Oxford University Press, which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, annually announces a “Word of the Year,” selected by editorial staff from each of the Oxford dictionaries. The selection team is made up of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff. In 2016, “post-truth” was chosen due to its prevalence in the context of this year’s Brexit referendum and the US presidential election. Oxford defines the term “post-truth” as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
The pervasive and unconstrained cybersphere of social media provides an incubator for disinformation, hopelessly blurring distinctions among real reporting, opinion writing, blogging, conspiracy theories, and “fake news” that make facts (truth) increasingly difficult to discern. One recent study, for example, revealed a dismaying inability among students to tell reliable news sources from less reliable or even fake ones. In other words, the new word of the year “post-truth” doesn’t just describe conditions in which truth is no longer seen as existing, but rather describes an even more alarming condition in which truth is no longer really important.
Theologian Roger Olson points out that the larger questions about living in a post-truth culture are not so much epistemological as ontological. In other words, a post-truth world has come about not because of disagreements about how we know what we know, but rather whether or not there is such a thing as truth and, if so, what that actually means. The simple dictionary definition of “truth” is “the substance of reality; actuality.” The nature of truth is that it exists whether we know (believe) it or not.
Throughout the ages fallen humanity has dealt with the question of the existence of truth in a variety of flawed ways. As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we humbly accept that absolute truth is incomprehensible via human effort. There is however a condition under which the recognition of truth is possible. Truth can be known through revelation manifested in the Incarnation of God! Truth is revealed by God not discovered by humanity! Christ spoke of this clearly, plainly, and definitely:
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The term “post-truth” may be new, but the underlying assumption upon which it rests is as old as that asked of Jesus when he stood trial. In response to Jesus’ declaration that He came into the world to testify to the truth, Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” The answer today is the same as it was then: Jesus is the truth and the life, and to affirm this affirms the importance of seeking truth in all things.