The following is an excerpt from chapter 4 “Don’t Buy the Lies” of Stand Up, Stand Strong by Sara Barratt.
Say hello to a post-truth world.
In 2016, the Oxford Dictionary named post-truth their word of the year. Oxford defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
A post-truth environment exists when people are directed by subjective feelings rather than objective facts. We’re all susceptible to this. We innately stick with beliefs and ideas that make us feel good. While post-truth mindsets are becoming more evident culture-wide, these seeds of relativistic thinking grow in each of our hearts. A post-truth world is not one in which truth has ceased to exist, but one in which truth has ceased to matter. Truth becomes personal, all “truths” (aka opinions) are equally valid, and feelings have the upper hand. “What’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me” is the mantra of the post-truth age.
A post-truth world is not one in which truth has ceased to exist, but one in which truth has ceased to matter
This clash with truth occurs on a daily basis in ways big and small. Have you ever read a news story only to find out later it was slanted to the writer’s agenda and didn’t tell the full story? Or have you ever seen someone believe something (or held a belief yourself) just because it was posted on social media when a few moments of research would have quickly debunked the idea? Or had a conversation and listened to someone stubbornly hold to their perspective even if concrete facts supported another view?
Each of these examples point to a post-truth mindset. We want truth when it conforms to our own point of view and affirms what we already believe. Facts are willingly sacrificed to project an agenda or affirm one’s own bias.
Objective vs. Subjective
Post-truth thinking is able to thrive because people have become confused on what truth even means. What is truth, anyway? Is it possible to know truth? How can you be certain of what’s true? The answer to these questions comes when we understand the various forms of truth that exist.
One form is subjective truth. “Country music is the best” is an example of subjective truth. That statement is 100 percent true in my opinion because I love country music, but the same statement is 100 percent false for someone who can’t stand John Denver or Carrie Underwood. The statement is only true for people who enjoy country music—it’s a subjective truth claim because it deals with preference and personal taste. In cases of subjective, personal inclinations, “True for you, but not for me” is, well, true.
On the other hand, there is objective truth. “Grass is green,” “George Washington was the first president of the United States,” and “Two plus two equals four” are all statements of objective truth. You can’t argue with them and you can’t disagree with them. They’re simply statements of reality. In cases of objective actuality, “True for you, but not for me” is simply ludicrous.
Secular culture doesn’t deny the existence of objective truth (you’ll never find a politician arguing that grass really isn’t green . . . I hope). But it does argue over what does and does not equal objective truth. Matters of religion, morality, and identity have all moved from the “objective” category into the “subjective.” “Jesus is the Son of God,” “Gender is fixed, not fluid,” and “Marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman” are now considered statements more reflective of personal opinion than objective reality.
But that all depends on who gets to determine objective reality. According to culture, we are the ones who get to decide based on our preferences. According to God, He is the only One who has the authority to make that distinction. Moral absolutes do exist if a moral authority also exists. But because even the existence of God has become a subjective truth, everything else in our lives and society that really matters has also been relegated to the realm of the subjective. And post-truth is born the moment the objective is placed in the position of the subjective.
Post-truth thinking is deadly. If we don’t know the truth, how will we know how to live? How will we define right and wrong? For Christians seeking the absolute truth of God, post-truth thinking is incredibly serious. Is there any wonder why there’s an attack on truth in our society when the enemy of our souls is the father of lies? Satan “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Why wouldn’t Satan target truth? Getting people to doubt truth and believe lies causes them to speak his native language.
Post-truth thinking is deadly. If we don’t know the truth, how will we know how to live?
God, however, is the opposite of post-truth. Every word God says is true. Every aspect of God is true. There are no hidden theories or shady agendas when it comes to God.
Truth matters to God. That’s why truth should matter to us.
Meet the Culture of Confusion
How could society be anything but confused when we’ve yanked the foundation of truth out from underneath us? When we attempt to respond to the most important questions of life with subjective answers based on personal preference, we don’t receive satisfying answers and there’s no bottom line to return to in the event of disagreement. There’s no objective right or wrong. No black and white. We’ve muddied up the lucidity of truth and settled for a dingy color of gray called preference. Who has the final word? When there’s no truth, the one who is simply the loudest or most obnoxious is heard. Not the one backed with unbiased facts or evidence.
As theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer pointed out, “If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.”
But it’s restrictive to say there’s only one right perspective, some will say. Aren’t all truths valid?
Consider this: Matt believes avocados are fruits. He’s kind of a nerd, and he enjoys studying the science of plants. His study has shown him this fact about avocados. But Kara thinks avocados are a vegetable. After all, she doesn’t put any other fruit on her burrito bowl—only vegetables.
Who is right? Matt is guided by facts, Kara by personal opinion. Is it restrictive of Matt to tell Kara that her preferences are incorrect when it’s a solid fact that avocados are not a vegetable? Can both their perspectives be true? Kara can, of course, continue to believe what she wants, but she would continue to be wrong. That’s not restrictive. That’s basic fact.
It would be restrictive of Matt to try to convince Kara that avocados are the best fruit there is. If Kara doesn’t like avocados, Matt can’t force her to change her mind. Her preference falls under her right to have an opinion. But her belief on what constitutes an avocado does not.
To take this argument further than our Gen Z love for avocado toast, the same logic can be applied to our beliefs about God, creation, and life. Is there a God? How was the world created? When does life begin? These questions can be answered with absolute truth. But not everyone will prefer those answers. Opinions will vary and disagreements arise, but will each opinion be objectively true or as equally valid? Of course not. Either there is a God or there isn’t. Either the world was created by a Creator or it wasn’t. Either life begins at conception or it doesn’t. Everyone can’t be right. That’s not restrictive. That’s basic fact.
Either there is a God or there isn’t. Either the world was created by a Creator or it wasn’t. Either life begins at conception or it doesn’t. Everyone can’t be right. That’s not restrictive. That’s basic fact.
This kind of clarity is shunned. It’s a virtue to be “open-minded” and “tolerant.” The prevailing opinion of our society considers placing these beliefs in the category of objective truth to be narrow-minded and restrictive. Feelings dictate the conversation, and with each argument, we look at the fruit of post-truth thinking with the question, “Has God really said . . . ?”
It comes down to the fact that no one can claim a belief rooted in truth, because it will eventually clash with someone else’s opinion. No one can disagree on the basis of truth because there’s no source above human opinion that determines what’s actually true. How confusing is that?
While this is our current version of post-truth, these perspectives are not unique to our day and age. Every generation since Adam and Eve has experienced forms of post-truth thinking, as humanity has attempted to rewrite the script of truth with its own opinions. As Proverbs says, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirits” (16:2).
We all want our ways to be right. But our ways are human and fallible. God’s are not. God’s truth is founded upon reality as much as “two plus two equals four.” In fact, more so. Without God’s truth, no other truth would exist, and we’d be floundering in a world where everything is subjective. God gave us the gift of truth so we could live with clarity, wisdom, and order. But to do so, we have to accept His standards above our own.
Truth is not a personal preference. Truth is a person, and that person is Christ.
Sara Barratt is the 22-year-old editor-in-chief for TheRebelution.com. She’s the author of Stand Up, Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith in a Confused Culture and Love Riot, & a frequent speaker on topics including using your teen years for Christ, engaging culture with a biblical worldview, & godly dating and relationships. She’s the host of the podcast Do Hard Things with the Rebelution & has been a guest on numerous radio shows & podcasts. Come hang out with her on Facebook and Instagram & her website sarabarratt.com.