One of the primary insights of our former Pope Benedict XVI was that the most dangerous erroneous beliefs of the modern world is the relativity of Truth. To the question Pilate proposed to our Lord during His trial, “What is Truth?”, the modern world would not have an answer, or more accurately would have a myriad of answers: Whose Truth? You have your truth and I have mine. All truths are relative since they emerge from each person’s human perspective. In this pseudo-logic, you have your truths and I have mine: there is no objective truth; all truth is subjective and, hence, it is the product of every individual human’s psyche.
Jesus told Pilate that He came to witness to the Truth. At another place, Jesus made the powerful statement that, “… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).”
What was Jesus talking about since, supposedly “advanced”, modern scholars and philosophers have declared this Truth to be extinct?
From the time of the philosopher Descartes with his turn to the subject (the person) as opposed to the object (the thing observed), modern thought has seen all of reality through the lens of the individual person. And since that person is seeing reality through the prism of his own history and perspective, one’s view of truth becomes more and more subjective. Hence we move from the quest of THE truth to an admission that each person has his or her own version of truth (with no definite article). Therefore, one must always suspect that what we say is true is only true for the person who has all those perspectives that produced it.
It is only a short jump from that to the difficult-to-understand theory that we not only describe our truth, we can produce it, and that even a nation’s laws must protect those choices.
We see this clearly in the abortion controversy. If a woman is pregnant and the developing fetus is wanted, then it is a child; but if it is not wanted, it becomes a “growth” that can be cut out. How can something cease to be a child merely because of the belief of the parents? Can wishing something to be change the reality of what is or is not in front of me?
Reality is reality. Wanting a zebra to be a giraffe won’t change the reality of that zebra. There is an objective truth to reality that cannot be explained away.
This over-reliance on the subjective is easily carried over into the realm of the political. While journalism stresses objectivity, we all know it depends on what newspaper you read that determines what the slant will be. A newspaper’s political philosophy informs all its reportage, even when the reporter reports otherwise. Editors will often enforce the accepted code that defines the publication in question.
As amazing as it may seem, even highly educated and otherwise intelligently urban writers are not aware of these preconditions of the intellect, these pervasive biases that cause them to select and shape what they see so that they conform the article to the paper’s politics. This can also easily be translated to all other media.
These firmly held, pervasive and unconscious beliefs seem invisible except to those who do not share those preconceptions.
Cardinal Newman tried so hard to convince his brother that there is a God. His brother, a convinced atheist, would not even entertain Newman’s arguments. Newman called this preconscious stance “Antecedent Probability.”
It is due to these biases that are usually unacknowledged and often unknown that the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ has come to the fore. As I have already mentioned, this has always been a problem. What has changed is the assumption that this is the normal state of things and that all things are relative, even the truth. In other words, the guiding principle is: just put it out there and don’t worry about whether it is true or not.
On another more cynical level, this lack of respect for truth as an objective reality can be used by people to deliberately spread falsehoods! The head of the Nazi propaganda machine, Joseph Goebbels, was quoted as saying, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.” And also, “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” Wow! This is what totalitarian governments have done to guide public opinion away from the truth. How much easier does that become when you don’t even believe there is Truth (with a capital T).
We should be rightly suspect when any news organization, be they of the left or of the right (or even just leaning in either direction), tries to tell us some news item. For those of us that think that there is such a thing as Truth, we need to be aware that many in the world consciously or unconsciously push their agendas and call it ‘facts’ or ‘truth.’ While we believe in Truth, we live in a world that does not.
Pope Benedict was right about the world’s commitment to the relativity of Truth. We disagree with both the suppositions and the consequences of this assault on the real world that God created.