Oxford dictionaries named “post-truth” their word of the year. It is defined as “relating or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The usage of the word increased 2000 percent since last year, they explained. But what about the usage of the concept? For how long has subjectivity influenced objectivity?
We have been a post-truth society, in a way, since the beginning. The serpent in the garden appealed to Eve’s feelings and her desires, opposing the objective truth about that fruit. Cain rejected the truth about his brother’s offering and acted, instead, on his envy (that field was not Abel’s safe space!). Almost two thousand years ago, a Roman prefect questioned truth with the Truth standing before him, while he leaned on his personal beliefs and the emotion of the crowd.
Pagan thinkers like Aristotle, as well, knew that facts alone would not cut it. In addition to the logical appeal of logos, he identified ethos, the appeal to credibility (of all kinds, whether you know a lot, have experience, or present it well), and pathos, the appeal to emotion. Ironically there is ample evidence that we are living in–as they define it–a post-truth world. We have been for some time. It is why atheists past and present have converted due to the beauty of a church or the birth of a child, not just from reading a book of apologetics. It is why our faith includes, has always included, beautiful art and music and poetry. It is why all of them are needed–the logical thinkers, the artists and makers, the presenters and exemplars. It is, in part, why the saints are so magnificently diverse.
The term, as Oxford Dictionaries has defined it, suggests that the balance has shifted, that logos matters less than ethos and pathos, that logic and objectivity matter less than subjective feeling. And if it has, what do we do? We recognize, first, that emotions and authority can be “true”. Truth is not the sole province of logic. We are perhaps, rather, in a post objectivity world, where we must present truthful emotions and truthful authority as well as objective fact. We recognize, too, that truth–that objective fact–may be ignored but it remains fact. As Chesterton wrote, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” Lastly, we must not fear the truth. The truth, as Jesus promised, will set us free. It will not give us license, as many would understand “freedom”, but it will truly set us free–free to be what God has made us to be; to fulfill our calling, to be saints; to be joyful with Him, with Truth Himself, for eternity.
Copyright 2017, Joe Wetterling
Image courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:What-is-truth02.jpg