Is our culture losing touch with reality? The folks who pick the official “word of the year” think so.
The Christian satire website, Babylon Bee, has had a lot of great headlines. One of my favorites so far: “Progressive Evangelical Leaders Meet to Affirm Doctrine of ‘Sola Feels.’” Adherents to this imaginary creed believe that “things that make us feel bad … are wrong. The things that give us all the happy feels … are true, right, and good.” Now of course, the scary part about satire is how closely it often mirrors reality.
On a related note, Oxford Dictionaries has released its 2016 word of the year: “Post-truth,” which they define as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
I can hardly think of a better description of where we are right now as a culture. In fact, for those of us who’ve spent years calling out what Pope Benedict called “the dictatorship of relativism,” it’s tempting to say, “welcome to the party, guys!”
But the concept of “post-truth” is a bit different from garden variety relativism. It doesn’t discount the existence of truth. Rather, a post-truth society is one in which truth takes a back seat to emotion—where feelings effectively replace facts. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen over the course of this year’s election.
For example, the melt-down among what many are calling the “snowflakes” on college campuses over President-elect Trump is the most obvious example. Despite exit polls showing that a huge percentage of eligible millennial voters stayed home on Election Day, many of these students just can’t handle the outcome. Their schools are sending letters of condolences, canceling exams, even offering hot chocolate and hugs from administrators. Faced with a reality that contradicts what they feel should have happened, many just can’t cope.
A post-truth culture also leads us to equate disagreement with hatred. Loving me means agreeing with me. And as many conservative speakers who’ve been chased from university campuses by angry students can tell you, when feelings are equated with a person’s identity and even reality, contradicting those feelings is the same as attacking the person.
The post-truth culture can also lead us to ignore reality altogether. I’ve made it clear on BreakPoint that I find some of our next president’s past words, especially about racial minorities and women, troubling, to say the least. But in this post-truth, post-fact, post-reality environment, many have hijacked legitimate concerns in order to play the victim. Just look at the panicked reaction from gay and lesbian activists, who are behaving as if Donald Trump plans to persecute their community.
But there are no facts to support this hysteria. If anything, our next president has been far friendlier to the LGBT agenda than I’m comfortable with, even calling the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling “settled law.” Trump hasn’t committed to protecting the bakers, florists, photographers, and others who’ve been hounded for not participating in same-sex weddings. But all these facts don’t matter when so many feel that the president-elect threatens their way of life.
And of course, post-truth culture dominates Facebook and Twitter feeds. Just look at the epidemic of fake news that marred this election. Even Christians too often fall for completely fabricated headlines and hoaxes, largely because they validate our feelings.
So where does all this leave us? Well, the Bible has plenty to say on the subject of truth. In fact, we follow the One Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Who came into the world to testify to the truth, a truth which—He told His disciples—would set them free. Truth must govern our emotions, not the other way around.
The 2016 word of the year doesn’t bode well for our culture. We must insist on prioritizing facts before emotions.
The “doctrine” of “sola feels” is supposed to be a joke. So let’s make sure it stays that way.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.