Worth Reading - 1/30

This post of links worth reading focuses on the ongoing epistemological crisis of our day, particularly from the angle of a conservative Christian.

1. Trevin Wax makes a case that Christians are especially vulnerable to misinformation that supports their prior assumptions. He also argues we are called to be more vigilant than others to avoid spreading untruth and risking the credibility of the gospel.

Conservative Christians have a right to be skeptical when it comes to mainstream media bias. But we are way too skeptical if we distrust any fact or figure from any mainstream site. And we are much too gullible if we easily believe stories that come from other sources, including the new administration.

Too many Christians these days are “gullible skeptics.” Skeptics toward establishment type media outlets, and gullible toward other websites or toward political spinmeisters who already line up with their preexisting beliefs or worldview.

What’s the point in chiding the abortion industry for championing false, but “useful” numbers regarding abortion deaths in the 1960’s if we are just as guilty for spreading misinformation because we find it useful or beneficial to our party?

2. At First Things, George Weigel goes after the idea that non-logical formulations can be supported from a theological perspective.  We cannot play fast and loose with the truth, or the logic behind the truth.

As for theology, the word means speaking-of-God, which in Christian terms means speaking of the One who is Truth—the Truth Who makes us free in the deepest meaning of human liberation. There are many ways of doing theology, and not all of them are strictly syllogistic; St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctors of the Church, were not logicians. But if theology decays into illogical forms of Newspeak, it is false to itself.

It was providential that Christianity had its first “inculturation” in a milieu—Greco-Roman antiquity—where the principle of non-contradiction was well-established and something couldn’t “be” and “not be” simultaneously. That cultural environment was where Christianity found the conceptual tools to turn confession and proclamation—“Jesus is Lord”—into catechesis and Creed. Suppose the first “inculturation” had been in a setting where it made perfect sense to say “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus is not Lord” at the same time—like the culture of India two millennia ago? It made a great deal of difference that the first formative centuries of Christianity took place in a culture where 2 + 2 always equaled 4.

3. At the Reformed African American Network, Jarvis Williams argues that racialized lenses for sifting through public facts often lead to justification of continued racial inequities. There is an epistemological problem in the justification of developing policies without engaging all the stakeholders. If we don't question our own biases, we can wind up with our own "alternative facts." 

If those with privilege in government can socially mobilize themselves in ways that enable them to avoid or blind themselves to racialization and the policies and laws emerging from racialization, they might be tempted to ignore or simply find evidence that will reinforce their biases against certain races.

We see this being played out already when people advocate for colorblindness to perpetuate racial injustice, point out that black on black crime is high to refute arguments on the presence of systemic injustice, and when folks assert all lives matter in response to the phrase black lives matter to challenge whether people have reason to believe systemic racism still exists in certain parts of our country.

“Alternative Facts” is not the phrase I would use to offer a counter argument against an opposing interpretation of shared evidence. Still, we must remember facts must be interpreted. All facts are interpreted facts. Sometimes we present evidence as factual, but it is later proven to be fiction. Any piece of evidence may be proven to be factual by one interpreter apart from another interpreter’s personal experience of that evidence, but no interpreter will ever personally know any piece of evidence as a fact unless one personally encounters and interprets it as a fact.

4. Ed Stetzer, writing for Christianity Today, argues that the Trump administration's loose grip of facts is raising concerns for the commitment to truth among Christians. We need to be, above all, people committed to truth.

What matters to me most, however, is that this is also a Christian problem, because Christians have gullibly consumed much of the fake news out there. And when Christians believe fake news, it makes us all look stupid—and causes Christianity itself to look foolish.

And the issues do relate. You see, at the moment, Sean Spicer looks a bit like Baghdad Bob. But this fake news is not a new thing. We’ve seen it before. We’ve seen it often in this election season, and far too often from self-identified Christians.
Christians have been sharing a lot of fake news. I’ve had Christians post on my Facebook page about #pizzagate, Obama’s birth certificate, and so much more. And I’m embarrassed that these fake facts are being shared by people I love—my brothers and sisters in Christ.

5. Aaron Earls tackles the "whirlwind of alternative facts" again commending Christians to remain faithful to the concept of truth. The cultural left has opened the gates to rejecting truth, but the cultural right should resist the urge to use that bad epistemology to gain and excercise power.

Those who previously spoke against the side effects of a postmodern attitude toward truth have seen how useful it is once you obtain power. Replacing absolute truth with a convenient truth is effective in dismissing criticism.

But eventually they will learn, as the left is learning now, that usefulness is only temporary. Eventually, the other side takes power and turns the tables.

More importantly, you lose any concept of truth and any sense of honesty. And our society cannot survive without without those.

We desperately need people who will embrace and defend truth no matter if it benefits them or not. That should fall to the Christian.

Those of us who follow Christ must never relinquish the idea of truth. Jesus called Himself the Truth. Scripture claims to be true and accurate.

We must not undercut our faith to inflate our politics or secure our power. Christians must be the ones who stand for truth regardless of who’s in power or what culture advocates.

Truth exists; it is not subjective. Facts are real; there is no alternative. For the Christian, there can be no other way.