Of all the things Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States is known for, nothing stands more prominent than the clash set off between one authority over another authority of the same field. Well, you read it right—it is no more a difference in opinion between experts and non-experts, but a fight among experts each eagerly vying for the coveted WWE Championship title! From pre-modernism to modernism to post-modernism to post-Christian to post-truth, humans have come a long way in defining their worldview, through which they see and react to life’s events. And to advance Christian missions in this age of post-truth, where skepticism is rampant, remains a challenge.
The spurious glitter of “post-modernism” worldview
In the era of post-modernism, the gospel was rejected on account of people having fragmented perspectives. Slogans like “that’s true for you, but not for me” or “that’s just your perspective” made the rounds. However, ingenious Christian apologists were quick to slay post-modernism thoughts with a powerful and logical sledgehammer called “the law of non-contradiction.” So, if a post-modernist claimed there was no way to know the Truth, the Christian apologist would immediately point him/her to their own self-refuting statement. And the slippery skeptic would be cornered, quietly. Oh, how much is the Christian indebted to Aristotle for the law of non-contradiction!
The abject bluntness of a “post-truth” worldview
Yet, as questions evolved, so did the worldview. The post-modernist, who by now weary of the fangs of the law of non-contradiction, was in search of another escape route, to continue justifying their stand on “No Absolutes.” Voila ! Enter the Trump era and there you could pull the “post-truth” worldview just out of the hat. Now, how would a Christian apologist approach this subject, if s/he isn’t fighting against a non-truth claim, but a mumbo-jumbo concept like “the journey towards truth”? The slogan of today is “I have a feeling neither you nor I [or anybody for that matter] is right” So, in a sense, the post-truth culture isn’t asserting any truth claim. Game on, law of non-contradiction!
Challenges posed by the “post-truth” worldview
The most gut-wrenching display of the Trump era was when it exposed the existence of fake news(media). It wasn’t that fake news did not exist prior to 2016. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, famously once said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” And that’s what fake news does: numbs the soul of both the perpetrator and the receiver. The perpetrator knows the information s/he is peddling isn’t true and hence the need to increase the frequency of such news feeds. Also, the receiver’s left brain—otherwise, dormant mostly—suddenly goes into hyper action. The result is universal skepticism of anything under the sun. In short, healthy conversations becoming a rarity.
In a post-truth era, there are now more agnostics in the garb of being an atheist. A Wall Street Journal article reported 44% of Americans ages 18 to 29 identify as religious “none.” This presents a unique predicament to the Christian missions, as Christians can no more say, “people are afraid to look at reality in the eye” or “many are lost and searching for answers.” The challenge is further compounded by this world being in a constant state of change and an incorrect understanding of apologetics by many Christians.
Post-truth world and the constant state of change
A post-truth worldview can at best be described as “stone-faced” for two reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t offer to fight back, let alone show any emotions, which makes one wonder whether it is dead as a stone. Secondly, post-truth believers (rolling stones) gather no moss—and hence difficult to pin down—as they believe everything around them is in a state of constant change. There are a few but important reasons why post-truth proponents advocate the “impossibility of arriving at a definitive understanding on any subject.”
- Semantic Gap: These are times, where many words, apart from having their meaning changed over a period of time, also mean differently to different people or cultural groups. For example, words like “silly” which once meant “pitiable” or ‘innocent” now means “lacking in reason.” This semantic shift removes the sting out of an apologist argument, even as words fade, lose their meaning and significance.
- Cultural Flux: The popular culture of today is established and re-established by the powerful media elites. The value they choose to assign to a cultural phenomenon (or even to a person—one can choose to be a boy or a girl, or both or even, none!) becomes the order of the day. For example, if the cultural term “LGBT” was known as “LGB” yesterday, they can arbitrarily change it to “LGBTQIA” tomorrow. If they still don’t like—especially, being accused of flip flop—they could change it to something like “LGBTQIA+” You see, how adding a simple “plus” sign helps them manoeuvre any discussion or define the cultural narrative of the day.
- Scientific Changes: Our knowledge about science and its associated theories can change over a period of time due to new scientific observations, as well as prevailing social, political and religious convictions. For example, the fundamental changes in theory recorded during the era of the “scientific revolution” OR an ambiguous search result in Google for a question as simple as “is drinking coffee good or bad?” And this is how skepticism was enthroned on a set of skewed data in the Trump era—if experts cannot arrive at a conclusion, how could Christians claim finality?
- Kruger-Dunning Effect: Well-read scholars are aware of this cognitive bias. This effect simply means the more you become aware of a particular subject, the more you realise how much you are still unaware of that subject. Well, this theory works in reality for everyone except the ignorant, megalomaniacs and some Christian apologists!
Incorrect understanding of Christian apologetics
The other major reason why it seems difficult to engage with the post-truth culture is due to some Christian’s inability to understand apologetics in its truest sense.
- Excessive reliance on logic: How many times have you heard a Christian apologist thumping the desk with aphorisms like “Two plus two is equal to four. QED!” or challenging their opponent to show them a “bike with one wheel”? Alas, these chest-thumping apologists do not understand the provocative truths about this world—especially our numbers & quantitative measures are in fact abstractions of real underlying things of this world, which by the way keep changing. And, there are many more instances of abusing logic like the misuse of analogy to prove the concept of Trinity or the use of circular reasoning to prove the “Bible” by and from the Bible. Also, the overuse of the “Kalam Cosmological” argument or the argument from intelligent design only reveals a Christian’s averseness to argue contextually.
- Poor Emotional Intelligence skills: Many amateur apologists dispense a lot of time and energy studying arguments and memorizing logical fallacies. But they devote little time in understanding the prevailing narrative in their culture and the profile of the intended audience of an exchange. Today, people are increasingly becoming irrational and apathetic. They are feelings driven and hence do not wish to go where the truth leads. And it is increasingly becoming difficult to have an honest, deep or difficult conversation, as “ghosting” becomes the order of the day. Polarisation is at its peak with the emergence of nuclear communities or landslide counties. Bill Bishop, in a book written with Robert Cushing (Bill Bishop, 2008) calls this “the Big Sort.” And this divide isn’t just true of geographic location. Our online preferences too, reinforce the “big sort.” Sadly, the result is a myopic, distorted view of reality.
- Christian Fundamentalism: It wouldn’t be an understatement to say most Christians understand apologetics as St Peters’ long knife. As oftentimes, they shuttle between the extremes—offensive and defensive apologetics. Christians, especially Protestant fundamentalism, have developed a tendentious understanding of “Biblical inerrancy” and a disdain for “contemporary science.” They would merrily gang up, put on their armour of arguments and prowl like a hungry lion looking for its prey. But hardly would they pause to check their own logical fallacy or critique the argument of their own household. In short, many Christians are yet to understand, let alone defend, what C S Lewis described as mere Christianity.
Hope in a post-truth era
If conversations are meaningless and laws of logic are being forced into a backseat, what then can a Christian apologist do? Neither cold calling nor rehabilitation efforts will suffice. However, to begin with, a better understanding of the post-truth culture would go a long way, before he/she gets discouraged and hangs up their boots. Or worse, discarding apologetics altogether, to focus only on striking a friendship with the sinner and never condemning their sin—gently, subtly, one day at a time.
To be Continued…