking truth.

You can see what happens by watching any televangelist reduce the mysteries of the Gospel into techniques that are supposedly laws of creation enabling you to get what you want: a healthy life, a good family, and financial success. An old friend who once participated in our lessons loved to put it this way: “God tells a televangelist the Gospel. He responds that it will not sell. God insists that’s the story, take it or leave it. The preacher thinks it over and finally decides to break it down into separate parts and simply teach those that will sell, thereby making oodles of money for himself and satisfying his customers.” It does not take long to discern that the televangelist reduces the message to that which fits electronic media, the sensationalism of miracle, and the ease of raising money. The need for self-denial in a caring community is ignored, because it does not sell.

Politicians make the same kind of reductions less subtly when they reduce government to “me-first” or “us-first” by emphasizing defense and jobs while passing over justice and care for the weak. Modern electronic technology enables this to happen by breaking our real-life connections with nature, place, time, and community. Both televangelist and the politician can come right into my living room as a celebrity who claims to be wise enough to have his opinion serve as the standard for truth. Their claims that “God loves you” or “I love you” are ludicrous when they are uttered electronically in an intimate setting by someone who does not even know my name. We find ourselves in an artificial world lacking any kind of vulnerability or accountability and thereby unable to define truth or even fact.

The following lessons will look at how the Christian community defines truth. As I mentioned above, Christianity can be described as the ongoing conversation between the divine and the human that began at creation and continues through our day. Traditionally, that conversation has been summarized as the interaction of the theological virtues in which faith informs and hope inspires loving actions. The triad rhymes the past and future with the present.

Faith in God boils down to trusting the community’s narrative of salvation in which God promises his unconditional love. Hope offers visions of the peaceable kingdom, the just society, and the beloved community promised in that story. And both are the basis of the wise decisions in the present that the community describes as love.

The lessons will examine this Christian claim that the search for truth begins at creation when the voice of God is heard above the waters of chaos establishing one fact after another and beginning a conversation that will eventually bring order to them all. Along the way, they will also acknowledge the tremendous challenge that modern electronic media presents for this and every other cultural understanding of truth and fact.

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  1. John Myers says:

    Televangelists pander to the common denominator in all of us that wants a perfect world. Ditto for politicians. Yes, it brings in the support and the money. We must examine ourselves here. What is it that draws us to this ruse? We are what Lenin disparagingly described his followers as – ‘useful idiots’. They don’t really get the big picture, but they follow along with the parts they want to hear. So, they project the ideal onto the loathsome that is being presented in a charismatic way. In our heart, we are not critical thinkers. We are rooters. Rooting feels good, but doesn’t really accomplish anything. Rooters do not read this blog, they listen to televangelists and politicians.

    So, how do we convince our brothers and sisters to become critical thinkers and see the light so they can hear the news? The truth only matters to those of us who believe in truth and agree that it does matter. The rooters will only turn to seek real truth when the lies they have been fed become obvious. Often, it is too late – which is why 150 Million people died at the hands of totalitarian communists masquerading as protectors of the proletariat in the 20th century.

    I have given up on televangelists and politicians. The battle to spread the truth, the good news, and Christian charity begins with me. I must do it, not any proxy. In this 500th year of reformation, I think we should look to Luther. He had no fear to speak the truth to power. Neither should we.


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