I’m so old that I can remember an American TV game show named “Truth or Consequences.”
If I recall correctly, Bob Barker was the emcee, the worst consequences were more like pie-in-the-face gags on stage, and the arbiter of actual truth was some little monkey with a toy trumpet. Now if only we had that little monkey back again, and if the worst consequences were little ritual gags suffered with mere stage-fright and embarrassment. If only.
Nothing bothers folks in my generation more than to think of ours as a post-truth society. We oldsters still live in a mostly binary world of either-or. True or false. Good or evil. Right or left. Trick or treat. Truth or consequences.
I suppose the truth has always been more complicated than we would prefer to think. More nuanced somewhere in between all or nothing. And we’ve probably always lived in more of a both-and world, even though we failed to recognize it as such. Even the devil’s worst lies begin with some partial truth mixed in for the sake of confusion.
Take the matter of questioning the authorities and the experts within our society. We elders were taught this was never a good idea. Yet, sometimes it is. Critical thinking is a good thing, for it helps us discern the difference between mostly true and mostly false. And in today’s world of rampant misinformation, such differentiation can separate life from death. Pretty consequential, right?
We’re living in a time when experts in every field are labeled “eletists” and called into question. What do climatologists know anyway? What do epidemiologists or virologists know anyway? What do doctors know about medicines or teachers know about education? Maybe it works best for us to tell them how to do their jobs. (I'm writing this from the commonwealth of Virginia, where next week's gubinatorial election may frankly hinge on just such a premise.) Opinions are facts in a post-truth society. And the consequences of such are, well, potentially quite deadly.
But I’m not so sure this has hasn’t been a leading cause of death all throughout human history. What we did not know to be true has always hurt us and, yes, even killed us or the neighbors we’ve been commanded to love.
Take the case of Jesus of Nazareth. The man we Christians believe was God in the flesh.
In John 18:37, we read of an exchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate where God explains his reason for coming to earth in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” If this quote in translation to English is at least mostly true rather than mostly false, then God wants us to listen to Jesus in order to understand some very important truth about how to live our lives here on earth. Truth such as “love one another as I have loved you,” the only commandment ever spoken on earth by God in the flesh. The expert, okay the “eletist,” on how to live our best lives here on earth has spoken truth that would offer us the consequence of life itself. At least this is so if we believe the biblical Gospel of John as the true story of Jesus's being God's best life here on earth.
You may remember what came next in this story of Jesus. He was immediately questioned by the doubting Pontius Pilate who did not take kindly to eletists presuming to know more than him about how to live our best lives here. John 18:38 reads, “Pilate asked him, “What is truth?’” as a rhetorical question before handing him over to those who would crucify Jesus.
Life and death have always hinged on the difference between truth and lies; even between mostly true and mostly false. Misinformation has always plagued humanity and brought premature and unnecessary death to bear upon our loved ones. Post-modern America is no different from ancient Rome in this respect.
So what’s my point?
There is one absolute truth whose consequence brings life to all in every time and place: love.
Climatologists know how global warming occurs, epidemiologists and virologists know how Covid 19 spreads, teachers know how children learn, and other eletists know their material as well. For this they, too, are probably born and come into the world to testify in the matter of their particular truth. But the truth about love is known best of all by the God whose Spirit used it to bring forth all life, even resurrection after death itself. And if we Americans ever become post-truth in terms of post-love, our consequence will be far worse than a mere monkey blowing a toy trumpet while we stand on stage receiving a pie in the face.
A post-truth and post-love society will prematurely die.