As I write this, Donald Trump has been POTUS for almost 100 days now. It’s been, shall we say… eventful. As I scroll through my news feeds, both on social media and online news sites, his reception has not been without flair and controversy. To some, President Trump is evil incarnate… (insert inappropriate Spicer-like reference to Hitler)… to others, he is “the son of righteousness rising with healing in his wings.” Obviously, both of these descriptions can’t be true… right?
We started hearing that phrase around election time as eventually debunked news stories were shared on Facebook and other platforms faster than an Ellen selfie at the Oscars. I suspect the phrase “fake news” is just picking up steam. I could see it being the word/phrase of 2017… applied loosely, of course. And that’s the frustrating thing about it. How do you know if what you’re reading is “fake news” or not? Do you trust one or two particular sources or news outlets? If so, which ones? And how did you arrive at that conclusion? And are all other angles of newsworthy events that don’t match your preferred angle labeled “fake news” or do they have a certain measure of viability?
Back in the early fall of 2016 I decided to logoff of Facebook for 21 days… in January. I started January 8th to be exact. Can I be honest for a second? It was glorious! While I certainly knew things were heating up during the inauguration (those in my circle were all too willing to share), I was relieved that I had made a decision months ago that pulled me out of the conversation. Good or bad… Christian or not, I was thankful. But I noticed something when I logged back on. Most of my friends shared news stories from pretty much the same sources – RedState, Blaze, Fox News on one side, and David Wolfe, Slate, Huffington Post on the other (just to name a few). It was an endless legion of voices calling out to me to listen to their truths. It’s not that I hadn’t noticed it before, I had. But for some reason, it intrigued me.
I wrote my master’s thesis on postmodernity while in seminary. I attempted a dialogue between classical pentecostalism, postmodernity, and the emerging church (a hip topic in the early 2000s). The term”postmodern” represents a broad range of thoughts and ideas across multiple fields of study. As a theology student, I focused primarily on the idea of truth. While there is certainly a postmodern camp that would argue that truth doesn’t exist outside of one’s own interpretation, a more mainstream version is that complete truth can’t be known, possessed, owned by one person or ideology.
Perhaps an analogy would be helpful.
Suppose you and I were both looking at the same city, from the same building, on the same floor, but from two different windows – yours on the north side, mine on the south. From our perspective, what we each see of the city is true; yet, we cannot grasp the fullness of the city from our limited view. So what we see is true because it’s true for me, though it might not be true for you. It’s an oversimplified analogy, but perhaps it helps. Truth is the product of the systems and structures that create a perspective, so it is contextual, changing, and experienced in varying degrees.
Donald Trump, Fake News, and Politics in the Postmodern World
Let me just cut to the chase here… it seems to me that the seemingly unending voices, blogs, website, and news outlets that fill our phone screens are nothing more than the cost of doing politics in the postmodern world where truth is multi-layered and multi-versed. To use the building analogy, we already live in a world where each window in the building has a space to express its individual perspective of the city.
I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I don’t see things getting any better. It’s as if truth has become so multi-layered, so individualistic, that it has turned in on itself and is eating away at the core of human society. In other words, we’re burning down the building arguing who has the right window to view the city. That’s not to say that people just need to hush and not say anything… or that we don’t need to talk about injustice when we see it.
Of course, with so many views and perspectives, it’s increasingly difficult to tell which ones are grounded in reality and which ones are embellished truth or down right fabricated lies! In other words, if everyone has their unique window to reality, how do we distinguish between what is simply a different viewpoint and what is fake news? Moreover, if you’re super skeptical like me, what do you do when you assume most all news media has a financial backer(s) with a vested interest in public perception of truth?
The Way Forward… at least for me.
It would be incredibly UNpostmodern for me to suggest THE way forward. Instead, let me just share with you the way forward… for me.
1. Embrace core convictions with a closed hand. There are certain beliefs and convictions I will hold tightly. From Jesus Christ as the centerpiece of the human story to the glaring need for racial reconciliation and gender equality, these realities are central to my personality and identity. I will not apologize nor compromise on them.
2. Embrace “truth” with an open hand. While I will hold tightly to core convictions, I will hold “truth” loosely. It seems in our world that we have legions of voices of truth. News channels, blog sites, our crazy uncle on Facebook… so many are vying for the opportunity to speak into our thoughts. While I may have my preferred sources, I will still hold on to the truth they speak with an open hand. Challenge them. Disagree with them. Point out their flaws. It’s ok. These are open-handed.
3. Embrace people with both hands. When I was a youth pastor, I used to teach our students that “it is better to be right than right.” Better to be in right relationship than destroy the relationship on the altar of proving you are right. In other words, even though I may believe strongly in my truth, I don’t have to be a jerk about it. I can run from pride and arrogance. Are there times I’ll just have to hold my tongue, nod, and silently disagree? Yes. I don’t have to correct everyone. They are entitled to be wrong, just like me.
The Apostle Paul said it best, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom. 12:18) Now, that doesn’t mean just shut up and never speak out or share your opinion. I think the verses immediately before and after really provide the context. He says “do not repay anyone evil for evil” and later, “do not take revenge.” When I share something on social media, particularly something political, I ask myself, “Why am I sharing this? Am I trying to prove a point? Am I in an imaginary argument with someone who I hope sees this and changes their thinking? Am I trying to instigate something? Is this a passive-egressive attempt on my part?”
So what do you think? What is your way forward and how are you navigating the current culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts… as long as it doesn’t contain fake news!
😂 🤣 😂