“Post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016. The selection was presumably actually made and the report thereof is verifiable and true. We all know how reliable Wikipedia is. Right? But really, how are we to know that the Oxford Dictionaries exist? That the folks there made such an assertion? In a post-truth, post-trust era, what can one believe?
The dictionary publisher defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Personal beliefs can take you from a flat earth to Elvis sightings, or for that matter, from intelligent design of the universe to resurrection from the dead. When personal beliefs trump the facts the whole world becomes the comment section of some wacky Facebook post.
Beginning today, over 2 billion Christians around the world begin the season of Lent. This preparation and annual remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection is the pinnacle of the Christian year. What are we to believe about that? Is it an homage to “appeals to emotion and personal belief” or did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead? Even Pilate, the Roman prefect (validated by extrabiblical testimony as an actual Roman official at the time of Christ) charged with ascertaining the guilt or innocence Jesus, received this testimony of Jesus: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” To this, Pilate answered, “What is truth?” Was Pilate scoffing at Jesus? Or, was he asking a question that humans have been asking for all recorded history? Was Jesus a deranged, megalomaniac? Or, was he genuinely born into the world to “testify to truth?”
Of course, not everything is post-truth. When I get on an airplane I trust several “truths” from the skills of mechanics to the laws of aerodynamic lift. I trust the sobriety of the pilot and the accuracy of the navigational instruments and air traffic controllers. I access most of these from personal belief based on experience. Was I to bring “objective fact” to bear I would ask the pilots to take a breathalyzer test. I would measure the wings of the aircraft, weigh the airplane, take meteorological assessments and compute the likelihood of flight. I don’t. I just believe.
Was the resurrection of Christ an objective fact or is it just the personal belief of billions and billions across the last two millennia? Lent is a good time to explore histories and His stories. Lent is a good time to decide if you will believe Jesus’ reported words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Or, if you’ll go with Pilate’s “post-truth” model and wash your hands of it all.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” An old religious song about Jesus’ trial before Pilate asks the question, “What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be.” One could argue that in a post-truth, post-trust society the answer no longer matters. I would suggest the opposite. I matters more than ever.