A Christian’s guide to discerning the Truth in a post-truth era

A few weeks ago, President Trump announced the winners of the Fake News Awards. His pattern of discrediting journalism and attacking the freedom of the press is a fascinating sign of the times we are in;  an opportunity for us to imitate Christ and share mercy and Truth.

But, what if we aren’t really sure what’s True? How do we know what’s Fake News? What if we’re completely dizzy with confusion about who to believe, about who’s right?

My observations of American society in the past of couple years has convinced me that it doesn’t make a difference where one sits on the political spectrum or how educated one is — all of us can fall victim to the lures of propaganda and become unsure what is actually True.

Yet, Scripture tells us, over and over, that we are called to know, love and promote the Truth.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.  – Ephesians 4:15

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6

Plus, for those of us who are Catholic, we understand that perusing and promoting the Truth is a core component to how we live the Gospel and live as disciples.

The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.  – Catechism of the Catholic Church #2464

 It is by loving that the God-who-is-Love is proclaimed to the world: not by the power of convincing, never by imposing the truth, no less by growing fixated on some religious or moral obligation. – Pope Francis

So, how are we to navigate through this murky era, when the truth is so often watered down or warped to fit particular views?

Source: “The New Yorker”

What I offer here are some tips developed from my study of history, propaganda, media and politics. (Being a history major in college really has served me well!) Last summer, I shared many of these tips and resources to a group at my place of ministry and heard that they were very helpful; I have been meaning to share them with you, Messy Jesus Business readers, ever since. The day has finally come!

DEFINITIONS

First, one of the confusing parts of this time is that many phrases and words are being tossed around, and a lot of people don’t really know what the terms mean. Let’s start with a glossary.

Absolute Truth = Facts which exist without being dependent upon anything else, such as one’s perspective or opinions.

Alternative Facts = Un-factual information, false information.

Bias = Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

Confirmation Bias = The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

Fake News = Propaganda or false information published under the guise of being authentic news.

Objective Truth = Not influenced by or based on personal feelings or opinions.

Post Truth = Debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion, which are disconnected from facts.

News = Factual journalism regarding events

News Analysis = Opinion and commentary on the news.

Satire = The use of humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose or criticize.

Subjective Truth = Based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK, DEVELOP YOUR SKILLS

I am growing increasingly convinced that anyone who consumes information in this modern world has a civil duty to develop their skills and critical reading eye. For example, I like how On The Media suggests we spot Fake News.

 

Similarly, it is crucial that readers can recognize bias and are aware what type of slant sources are likely to make. I find this chart quite accurate and helpful.

Source: http://imgur.com/gallery/iPLkz / http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/ Vanessa Otero

CONVERSE WITH COMPASSIONATE CURIOSITY IN PURSUIT OF THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH

Look back at the definitions of Absolute Truth, Objective Truth and Subjective Truth. In our post-modern world, there is a common temptation to let the opinions and beliefs held by another be “their truth” while one maintains “my own truth.” When I hear that folks say things like “believe what you want, I know what I believe” I get frustrated and wonder why we dismiss one another, why we don’t believe that others can help expand our thinking, perspective. Only through community and in relationship can we gain a more complete picture of the objective truth, what we all are here seeking to understand.

Have mercy on me for my terrible clip art, but here’s an image that shows the different types of truth.

Types of Truth (image by Julia Walsh FSPA)

In order to know what is absolutely true, we need to have compassionate curiosity about how others see things; none of us, from our finite human experience, can ever see the whole picture, the entire truth. (The truth that God knows, the Truth that is God. ) Grounded in prayer, we can ask questions without being defensive, without aiming to convince others why our perspective is better.

There are several guides and resources available that can help us develop our dialogue and communication skills. I am especially a big fan of what the folks at On Being are offering with their Civil Conversations Project. The Circle Way is another approach that I have found quite helpful.

LISTEN AND LOVE

Certainly, in order to be an effective communicator, it is important to honor the dignity of every person, to lovingly listen to them in a way that honors that they are made in God’s image. Conversation and listening — when it comes to pursuing the Truth — ought to be an act of prayer. We open up our heads and hearts and remain detached. We allow ourselves to be converted, realizing that the Spirit is always calling us into greater growth and intimacy.

