“Alternative Facts” and Christian Truth

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the matter of “alternative facts.” While it hasn’t been named in exactly this way before, the phenomenon of “alternative facts” is nothing new. People have always attempted to shape the interpretation of the world around them to their own advantage.

The rise of postmodernity and deconstructionism has gone a long way toward legitimizing alternative facts. The very concept of “truth” has become suspect. (Witness Stephen Colbert’s wonderful term, “truthiness”). What is true for one person may not be so for another. Years ago, when I was teaching in a community college, I was shocked at how readily my students simply accepted this understanding of truth. Since that time, the idea that truth is culturally determined has become ever more atomistic. Put differently, truth is not now simply determined by one’s culture; it is determined on an individual level. The truth about my life and the way I see the world are first and foremost located within myself. From this perspective, it is more accurate to speak of “truths,” in the plural.

Various theologians and philosophers have attempted over the years to discern the ways in which postmodernity relates to Christian theology. I’m not a philosopher, but I can’t see a productive way in which the deconstruction of the concept of truth can be particularly helpful to Christian theologians. I am reminded of Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth was standing right in front of him, and he did not know it.

The Gospel of John (1:1-3) shows us a picture of Jesus not just as teacher, Messiah, and Son of God, but as the divine logos—the word, wisdom, reason, and creative order of God. Jesus is literally the enfleshment of truth, so to know Jesus is to know truth. When Jesus left, he gave us the Holy Spirit, who would continue his teaching. Jesus in fact calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26).

Christians are necessarily committed to the idea of truth. Yes, the way in which we interpret our experiences can be to some extent culturally determined, but this is quite different from saying that there is no truth. If you and I are standing on opposite sides of a valley, looking down at a cabin below us, we will perceive different aspects of the cabin, but we are undeniably looking at the same building. Perhaps in conversation with one another we will develop a fuller account of what it is we saw.

As Christians, we seek truth because we believe that truth is inherently good. All truth is ultimately the product of God’s creative divine Word, who was made flesh in Jesus Christ. Whether we are talking about the crowd size at the presidential inauguration, a mathematical equation, the inherent value of human lives, or the saving work of Jesus Christ, truth matters.

Truth matters. Once we lose sight of this idea, we are not simply lost, but much worse: we’ve given up hope of finding our way.

16 thoughts on ““Alternative Facts” and Christian Truth

  1. Dr. Watson,

    I enjoy very much your progressive Christian views and thought-provoking insight on various issues of significance today. I’m very much in agreement with many of the things in which you write here, in some other topics and message threads: the “wall”, Trump, and so forth.

    I think it’s quite acceptable to have political viewpoints within one’s sense of Christian ethics as broadcast here on a public forum.

    OTOH I think it’s more civilized and proper to avoid injecting politics, from the right or left, when delivering a sermon directly from the pulpit during the traditional services. Unfortunately I’ve seen this ‘rule’ broken often enough on Sunday mornings, from even the most experienced preachers, such that it tends to ruin the spiritual message once it gets mixed in with the worldly affairs of the mundane.

    But this is the better place to fully express one’s political views within the redeeming qualities of Christian faith.

    • If you mean “political views,” meaning telling your congregants for whom you, personally, think that they should cast their vote, I completely concur. This should not be a part of a sermon or Christian message.
      However, the issues should, no must, be a part of any meaningful sermon.
      The issue of inequality,
      Corporate Greed
      Food insecurity,
      Discrimination against any of our brothers or sisters, and this, quite frankly includes our LBGQAI sisters and brothers,
      Voting rights (not for whom to vote, but the right to vote),
      A tax code that benefits only the top 1%,
      Stagnant wages.
      Health care as a right, not merely a privilege.
      A failing educational system.
      A crumbling infrastructure
      Wages being unequal for women,
      Women being whole persons, able to make decisions for themselves.
      Women not subservient to their husbands, but equal partners with their husbands.
      Respect for women, as well as men
      These are issues that should be part of any Christian message, (perhaps not all in one sermon, or you would have them in church until 7 PM 🙂 ) but though out the year, and, also, our Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist sisters and brothers, part of what they hear from their religious leaders.

      • Yes, Chuck, both my husband and I voted for Hillary, but in the primary, we voted for Bernie. Had Bernie won the nomination, he would have won the election. He would have won both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote.
        Now, all we can do is hope that we keep all three, Judicial, Executive, and Legislative branches of the government sane and that they will, eventually, listen to the people. Remember the popular vote did favor Hillary, but 3 million votes.

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