Truth has been taking a beating.
A couple of weeks ago Christ and Pop Culture’s Alan Noble wrote that the election and its aftereffects expose what he calls “an epistemological crisis” in our country. Our knowledge of truth, he argues, is crumbling under the massive weight of irony and satire, of clickbait and inaccurate reporting, of confirmation bias and the low incentive to check facts, and of too much information combined with a distrust of the media meant to help us sift through it. Outright, obvious lies are spoken, then promulgated, then accepted, with very little in the way to defend against them.
This gives us, the church, an opportunity to love our neighbor. We can serve the world around us by pursuing and upholding an understanding of truth, even in the “small” things. Here are three suggestions for how we might be counter-culturally Christ-like with how we treat information.
1. Seek out both sides before deciding. Proverbs reminds us that “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Most of us have come to learn that we can only understand a conflict between friends after we’ve heard both sides. The same holds true with cultural debates. Until you can understand why many people might reasonably disagree with a position you hold, you don’t truly understand the issue at hand.
2. Fact check before forwarding. It’s easy to forget that the 9th commandment is about more than lying. Every time we post on social media some salacious story about a person or company or repeat it to a friend, and that story is untrue, we are disobeying God by bearing false witness against our neighbor. Especially when the original source is not well-known as being reliable, we have a responsibility to do a little research (often Snopes.com is enough) before repeating a story.
3. Respect good journalism. The “mainstream media” are clearly imperfect. At times writers’ biases are painfully obvious. And yet we should remember that mainstream media have checks and balances that many blogs and other alternate news sources do not. Writers are professionally trained to confirm any story with multiple sources before reporting it, and editors (needing to protect against lawsuits) hold journalists to this standard. What’s more, when a source like CNN gets something wrong, it makes the news, and they eventually correct themselves. The same doesn’t happen with obscure web sources for information. While we of course shouldn’t be uncritical (return to my previous points), Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam is right in arguing that we do ourselves and others a disservice when we roundly condemn the media.
Pursuing truth is costly: it takes effort, and it’s often messy. This is partly why this age of information overload is being called a “post-truth” age. The cynical question of Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” could just as easily be asked by many today. Yet it’s important to remember that this question came as a response. “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth,” Jesus had just declared to Pilate, and for this witness he would be crucified. Our calling is to follow in his footsteps, no matter the cost.