In Christianity, truth is not a doctrine. Not a dogma. Not any particular statement of faith. Not a proposition to which followers are obliged to give public consent.
This is a difficult and revolutionary concept, but it also is enormously liberating for people who take it seriously and who refuse to get bogged down in having to be bound by human words attempting to express the inexpressible, finite words seeking to unpack the infinite.
And yet Christianity and other faith traditions encourage adherents not to mislead, not to "bear false witness," as one of the Ten Commandments from the Hebrew scriptures says. It's easy to be just plain wrong about something. In fact, that's how science makes progress. But to be wrong and then to speak that error intentionally as if it's truth is what has plagued our politics for a long time on both sides of the aisle.
What I continue to find baffling, however, is how President Donald Trump has amassed such a huge pile of untruths without seeming to lose all or most of his support from many Christians, who should be standing up for truth-telling.
Just this week the president tweeted this: "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process." And even the Wall Street Journal editorial page concluded that Trump's failure to speak truth may result in lots of Americans considering him to be a "fake president."
They said no such thing because, their representatives testified after the tweet was revealed, they don't know any such thing. Yet. Indeed, if I had to guess my guess would be that they will come to exactly the opposite conclusion. But I don't know that, either. Yet.
Last month, a writer for Sojourners Magazine did this piece in which she noted that "it’s curious that in our culture of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts,' so many Christians seem comfortable with a loss of truth."
Being skeptical is part of the job not just of journalists but of all citizens. But in this era of fake news and alternative facts, we may have pushed skepticism so far as to call into question everything that really is true and, thus, to leave ourselves open for one untruth after another.
In a land in which most citizens still identify as being attached to one religion or another, this is a disaster that can lead only to more trouble and even to the unraveling of civilization as we know it if it continues. If we accept fiction as truth, we're doomed.
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POKING YOUR STUDENTS IN THE EYE
Princeton Theological Seminary, one of several theological schools in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), announced it would be giving an award to the Rev. Tim Keller of the Presbyterian Church in America denomination, which, unlike the PCUSA, refuses to ordain women or LGBTQ people. In other words, Princeton planned to insult at least half of its own students by doing this. Well, yesterday I read that that changed. Princeton has decided not to give Keller the award but to allow him simply to be a speaker on campus, as explained in this statement from the seminary's president, M. Craig Barnes. That works for me. We should be open to hearing opinions different from our own, but we need not give special honors to those opinions when they result in actions that we believe oppress people.