Truth in a post-truth world?
I assume most people have been made aware by now that the Oxford English Dictionary chose “post-truth” as their word of the year for 2016. The definition is as follows;
“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief"
It is clear how post-truth aptly describes the events of 2016 and early 2017, a time where ‘alternative facts’ are being propagated by the White House. This started me thinking about how, as christians, we should be relating to the information shared with us. And as with most things now, this is mainly through social media.
It’s a given that most of us will spend significant daily time reading facebook or twitter and the articles shared via those mediums. I spent half an hour or more recently reading a (very interesting, but of no real use to me) article describing the actions and movements of President Bush on September 11, 2001 from the point of view of those who were there... We spend a lot of time reading things that other people have written on the web, and those things have an effect on us.
Therefore, as Christians, as we approach the information we receive need to do two things; be discerning with what we read, and be discerning with what we share.
Discerning what we read
Philippians 4:8 (ESV) reads,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
What we read informs our thinking so reading content that isn’t true or honorable, just, pure, lovely or commendable, will be informing our thinking to things in contrast to how we are encouraged here in Philippians. There’s no such thing as a neutral influence, as John Younts says in his book Everyday Talk. He’s talking about the influences on your children, but we should apply it to ourselves also. Influences (friends, articles, films, music, everything), either point you towards Christ or away. We need to be reading content that speaks truth and not lies.
Let me be clear, I’m not about to suggest that we cut ourselves off from the rest of the world and stop reading anything that might have a hint of ‘wrongness’ about it – there will be a future post(s) on this! We need to be aware of the world, I make a conscious effort to read articles that tell me what the world around me is like/is thinking.
We can probably split what we read online into three categories: good/profitable/useful/true, useless and bad/false/dangerous. Of course we want to maximise our time in the first category and minimise our dwelling on others without cutting ourselves off from the world. In a later post I’ll consider whether a true article makes it a worthwhile read.
It’s not easy to stop reading ‘bad’ content, much of it lures us in with interesting click-bait headlines, so part of our aim should be to recognise such tactics for what they are. But the main tactic is to always have our thoughts on the Gospel and to actively discern the truth of what we read. Read through the lens of God’s truth.
Discerning what we share
If discerning what we read is important for ourselves, being careful what we share is about our responsibility to those around us. Here we are looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:2) that they might more easily think about the ‘these things’ of Philippians 4:8.
If we practise discernment in how we read articles or watch videos or view images, then we can be equipped to know what to share. The difficulty is knowing what is good and that only truly comes by the work of the Spirit. The challenge is to think on the Gospel and let that motivate our actions online, pause before you share, or like, or double tap on Instagram, and think about whether what you are sharing is in the first category or one of the other two. Maybe you won’t get as many likes or retweets but you’ll have done something far greater. You will have put God’s commands before your own desires. And whether that post would have been ok to share or not, the discipline of glorifying God and not yourself is always worth honing.