Voices: What is truth? From ‘spin’ down to ‘alternative facts’

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Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” to which Pilate retorted, “What is truth?”

eric black150Eric Black

Indeed, what is truth these days?

What used to be called “spin” has now become “post-truth” and “alternative facts.” Some might say the change in terminology reflects transparency, the willingness of purveyors of spin to be more honest now—although not entirely honest—about what they actually are doing. Let’s humor this idea for a moment.

Three terms

Consider my definitions:

“Spin” puts the best face, the most positive light, on the facts at hand.

“Post-truth” suggests the truth is no longer necessary in reporting the facts at hand.

“Alternative facts” are ideas offered as a substitute for the facts at hand.

TBV stacked“Spin” is the most playful and positive of the three and requires a real craftsman—an “alternative fact” term for “liar”—such as Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty in the sitcom Spin City. “Spin” used to be good for a laugh.

“Post-truth” is the most nihilistic of the three. “Post-truth” is a bald admission that although truth exists, we don’t care about it anymore. We are more interested in what is true for us, in what works for us, in what we want people to think or know. There is nothing funny about post-truth.

“Alternative facts,” well, that phrase is simply an oxymoron, which actually makes me laugh quite a bit. Similar to “post-truth” in acknowledging the existence of facts—facts being those objective things on which most reasonable people can and will agree—the phrase “alternative facts” and those who use it suggest reasonable people are in fact stupid and don’t know the difference between “actual” and “alternative.”

Be warned

Notice: All three are responses to the facts at hand. All three are used only when one set of facts puts the powers-that-be in a negative light. They never are used when the actual facts—notice the redundancy—bode well for the powers-that-be.

Here’s the truth: I don’t offer the preceding thought experiment merely as an experiment. I offer it as a caution.

Another caution: Don’t let the attractiveness of power, wielded by whomever, seduce you into becoming a purveyor of “spin,” “post-truth” or “alternative facts.”

Believe me, power is seductive, and the tactics of the powerful are very attractive. Lord knows, I’ve been enticed.

Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Lord, help me listen to you.

Eric Black is pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, Texas, and a member of the Baptist Standard Publishing board of directors.

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