Well Now, This Is a Fine Mess
I have always had an interest in airplanes and have been known to watch geeky flying videos in which young pilots earn their hours taking Pilatus Porters into remote mountain airstrips in Papua. These strips have been painstakingly built by hand over 10 or 15 years by cutting the vegetation off mountaintops. The natives are willing to do the hard work so they will no longer be cut off from the larger world. They don’t just crave the food and other precious cargo that arrives on these airplanes. They crave knowledge.
I find it ironic that while the tribes of Papua are willing to do backbreaking labor to bring truth and knowledge into their villages, we Americans are giving up our access to truth and knowledge. I believe there are at least three reasons. Let me give a brief explanation.
First, the Internet has no regard for what is true. Try typing the beginning of a random phrase like, “Young women are” into your Google search engine and see what pops up. As you can readily see, Google algorithms have no moral character. They just bring up the searches that are typed most often.
Just because something is on the Internet does not mean it is true. That should be as obvious as saying to a child, “Don’t play in the middle of the street.” But it’s not. Look up my name on the Internet and go through the first five pages or so. There are a lot of “facts” that are simply not true.
A second reason we have abandoned truth is because of the teachings of an extreme form of postmodernism that says there is no such thing as truth, only this or that power narrative. All we have is what is true for you and what is true for me, as if there is no agreed upon notion of truth in any area.
It is not the Internet that espouses this notion, but the university, which goes out of its way to say no one metanarrative is better than another. They do not see the difference between power metanarratives, which are destructive, and growth metanarratives, which focus on discernible truth that advances the species.
The third reason we have lost or way is because of religion. One might hope the church would be a safe place to hear the truth, but the church has always been one of the last places to accept difficult truths. Just ask Galileo, who was placed under house arrest by the church because he taught that the earth revolved around the sun. Christian institutions of higher education act as an extension of the evangelical church, encouraging serious scholarship, but only as long as it comes to predetermined conclusions.
The result is schools that do not encourage the vigorous search for truth, but instead teach a narrative that may or may not be true. In doing so those institutions set people up to be deliverers and receivers of fake news, unattached to any known reality. Take evolution for instance. The majority of evangelical colleges still present a seven-day creation as fact, though there are no scientific facts to back it up.
Graduates from those schools take the pulpits of churches throughout the United States unprepared for the complex cultural realities they encounter. They hide behind walls of rigid orthodoxy as they create their own newspapers, magazines, television networks and social media platforms. They are cultural separatists who receive their information from self-limiting sources.
Whether it’s the Internet, extreme postmodernism or the church, the loss of the notion of truth has become a tragic reality. But I do see hope. In this era of “fake news” it has been fascinating to watch how quickly the mainstream media has rejected the postmodern notion that all truth is constructed truth and a power narrative. Now we see the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and other news outlets talking pointedly about the importance of the truth, and the difference between truth and a lie.
They are also doing their best to present the facts. While their editorial departments have leanings toward the left or right, in their reporting they care deeply about the truth, now more than ever. I, for one, am grateful for their presence.
Ultimately the search for truth must return to you and me. Will we do the work necessary to discern what is true, or will we leave that to our tribe? Every day we have opportunities to discern the truth, if we will take the time to do so. You don’t need Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity to tell you what you think. Go to the original sources and decide for yourself. Truth should not be left in the hands of a tribal Intermediary. It is far too important.
Truth exists. It is discernible and it does matter. And it is the one thing with the ability to unite us.