post-truth?

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The word ‘post-truth’ has been declared the Oxford Dictionaries word of 2016. It is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. It emerged this year to try to describe the way in which the UK Referendum on EU Membership and the US Presidential election were conducted and how people voted.

I am not keen on the word. It’s not because I don’t think that both the UK and US campaigns were marked by misleading, emotive and undeniably false claims and statements aimed and getting an emotional response and appealing to less honourable human instincts. It’s not because I don’t think that people were unaffected by these claims and statements. It’s because I don’t think that ‘post-truth’ is the root of the problem.

People have always responded to others with a combination of heart and head. And that has always been exploited from the time that Thag persuaded Ug (remember them from yesterday?) to come hunting with him with the promise of a full tummy at the end of it right through to advertising campaigns and political debates today. What I think has changed is that those who are seeking to affect public opinion are no longer being held accountable for what they say.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with us, the general public. We have allowed things to slide: by not challenging disingenuous statements in the past an environment has evolved in which it is acceptable knowingly to make outrageously false statements and get away with it.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with the media – television, TV, radio. They need headlines that grab our attention. Why else do newspapers devote so much of their front page to a few words in massive print? Why else to news programmes trail the rest of the programme with sentence summaries of what is coming? And the more outrageous the headline, the more likely we are to pay attention to it. Why else did a bus get driven around the country with “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” plastered down the side? It got a lot of publicity because it was considered headline-worthy, even though those who were funding it had no intention or power to use any saving from leaving the EU to fund the NHS.

Part of the responsibility (and I think the biggest part) lies with our culture in which ‘the end justifies the means’ has become one of our mantras.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to buy the goods we want for the cheapest possible price because we want to maximise what we have while ignoring the price paid (literally and metaphorically) by those who are the sharp end of the production process.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to tell lies about someone else in order to protect or enhance our reputation without considering the impact on the other person.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to feel okay about polluting our planet in order to allow the rich minority in the world to continue to live in the manner to which we are accustomed.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to salve our consciences when innocent civilians are killed by ill-directed bombs or drone strikes in the so-called war on terror.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to make false statements in order to try to get elected or the outcome we want from a referendum.

I don’t like to think we are in a post-truth era. I think we are in an era where we are reaping a harvest from a lack of love. Not mushy romantic love or sweaty sexual love, but dogged, belligerent, ‘want-the-best-for-you’ love in which we value every single person has as much as we value ourselves.

You see, when you love someone like that you don’t want to deceive, dishonour or destroy them because they matter so much. Rather you want to respect, encourage and bless them with the way that you speak to them and treat them. You are not indifferent to their suffering, anguish or despair. Rather you want to alleviate suffering, comfort and affirm them.

Perhaps we are not in a ‘post-truth’ society so much as a ‘post-love’. What would a political campaign look like that was based on that sort of love? What would a life look like that was based on that sort of love? (Hint, if you want to know read one of the Gospels in the Bible).

Be blessed, be a blessing

The heart of the matter

I’ve been contemplating the recent decision by the Church of England General Synod. Personally, I was saddened and disappointed that they were unable to agree to have women as bishops. Part of me wants to throw my hands up in the air and sound exasperated.

But I keep seeing a man writing in dirt and asking those without discrimination to cast the first stone.

It is true that our denomination has ordained women for much longer than the Church of England, and we have women in National / Regional positions that are the closest equivalent we have to Bishops. But there are still far more men than women who are ordained Ministers in our denomination. And there are still churches that will not consider calling a woman to be their Minister, albeit on theological grounds (with which I disagree).

It’s interesting to see the reaction of the non church sector of society. The media has portrayed this as the Church* being out of touch with society, but I reckon that there is a bloke writing in the dirt of our culture asking those who are without discrimination to cast the first stone. The problem is that society is out of touch with God. Human beings have allowed (or deliberately introduced) discrimination to tarnish and taint all aspects of our lives. When we see differences of any sort between ourselves and others and allow them to influence us we are out of touch with God. He is the one who created human beings, male and female.

Our society is riven with discrimination. If you doubt me, look at the profile of the highest earners in our country. How many are women? How many are of non-white ethnic origin? How do the proportions relate to the actual proportions in the country as a whole?

How many Director Generals of the BBC have not been white men? How many editors and journalists are not white men? How come women earn less than men for the same jobs? What proportion of MPs and Lords at Parliament are not white men?

There may be “Yes, but…” answers to these questions, but they are indicative of the reality at the heart of our society, that human beings are selfish at heart and those who have power will not easily surrender it. In 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act became law. Yet while there has been progress, I do not think a change in the law can change society. Laws will be necessary, but they work best when they reflect society rather than trying to shape society.

So what can we do?

We need to recognise that while culture and society seem to have a life of their own, in fact they are the products of a collection of individual human beings. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Each of us needs to do some soul-searching and be honest with ourselves. We are all subject to selfish bias. We all look out for ourselves first and foremost, and I think we allow prejudice to self-justify that (consciously or sub-consciously).

The antidote is godly selflessness motivated by godly love. When we are able to see all people as those who are loved by God, all people as those for whom Jesus made the ultimate selfless sacrifice, it is more difficult to elevate ourselves at the cost of others, or to suppress or oppress others because we consider them to be less than us. God does not discriminate. He does not even reject those who reject him, rather he respects our free will so much that reluctantly he accepts the decision of those who don’t want anything to do with him: yet he will always welcome them with open arms if they change their mind.

And while we may be able to do some things about this ourselves, actually we need God’s Spirit within us to change us, to make us more godly, more selfless, more loving, more like Jesus. We need him to bear more fruit within us. And I’m afraid that until more people in our society acknowledge their need of him, we will not eradicate the evil of discrimination from our society.

But surely those who are followers of Jesus can set an example? It can start with me and you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Once again the media have carelessly talked about ‘the church’ in their reporting, lumping all churches under the umbrella of the Church of England.