Post-truth: A Bridge to Folly

“Post-truth” is the 2016 word of the year, according to Oxford Dictionaries. Post means “after.” However, we are not to understand the post in post-truth in that sense. Rather post here is to be understood as indicating that social media and personal opinion carry more influence than facts. Stated another way, some people’s preferences influence them more than objective reality. Subjectivity trumps the objective/external.

The effects of pervasive social media are incalculable. No matter how loony one’s views are, there’s a website that’ll foster your opinions. People may gorge on the newsfeeds of their choice. Preoccupied with the instant, the traditional cannot compete.

Constant information (not wisdom, just information), injections of breaking news, and what’s “happening now” have dethroned the antiquated as monolithic. “Post-truth” indicates that “the establishment” (whatever that is) is tainted, that any meta-narrative is dead, and that our opinions are valid, simply by virtue of their existence. Objective reporting is gone with the wind, leaving tweets in the breeze. Why? Because thoughtful analysis does not get many “likes,” and research is whatever a Google search turns up.

But is this really so? Nothing quite concretizes ideas like literature. Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” written in the 1800s (you know, old poetry), what some term one of the first modern poems, highlights what “post-truth” leads to—namely, a continued departure from reason and wisdom, an embrace of folly. It ushers in something, but not progress. On the cusp of the modern era, Arnold wrote:


The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath,

Of the night-wind, down the vast edge drear

And naked shingles of the world.


Where’s the bright future? The “naked shingles of the world” are scant fare if the soul hungers for answers.

Lamenting what he envisions as a bleak world ahead, the narrator ends the poem thus:


Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! For the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.


Arnold was honest enough to admit that the best he could hope for was “be[ing] true to one another.” But why? And what does it mean to “be true” in a post-truth world? The “ignorant armies clash[ing] by night” are the result of jettisoning the author of life and of moral reasoning. When the creature purports to evict his maker, man’s folly is manifested, as is God’s judgment.

A degenerate culture is certainly post-truth, because it cannot appreciate the true, good, or beautiful. It forfeits the lens by which truth and falsehood are discerned. Beauty is discarded and dross is embraced. It exchanges truth for a lie and spirals into solipsism and despair.

If tweets are taken to be acumen, distraction wins. But facts are stubborn things, and just because post-truth garners much usage, objective truth nonetheless abides.

When Pilate summoned Jesus, he (Jesus) confronted Pilate with the fundamental issue: truth. Jesus said to Pilate: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37b ESV)

Do you remember what Pilate did next? He mocked and walked out. He didn’t want truth, because he’d have to acknowledge himself as a sinner and Jesus as holy God incarnate. Rather than acknowledging God as the objective standard of truth, Pilate scoffed. When truth stood in front of him, Pilate hated it, and sought refuge in his own morality, where he purported to be the arbiter of right and wrong.

Pilate didn’t want truth. It was easier to let the mob rule. He played to the crowd. He had Jesus flogged, spat upon, crowned with thorns, crucified, and buried. But Jesus was not a post-truther.

Reality is like that. You can mock at it, deny it, and even murder it. But it rises again to meet you—even in your world of pretend post-truth.

Friendship: A Key to Resilience

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves,” Jane Austen wrote. There is a paradox in today’s culture—namely, while we are more connected than ever via social media, we are often lonely for true friendsthhip.

The spiritual connections that come through true friendship are worth more than thousands of “virtual” friends.

Like you I’m “friends” with people on social media that I rarely if ever spend quality time with. No, not the friends who live hundreds or thousands of miles away, that’s understandable. I refer to people that would be more accurately defined as acquaintances or peers.

I’m not a Luddite, one opposed to technological advancement. I’m not opposed to social media, obviously. I e-mail, blog, have a Facebook account, etc. These media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al) allow communication to broad audiences instantly.

But social media alone, if divorced from deep relationships, cannot satiate the hungers met in true friendships. They cannot satisfy the spiritual hunger that’s implanted in us.

I have taught literature and/or composition for much of the last 15 years, in addition to serving in the military. A recurring theme I witness when I observe my students each term is the longing they all have for meaningful connections and true friendships. Some of them share details of themselves online that they’d be loath to share in otherwise public ways. Why is that? I think it’s often this void, this friendlessness void, they’re attempting to fill.

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). The contrast is clear. We may have many folks around us, but feel alone. But a true friend is not just around, or on the periphery. A true friend “sticks closer than a brother.”

Might we take the time to invest in our relationships and cultivate friendships? Resilience, a concept we strive to cultivate in the military, is no less important in our civilian lives. The practice of bouncing back and recovering is immeasurably more likely when built upon a foundation of friends:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV).

