The results are in and the Oxford Dictionary organization has named their Word of the Year for 2016. The word is “post-truth”. It means that the objective, provable truth is ignored in favour of emotion or personal belief. Mr. Trump was elected president using this phenomenon. We also find this in climate change deniers and the anti-vaccine movement – truth, science, and facts take a back seat to what people believe or want to be true.
Something that exacerbates this problem is another concept known as “fake news” where opinion pieces get presented as if they were objective facts. So if a person wanted to check out the veracity of some post-truth assertion they’d heard they could easily find fake news sources that would support the lie. This creates silos or echo chambers where you only hear what you want to hear and don’t allow yourself to be challenged by the actual truth. In politics it’s when people believe partisan spin or outright lies instead of the clear facts, for example when a commenter in the US was railing against the evils of Obamacare while extolling the wonderful virtues of the Affordable Care Act. They are one and the same thing, but in his world anything to do with the “other” political side was evil.
This certainly happens in churches too. While some preachers blatantly ignore scholarship what’s more prevalent is the challenge of our “embedded theology”. These are our own personal understandings of scripture that we learned as younger people that have become so ingrained in us that we don’t realize we could be holding on to something that’s more cultural than scriptural and amounts to “fake news”. Spiritual fake news must be repudiated and replaced with something much better – Good News! When you find yourself challenged by something theological you’ve read, or something provocative that I’ve preached, take a deep breath and take a step back and ponder for a bit. Is this challenging some embedded theology I have? Is my reaction based on theology or culture? Is he wrong, or is it just something I’d rather not hear? In the post-truth world we never have to challenge our assumptions or preferences. But in the world of ever deepening spirituality we never stop!