My heart sank the other day as I scrolled through a news headline on Facebook: “All Taco Bells Closing Due to Bankruptcy.” I was distraught. No more fourth meal. No more bad decisions. Worst of all, no more Mexican pizzas. I was so glad that I have my large stash of extra mild sauce packages at home.
Immediately, I texted my wife and told her the sad news.
Later that day, I saw the headline again. This time I clicked on it and read – “I WAS OWNED.” I had fallen for fake news – and even went on to spread it.
Now, silly articles like that we can handle, but there is real fake news coming from both sides of the political aisle every day. The right and the left post falsities and accuse one another of doing so. It’s hard to know if anything we read or hear is true.
This fake-news revelation over the past few months has appeared to be a shocker for many, but I wonder where those shocked have been. I guess they’ve been watching WWE and believing that is real, too. Whether straightforward lies or subtle variances of the truth, fake news has been spread for a long time. We shouldn’t be surprised.
We shouldn’t be surprised because objective truth was thrown out the window decades ago. When we live in and perpetuate a culture of relativity, in which there is no objective truth but rather everyone’s own opinion is their own truth, then fake news is inevitable.
And we do live in a culture of relativity.
I first heard the term relativity in the early 2000s as a young pastor to students. Christian apologist and prolific author Josh McDowell discussed with us at a training conference his newly released book, “Beyond Belief.” He argued that though the youth we pastored may take their own beliefs serious, they think that the varying beliefs of their friends and society were just as valid. He went on to teach the difference between absolute objective truth and America’s prevailing subjective truth. For one to hold to an objective truth, he must believe that truth and values are transcendent, beyond one’s self – such as truth being established by God. Although this was how we in that conference room believed, it was not how much of society around us believed. That was over 15 years ago, and things haven’t changed.
Just last year, the Barna Group released a study that stated only 35 percent of Americans hold to absolute truth. Just barely over half of practicing Christians in the study felt the Bible provided absolute moral truths.
So, if we can’t even believe objective truth exists, how should truthful newscasting or reporting be expected?
McDowell’s campaign had me convinced and throughout my pastoral ministry I watched this phenomenon continue to increase.
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A few years after that conference, I sat in a philosophy class. I was stunned to see the history of epistemology (the study of knowledge) and axiology (the study of values) – absolutely stunned. For here we are in this modern society in which we have evolved and supposedly become the wisest of all generations, but in tracing the history of the source of knowledge, values and truth, we reveal an absolute jettison of common sense. You see, until the late 1600s in the “Enlightenment,” all knowledge and values had their foundation in a transcendent source – a god. Of course, the transcendent source varied from religion to religion, but everyone saw that the true understanding of this world lay beyond them. They recognized that truth, morality and values were established by that higher being and was the same for all people.
During the “Enlightenment,” the source of truth and morality shifted from that transcendent deity to society. Still the meaning of life, truth, values and morality were derived beyond each individual, but it was the community that established truth – yet that truth was still objective. This continued on until the 1950s when truth no longer originated outside of an individual. From the 1950s moving forward, in the West truth has been relative. Whatever is true for one individual is true for him, but another truth can exist if another individual thinks that it is true.
Ludicrous, right? But this is the philosophy that has long moved out of the ivory towers of universities and into the mind of the Western populace.
This postmodern mindset claims that each individual provides his own meaning, values, morality and truth. We may not express it that explicitly; rather, we hide it through political correctness, tolerance and eventually “hate speech” laws.
Amazingly, this philosophical shift in the ’50s came from the field of hermeneutics (the study of interpretation), especially through the work of German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, who argued that the author or speaker did not possess meaning, but rather the reader or listener did – which meant if an author wrote a book trying to establish a particular message, his intentions did not matter; rather, the reader’s interpretation of that meaning was the only thing that mattered. This was and is extremely dangerous.
This means that although President Trump may have a specific meaning for what he said in a speech, that does not matter. Instead, only what the listener decides the meaning is becomes the truth.
This is the foundational philosophy of American society. So, under this hermeneutic, there is no “fake news” – only different TRUTHS. How can we even expect to have the truth in the news when no single truth is said to exist?
Making changes in America’s newsrooms is not going to solve the fake-news issue. Making such a change will require a deep philosophical change across the nation.
Fake news is only a symptom of a much deeper problem, a TRUTH problem, a problem that, again, shouldn’t surprise Christians because such a departure of truth has been prophesied in Scripture.