One way to think about it is to consider what is important for good listening. The Chinese character that means “to listen” is made up of smaller characters that reveal what is needed to be a good, active listener. Aren’t these the same elements needed to be attentive in prayer, to be in a loving relationship?

Source: tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/

Overall, Christians, we are called to be discerners, to have the humility to remain open to being wrong and learning from God and others. Only with the guidance of the Spirit and the grace of God can we come to know what is True and worthy of our promotion and experience how the Truth can truly set us free!

You will know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.  – John 8:32

Holy Relating in the Facebook-Era

I watched The Social Network last night, mainly because I was curious.  Similarly,  I joined Facebook five years ago, shortly after it started and around the same time that I entered my community, because I was curious.  Curiosity is usually what causes me to conform, even if I have mixed feelings or I am not really sure how an action may fit with my Christian living.

The story of the creation of Facebook is very real:  it’s friendships, energy, ideas and passions spiraling around young, talented people in a legalistic, money-driven era.  The true story felt like a visual time-capsule to me, like something that historians and psychologists will be able to study in 50 years when they are trying to make sense of why humans relate as we will then.

The film reminded me that it’s true that organic, creative projects change the world and humanity forever.  This fact echoes my understanding of the Gospel- the call to build the Kingdom that gives me great joy.  In collaborative communities we create change and help people connect more deeply, and it’s really powerful and good.  Plus, the story got me thinking about how relationships can be twisted collisions of trust and distrust, hope, love, faith, confusion and betrayal.  Is that a tragedy?  I am not sure.  This reality seems to fit with the story of Jesus, too.

Nonetheless, I am disturbed.  I have found it fascinating- and frustrating- to participate in the evolution of human relating and communication during the past five years, since Facebook (and now Twitter, etc.) have become as common as eating. (At least for the 8 percent of us on earth who actually have internet connection, I suppose.)

Lately I have tried to be more conscientious about how much I use Facebook, mention Facebook in conversations and hear others talk about Facebook each day.  Naturally then, I was amused at mass this morning when the priest told a story about how he reconnected with an old friend through the internet and Facebook.

I suspect many of us have had similar experiences.  I imagine that a lot of us have found Facebook a helpful tool in fostering relationships and reconnecting with friends.   I have, and it is very exciting.   I appreciate being able to read headlines and see pictures of babies, weddings and ordinary life stuff of people I know with as much ease as reading a newspaper.  This is good, I think, because I believe that relationships are the meaning of life.  We grow in union through communication and communion,  through all of our relating to each other.  In addition, the technology permits a different type of Gospel witness, and this is good.

Nonetheless, I have questions and concerns.  I heard a story about a friend-of-a-friend who learned about the sudden death of her aunt through a Facebook post recently.  I know of other tragic- and joyous- momentous news that has been shared through family and friends exclusively through technology.   I doubt that this is good for our souls and spirits.  When things are deep and meaningful, it doesn’t seem healthy to relate with each other without the raw mess of human emotion, inflection and reflection.

Does it hurt us when we learn about big things in our close friends’ lives at the same time as their other 650 Facebook friends/acquaintances?     Why does it suddenly seem so hard to relate to each other in real, old-fashioned types of ways, like through visits, phone-calls and hand-written letters as we live and love?  Have we lost our human touch?

Certainly, our society has been drastically changed by Facebook technology.  Likewise, the way we relate and communicate has radically shifted.

Is this God’s will for us? Is this what Jesus intended when we were commissioned to build the kingdom?   How does our modern technological communication impact our souls, our freedom, our prayer and our ability to relate to each other as God designed us?

On this Feast of the Holy Trinity, we are blessed with renewed focus on God who is perfect relationship and who is Love and Truth.  In the Trinity we know a love so self-giving and constant that the union changes all creation.  We learn how to Love if we listen in prayer to how God the Parent, God Incarnate and the Holy Spirit relate together as three-in-one.

How did God design us to relate to each other? Since we’re made in God’s image, I believe it’s just like the Trinity.  Let’s love, give, share, care, hold, touch, heal, help, communicate, commune and just be together in the real, raw mess of relational love.

Let’s love each other, in the boundless, eternal non-technological, human ways.  The Bible tells us so:

Brothers and sisters, rejoice.
Mend your ways, encourage one another,
agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the holy ones greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.         –  2 Cor 13:11-13