The Paradox of Connectivity

Wired. The digital age. Age of voyeurism. The “I post, therefore, I am” lifestyle (see Os Guinness’ wonderful book Fool’s Talk). I call it selfiedom. It’s where a culture is given over to worship of the self, and the sacred has been ejected in favor of the profane self. Selfiedom is the Digital Tower of Babel. Maybe the term selfiedom won’t catch on, but dealership-social-mediawere folks to tweet/post/blog about it, it just might. See the temptation? Here’s the issue for consideration: Are we not more connected digitally than ever in history, yet perhaps more lonely than ever in history? There’s a paradox in the fact that people have hundreds, or even thousands, of virtual friends but few, if any, actual friends. It’s now in the vernacular to call people “Facebook friends.” That is revealing. When is the last time we went to dinner with our Facebook friends? We may view posts and tweets, but I wonder if we are meaningfully connected to other people.

Over the last few days, I served as an instructor at a marriage retreat. We were ministering to current and former military personnel and their spouses. We held the retreat at a lake in the hills of north GA. The weather was spectacular—70s and 80s in the daytime, 50s and 60s at night. Clear skies, a slight fall breeze off the lake, waterfowl sliding across the skyline at dawn and dusk. Truly beautiful. Some of the helpers who worked at the location were high school and college students. As I was walking the shores of the lake one evening, I saw a group of 6 girls assembled on a long bench overlooking the lake. The girls were all dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. And do you think they were all talking to each other? Do you think they were even looking at each other? Do you think they were even facing each other? No…to all three questions. They all were connected to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media. They were scrolling but they were not meaningfully connecting.

Now, I know there’ll be those who object. “They’re actually reaching more people,” one might say. I disagree. Because I work with young people (it’s growing just as serious with older people, too, however), I know what I’m told over and over by couples I counsel: they are lonely. One or both spouses spend hours online with virtual friends but don’t spend time with actual friends. We’re connected by way of the Web instead of connecting with the heart. Be honest. Would you rather have a text message from a virtual friend or a hug from an actual friend? Now, if distance precludes that, certainly we all welcome the conveniences ushered in via technology, but you see my point.

As I watched the girls assembled by the bench, they weren’t truly with one another. They wanted to see if others approved of them in the digital world. They took selfies. They posted. Rather than making lasting memories with each other, they tweeted. But something was lost. They wanted others to like their individual statuses by portraying themselves as satisfied, as the heroines of their individual stories.

We’re awash in a culture where the favorite pronoun is “I.” The culture celebrates the swagger of style instead of still waters of character. Someone sent me a book recently entitled The Road to Character that explores this whole theme. The author’s point is that the Adam I life (your resume of accomplishments, your degrees, your titles, your status, etc.) has largely eclipsed the Adam II life (the things people will say about you at your funeral about you being a man/woman of character, of sacrifice, of trustworthiness, etc.). He’s spot on.

imagesWe’re often connected to the Web but not to each other. So, what to do? The Web is not going away, I’d venture to say. Technology will increase rather than decrease, in its availability and speed. But might we pay a price? Might we be paying it already? It bears repeating: I hear from husbands, wives, and children repeatedly: “My wife/husband/son/daughter/friend won’t talk to me. Instead they play on their iPad or phone all the time.” Again, I’m not blind to how the logic cuts both ways. Here I am writing on a computer, posting it on the Web, and hoping others will be on the Web to read it and think about it. I see the paradox. However, just like the girls gathered near that bench this weekend up at the lake, I want genuine contact, not just virtual contact. The Digital Tower of Babel is just as idolatrous as the ziggurat in Genesis 11. In the Confessions, Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you [God].” That’s often quoted. But what’s less explained is the context out of which Augustine wrote. Despite being raised by a Christian mother, Augustine pursued a life of sexual lust and idolatry until Christ convicted him of his sin. It was only after being convicted of his sin that he understood his own Tower of Babel, wherein he was the god at the top. Because he excelled in academia, in rhetoric, law, languages, etc. his pride led to his downfall—a constant theme in literature and in life. Yet Augustine longed for true friendship, true rest, true connection—and this was millennia before the Web.

Human nature does not change until it’s transformed by God’s grace.

imgres  Scripture records one of history’s most moving tributes to friendship: “As soon as he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1 ESV). What you see in the subsequent pages is a story of true, rather than apparent (we’d say virtual in our day), friendship. Should we use technology to improve relationships? Yes. However, I am not confident that will occur until we scroll our feeds less, and love our neighbors more.